Learn About Your Local Environment With a Sit Spot

Since learning about sit spots, I’ve been trying to make quiet observation in nature a regular practice. A sit spot is a place you visit to watch the natural world unfold. It’s a simple and effective way to connect with nature and develop a deeper understanding of your local environment. Sit spots have helped me appreciate the daily routines of birds, the life cycles of plants, and seasonal rhythms.

This post discusses the benefits of a sit spot practice, tips for mindful observation in nature, and documenting your observations.

Choosing a Sit Spot

Our busy lives can make finding time to sit in nature difficult. Choosing a sit spot location that is easily accessible from your home or workplace can help. It could be a nearby park, river, or even a spot in your own backyard.

You’ll want to find a place that interests you. Would rather spend time in a forest, meadow, or wetland? You can also look for areas where animals are likely to be active, like along a forest edge or near a water source. Choosing a sit spot with a variety of plant and animal life can teach you about how different species interact. Once you pick an area, find a natural seat like a fallen log or rock to sit comfortably.

Consider how much social interaction you are likely to encounter at a given spot. A secluded area may be best if you prefer solitude and hope to see wildlife. A visible spot may be better if you enjoy meeting new people and sharing your experiences.

Visit Often

By visiting the same spot on a regular basis, you’ll begin to notice patterns in the behaviour of animals and growth of plants. The more often you go, the more apparent these will become.

It might help to start visiting an area at the same time each day. This can help you establish a baseline for that time. For example, you may notice the same chorus of birds and learn how it changes with the weather and seasons. You can later compare this baseline to another time of day. These kinds of observations can give you valuable insights into an ecosystem.

There’s no right or wrong way to go about it. The important thing is to visit as often as possible and watch quietly.

The Art of Quiet Observation

I’ll be the first to admit, quiet observation isn’t my strongest skill. But, with practice, I’ve gotten better. One thing that has helped me is trying to tune into all my senses. Paying attention to the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations around you can help ground you in the moment. Each time you visit your sit spot, try to notice something you haven’t noticed before. It might not be obvious at first, but the environment is constantly changing.

In meditation practices, people use their breath as an anchor to stay present and focused. If you’re having trouble getting settled, try taking some slow deep breaths.

Once you are settled, try to sit quietly for 15-30 minutes. Fidgeting or moving around can disturb the environment and scare off animals. You may not see or hear anything immediately, but the longer you stay, the more likely animals are to return to their normal activities.

Get Comfortable: What to Bring

Bring a water bottle, insect repellent, and a hat or sunscreen. While not necessary, a field guide or identification book can help put a name to the plants, fungus, animal tracks, and wildlife you see. They may also provide information on the habits and behaviours of certain species.

Binoculars are another useful tool for helping spot birds and other wildlife at a distance. Remember though, the point of a sit spot is to sit without disturbing the surrounding environment. So, try your best to be still without getting too distracted by these tools.

Document Your Observations

Some people prefer to experience nature without documenting it, while others like to keep detailed records of their visits. Again, there is no right or wrong way. If you do decide to document your observations, you can keep a journal, make sketches, or take photographs or videos.

Along with notable observations, remember to record the date and time of your visits and weather conditions. If you decide to take photographs or videos, ensure your camera has the date and time correctly programmed. Photos, videos, and sketches can capture visual details that might be difficult to describe in words. I think, the best record keeping approach is some combination of written and visual content.

There are also apps that can help you identify and record species. Check out iNaturalist and eBird. These apps also help scientists gather data to help understand and protect nature.

Benefits of a Sit-Spot Practice

The benefits of a sit spot practice go beyond what you learn about your local ecosystem. Spending time in nature can reduce stress, boost concentration, and improve overall well-being. It has even been shown to decrease all-cause mortality. You can read more about the benefits of spending time in nature in my post, Can Nature Improve Your Health?

My Sit Spots

My sit spots have changed over the years. In Ottawa, I found a secluded spot in the Greenbelt to observe nature. This is where I first started learning about native plants and bird species. Slowly, I came to recognize the different calls of local birds, noting which ones travelled together, and their peak hours of activity. My plant identification skills got better and I became familiar with some of their life cycles and pollinators.

I’m currently working on transforming my small yard into welcoming habitat for native birds and pollinators. After facing mobility issues during my pregnancy (see: How Pregnancy Changed My Outdoor Life), my yard became my sit spot. I came to love and appreciate the morning bird chorus, the gentle hum of pollinators in the wildflowers, sparrows darting through the raspberry patch, and the thieving red squirrels.

Book Recommendations

If you’re interested in learning more about sit spots, there are two books I recommend. What the Robin Knows by Jon Young has a whole chapter exploring sit spots in the context of learning about birds, including behaviours and vocalizations. It’s a brilliant book that I return to frequently to help decode bird language.

The other book is The Forest Unseen by David Haskell. Haskell spends an entire year visiting the same square-meter patch of old growth in a Tennessee forest. Through his observations, he reveals the complex relationships between the plants, animals, and microorganisms that make up that forest ecosystem. His book proves that even small areas of nature can teach us a great deal.

Do You Have a Sit Spot Practice?

I’d love to hear about your sit spot practice in the comments. Share your spot, your most interesting observations, and what you’ve learned from your experiences!

Other Posts That Might Interest You

Can Nature Improve Your Health?

Petrichor: The Smell of Rain and Why We Love It

Solo Hiking: Overcoming Fear and Embracing the Adventure

Note: This post was updated on March 6, 2023.

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