Using a Catalog – The Grinnell Method

catalog format for a Grinnell Nature Journal
Nature journal page with Grinnell Scientific method catalog format

A catalog tracks the objects you collect. This is a separate section of your Grinnell field journal or a separate book altogether.

It assigns a number (starting with 1) of all the specimens such as pine cones, rocks, etc. that you pick up during your field observations.

At the end of the year, the print format record is closed out. The last page of a year ends and a new page is started for the new year.

Professional naturalists employed by museums donate their collections to their employing institutions to preserve specimens. It is often a condition of their employment and they have legal licenses to collect.

Please note: I only pick up fallen objects. Such as pine cones, leaves, shells, acorns, nuts, a feather, rocks, etc. I don’t pick live plants or bird’s nests.

Setting Up the Page

Title each page “Catalog”.

Label or tag each specimen you collect.

For each specimen, including the same information on both the tag or label and in the catalog.

  • item number
  • date collected
  • location of collection
  • collector’s name
  • identification of object

A note about identification for the hard-core scientists among us. For professional naturalist collections, a taxonomist, who specializes in species identification will identify a specimen. The field collector may not. A professional field collector may sometimes write the species scientific name on the back of the label – in pencil. In case they make a mistake. But this shouldn’t stop us amateurs.

If you draw, photograph or attach an object to your nature journal page, including this information will be very helpful in learning about your area. I include the same information that I would write on a tag or label in the notes field in my computer photo organizer.

A record of where you found or collected an object makes that object more useful to your nature study.

I had a box full of leaves that I had collected over the years that had no record of where I found them. I could only say this is a “Scarlet Oakleaf”. But, couldn’t return to the tree to see if it was still there or if there was any new information to find out.

I eventually composted my collection. It had limited nature study value.

My book on using the Grinnell Scientific Nature Journal Method is available through

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