I grew up on Long Island, so my tree identification skills are limited to scrub pines, maples, and if I'm really stretching my memory cells, oaks. I'm somewhat aware that Christmas trees can have large or small needles, and I could identify holly and birch bark, and that's about that.
Obviously this is not going to cut it if I'm in the head of a main character who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I can't say "She hid behind a tree and listened to the bird yell at her" without her sounding four years old.
Oh, and birds. I've always owned cats, so birds are usually yelling, as far as I can tell. I can recognize a hawk, a cardinal, a crow, a robin, a heron, and a blue jay by sight, but if I had to pick out a sparrow or a nuthatch from a lineup, he'd get away clean. I'm almost positive they live in my yard, though! Many times I sit in my backyard and observe them chattering away to each other about the cat, and I think to myself, "Yup. That's a bird."
So may I recommend that we all take advantage of this time of year to take a few observational hikes, hopefully with someone who knows nature. This weekend I learned that a hemlock is an evergreen, which I did not know before. I told my daughter and she didn't know either, and I'm afraid that if I tell my husband, he will roll our eyes at both of us, point to a tree from out our window, and say, "That's a hemlock right there!"
I think for my story idea about the Blue Ridge Mountains, I'll look for tree and bird flash cards.
-- Kate, Miss Perfecting the Pages