During the course of my wildlife blogging, I quite often, and rather blithely, refer to 'local gurus' and 'experts on social media' who help me out with identifying all manner of flora and fauna. Not wanting to give the impression that this is a facility exclusively for Old Tense, perhaps I should explain a bit more.
The UK has a long history of biological recording, think of all those 18th Century parson-naturalists like the Reverend Gilbert White, and these days there is a well-established network of county recorders for most lifeforms, from birds and mammals to fungi and slime moulds. The UK is divided up into Vice Counties, a system devised in 1852 by H C Watson. Most national recording schemes will have a vice county recorder to cover the area where you are. As well as individual schemes for the various groups of organisms, there are local biological record centres, and all these organisations feed into the National Biodiversity Network (recently split into four covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), and this in turn feeds into the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. All of this data is useful for monitoring populations, identifying trends and informing decisions about conservation. As an example, I am a recorder for dragonflies and damselflies in Orkney. I feed records into the local records centre (housed in the Library and Archive in Kirkwall) and also online into iRecord for the British Dragonfly Society (and hence onto the NBN). Each small record at local level is a vital piece in the larger global jigsaw.
Sadly, the whole system is not as joined up as it could be, with data flow not always guaranteed in both directions, which is why I send info in two directions, locally and nationally, just to ensure as much transparency as possible.
Orkney is Vice County 111 (which may explain why there's not much cricket played here), and the Orkney Field Club, effectively the local natural history society, has a network of experts covering as many taxa as possible. Many, but not all, of these experts are based locally, and willingly volunteer their time to educate and enthuse the rest of us. So if I have an ID conundrum, I know there's likely to be someone I can ask.
Orkney is a very community-spirited place (some would say too community-spirited i.e. nosy!), and this has translated into a whole host of dedicated pages and groups on Facebook, where folk can share information and generally help each other. Natural History is no exception. I regularly visit pages for birds, insects, spiders, cetaceans, wildflowers, fungi and, obviously, dragonflies. The latter is a site run by myself, so that folk can easily let me know of their sightings or ask me ID questions. I know social media comes in for a fair bit of criticism, some of it warranted, but there is also a beneficial side to it.
This morning I took the plunge and also joined the UK Hoverflies Facebook group, where I can post photographs of an unidentified species of hoverfly and someone will likely know what it is. If I include the date and a grid reference, the group admins will generate a record for the national database.
I guess what I am saying is that if you have a reasonable photograph of a critter or a flower, it should always be possible to have it identified. Maybe not to species, but likely to Genus.
Have a go at working out the Vice County number for where you live and then see if you can find a local recorder for the wildlife that is most important to you, whether it be birds, butterflies, bats or bryophytes. Perhaps then you could submit a record of a sighting and contribute to the global knowledge of life on Earth. There's more info on the Biological Record Centre page.