Celebrate Earth Week! Learn to use a field guide and discover the nature outside your door. Already know how to use a field guide? Then teach someone and give them the joy of exploration.
1. Location! Location! Location!
Location matters. The more specific the field guide to your area, the easier it will be for you to get an accurate identification. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of
North America? Good. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America? Better. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Texas? Well, if you’re in Texas then yes.
But be careful. Just because it’s not in the book doesn’t mean it isn’t in Texas. Birds fly. Animals escape. Plants are introduced. It happens.
If it looks like a flamingo, then it probably is. What a field guide can’t tell you is if it hatched from the Rio Lagartos Biosphere Reserve at the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula or escaped from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas. What a field guide tells you is that it’s a flamingo. But you already knew that.
2. Pay attention to ranges
Yes, life can be found out of their ranges, but the truth is they have known ranges for a reason. You have your usual haunts and so can nature.
3. Look at the picture but read the identification description.
Picture a Homo sapien sapien. Now Brad Pitt. Now President Obama. Now your grandmother. Get my point?
No one picture can represent every variation of a species so don’t over analyze the picture. The description can have key clues like bipedal. Some great field guides even list similar species and how to tell them apart.
4. Habitat is Home and Home is Where the Heart Is
You expect to find a surfer dude on the beach in California, a farmer in cornfields of Kansas, and skier on the peaks of Colorado.
Plants and animals are the same.
If you’re trying to determine between two species, read the habitat description of each and compare it to where you are. You’ll be surprised where some species call home. Peterson lists the habitat of the Little Gull as “lakes, rivers, bays, coastal waters, sewage treatment plants.” Gross.
5. Use it or Lose it
I love printed field guides because they are like treasure maps, leading me on to the next great discovery. I know there is an app for that, but I want a field guide that will get dirty, dogeared, and look as tired as I am after our adventure.