What is a field guide? (And how to choose one)

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what is a field guide?

About this tutorial

Hello! Welcome to another Nature Nook tutorial. Today, we are going to learn all about field guides – what they are and how to use them. Are you ready? Let’s get started!

What is a field guide?

A field guide is a record of wildlife and other natural objects, be they bugs, birds, animals, trees, plants, rocks or minerals etc, arranged in such a way as to help the reader identify and find out more about one particular species of wildlife or object. 

They are usually designed to be taken out and used in the field, on nature walks, for example, to help in spot identification and are often arranged with specific identification keys, such as size, shape, colour, family etc. to help the reader narrow down the identity of the wildlife or object they are seeking.

Choosing a field guide

When choosing a field guide, there are several things to consider:

  • Where will you be using the guide
  • What sort of pictures do you prefer
  • What do you want to identify
  • How easy is it to use

Our Earth is such a vast place, with so many habitats and landscapes and climates and environments, each with its own special wildlife. So, it makes sense that when you decide to invest in a field guide, you consider where exactly you will be using it. For example, you can find guides to British and Irish species; guides to the wildlife of Britain and Northern Europe and even guides for specific areas – for example, the Lake District. The same is true for other countries. So it is very important to know where you will be exploring, so you can identify the wildlife that exists in that location.

Secondly, it is important to consider the ease of usage. Do you prefer photographs or are you happy to identify things by paintings or illustrations? This might seem a frivolous point, but can make the difference between investing in something you can make easy use of and throwing money away on something you do not get along with.

Thirdly, what is it that you wish to identify? Many field guides on the market are focused solely on one type of wildlife – for example, birds or animals, or trees or flowers.  They might even be broken down even further. For example, guides to bats, butterflies, birds of prey, coniferous trees etc. So, unless you want to lug many different books around with you on your nature walks, it is good to think about what you might need help to identify.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, you need to think about how easy it is to use. Suppose you spotted a bird you do not recognise – how easy is it to narrow down the many hundreds of birds in the book to pin point the one you are looking for? Is there an identification key and how useful is it? Does it funnel and guide you through the book easily?  Or are you left pulling your hair and flipping backwards and forwards to this page and that, following blind-ended leads?

Popular guide books

If you prefer having a physical book to carry around with you, some popular field guides are those of the Audubon Society, Harper Collins, National Geographic, RSPB and the Field Studies Council.  These books cover all manner of topics from mosses and lichens to spiders and butterflies, to birds of prey, minerals and bats.

Nature Nook field guides

Our field guides are an online resource designed to be used either stand alone as a learning or play resource, and also as an accompaniment to our range of nature activity work books. They are:

  • An online resource
  • Designed for both beginners and children
  • Purposely easy to use

By creating them as an online resource, and most folks these days having i-phones etc with them all the time, it saves the hassle of carrying around the weight of physical copies whilst also lugging around all the paraphernalia and bits and pieces you need to take with you on a nature walk with children. It also saves carrying around multiple books by having all the different categories in one place.

Unlike most field guides, ours are deliberately broken down into sections to make it easier for children to use – in contrast to many general field guides, designed for adult use. For example, under trees, you will find separate pages for nuts, seeds, buds, leaves, flowers, fruit etc. allowing for easier identification without needing to recognise all the constituent parts of any individual tree. I have also limited each category to the most commonly found species, rather than rarely occurring or briefly passing migrants.

I understand that most guides also provide illustrations and descriptions for both adults and juveniles, males and females of all the different species. However, the illustrations in my guides show only the most distinctive – usually adult male of each bird/animal/bug etc. This is because besides creating the resources for My Nature Nook, I am also a very busy full-time mum. All of my work is done while my kids are napping – which sadly does not happen often! However, I am continuously working on new illustrations and adding to or updating the categories all the time. So, don’t forget to check back regularly and see what has been added x

My Nature Nook

Hello, I’m Leila! I help aspiring herbalists to grow their nature knowledge and deepen their Nature connection. Learn more…

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