Imagine you are out on a walk at a local nature preserve. As you walk, you are struck by the beauty and variety of the plants you see and the birds you hear. You wish you could learn more about the nature around you, but aren’t sure of where to start. An invaluable resource in exploring and learning about the natural world around us is a field guide. Not sure what a field guide is, exactly? Let me explain.
A field guide is a book that helps its reader identify biotic (alive!) and abiotic (non-living!) objects in nature. Field guides can be general to an area like the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England, or more subject specific like the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Massachusetts. The field guide you choose should be based on your learning goals. So if you want to learn more about trees, choose a field guide that identifies plants. If you wanted to learn more about mushrooms, you would choose a fungi field guide.
Once you have selected your field guide, you need to be able to use it. Start by reading it at home. Most field guides will have an introduction or overview and a “How to Use This Book” section. It may sound like a lot of reading, but the best part about field guides is that the written sections are short and to the point (and there are always pictures).
Once you feel confident in your field guide know-how, you can head outside and start using it!
There are two main ways to use a field guide. The first is to identify a species in nature by comparing the real life object to the picture in the book. The second is to look up a species you already know in the index, find the corresponding page and read the information that is provided.
Whichever method you choose you are sure to learn more about the natural world around you, and truly impress your family and friends in the future.
How We Science is moderated and edited by the staff of the Natural Resources Trust of Easton.