I am like a kid in a candy store when I have a new field guide. I love them, and there are so many of them out there. Enthusiasts can find field guides dedicated to plants, animals, insects, fish and any other thing, truly, that may be of interest. A field guide to edible plants is always fun to flip through. But I have to say there are some I will likely never try. Mushrooming is huge with some people, but I do not know enough about it to feel safe just picking up a field guide and heading out into the woods.
One of my favorite field guides was a suggestion from UW-Extension Lakes' Pat Goggin. He recommended "Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region," by Merel R. Black and Emmet J. Judziewicz. What is cool about the book is it breaks the flowers down by the number of parts of the flower. Then I can look by color, and usually find what I am looking for, or, looking at, as the case may be. The longer I use the field guide, of course, the more numbers of plants I can identify without the guide - which I suppose is true with a field guide in anything.
Another of my favorites I have written about in the past. That one if the "Field Guide to Wisconsin Streams: Plants, Fishes, Invertebrates, Amphibians, and Reptiles," by Michael A. Miller, Katie Songer and Ron Dolen. I picked this one up when I first decided to get into fly fishing. It is really comprehensive and walks me through everything (that I can think of, in any case) that I may encounter in the stream or along its edges. I really bought it, of course, to try to determine which flies to use when fishing. But I have found myself setting my rod along a stream bank to study a plant or snail, changing my outlook on why I ventured out that day.
I also have a Stan Tekiela field guide to reptiles and amphibians in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Tekiela has a number of field guides, which is great, because all field guides are set up differently. So, finding an author that a person likes, and buying a number of field guides created by that person, gives it all a more familiar feel. I also have a bird guide by Tekiela.
For me, the best part about field guides - of course the glossy pictures and the basic information about each species is great - but for me, what I really enjoy are the rest of the questions that come along with learning a bit about one species or another. The information in a field guide is meant as a place to start. From there, the natural curiosity of an outdoorsman comes in. I think those of us who spend time outside tend to more inquisitive than others naturally. For me, field guides are a great place to start, but then always seem to lead me to more research.
After a day in the field, it is fun to sit down with the little notebook I carry with me everywhere and go over my notes. What new species did I identify today? What questions did I have about a particular place where I found a species I already knew about? Did I notice any interactions I had not noticed before?
All of those questions usually lead to more questions and before I know it my cup of tea is long gone and even the dogs have gone to bed, tired of waiting for me to finish my research. Field guides provide answers, certainly, but for me, they also beg so many questions. I think it is one of the best things about being in the outdoors - the more you learn, the less you realize you know and how everything is interconnected is always eye opening to me. One of the best parts about being the outdoor reporter for the newspaper is meeting others with the same natural curiosities as mine, and I look forward to meeting more of you as time goes on. For now, grab a field guide and get out and see what spring holds - I know I will.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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