I’m a Field Guide Kinda Guy

by Jeff Beyl


I’m a field guide kinda guy. Birds. Flowers. Rocks. Insects. Shells. You name it. Mammals. Fish. Whales and Dolphins. Trees. I like to know what I’m looking at or what it was that I saw. I like to know little things, tidbits, about the natural world around me. I keep a bird identification book in my car. Yeah, I’m that guy. Well hey, you never know.

I have several different publishers’ editions of various field guides; Roger Tory Peterson, Audubon Society, Smithsonian, Simon and Schuster, as well as several local versions. I must have six or more field guides to western birds alone, maybe four or five rock, gem and mineral guides. Some have better pictures, photos or paintings, for the identification process. Others have better descriptions and/or lore about whatever it is I’m looking at. I have about six different field guides to seashore animals and tide-pool creatures.

I’m a field guide kinda guy. I keep them handy. On a stand by my living room window, the one that overlooks the lake, I keep two field guides about western birds in general, another about Hawks and Eagles, one about owls and another about Hummingbirds. I keep them handy right next to a pair of binoculars. Yeah, I’m that guy. The one who has a microscope on the desk in the back office (and actually uses it). Several pairs of binoculars. A telescope. The one who has rocks all over the house. Dried Leaves. Feathers. They’re not labeled or anything but I know about them. I carry a magnifying glass and a small monocular around with me. Why? Because, hey, you never know. Nature is all around us here in the Pacific Northwest. Opportunities are everywhere.

I have a lot of general field guides. Rocks, Insects, Mammals. I also have specific field guides. Hummingbirds, Butterflies, Animal tracks. A friend once asked me why I had a field guide to Mammals. What, didn’t I know what a Raccoon looked like? Yeah, I know what a Raccoon looks like. But I like to know a little more about that Raccoon besides that he sometimes eats my cat’s food and stares in at me through my back door screen.

Whales. Sharks. Salmon and Trout. Bees and Wasps. Spiders.

I’m a field guide kinda guy. Yeah, I’m that guy. I point things out to my wife. Hey look, there’s a Red-Tailed Hawk. Check out this piece of Petrified Wood.

Mushrooms. Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants. Orchids.

As a resident of the Pacific Northwest I have quite a few field guides specific to this region. Birds of the Puget Sound Region. Pacific Coast Sub-Tidal Marine Invertebrates. Field Guide to the Cascades and Olympics. Handbook of Pacific Northwest Sea Creatures. But I have hiked and fished, beach-combed and scuba dived in many other parts of the country and the world so I have field guides to other areas as well; Rockhounding in Montana. The Geology of Anchorage, Alaska. The Fishes of Hawaii. Caribbean Reef Fish. I even have a field guide to nature in and around Hong Kong.

When I was a kid my Father gave me his copy of Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds. He had it when he was a kid. It was faded, battered and well thumbed-through. I kept it and used it myself for many years. There were many hand-written notes throughout its pages. Then one year I heard that Peterson was coming to a local bookstore to do a signing. I brought my Dad’s old copy and had Roger Tory sign it. He even commented that he hadn’t seen an edition that old for quite a while. That Christmas I gave it back to my Dad with the author’s autograph on the inside flap. Roger Tory Peterson, one of the modern fathers of the field guide, is gone now.

One of my favorite field guides is Between Pacific Tides by Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck’s old friend and the model for Doc in the books Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. Sometimes I just sit and read around in it. I don’t just use field guides to identify a particular animal or plant or shell or rock that I see. Sometimes I just look through them for fun.

Nowadays we can download an app onto our iPhone or iPad that helps us identify birds and wildflowers and butterflies and I have and use those as well. But somehow, to me, the books are better.

Wildflowers. Stars and Planets. Clouds. Fossilized Shark Teeth. Beach Glass. Birds of Prey. Nudibranchs. Yeah, I’m that guy. I’m a field guide kinda guy. It’s interesting and fun. You should try it. There are many different types of field guides in all the local bookstores. Stop in and get yourself a few.