Lately, a few natural history bloggers have been attempting to traverse the interesting relationship between increasing technology, and the modern day naturalist. Steve Gale's recent blog posts are well worth a read, and although I wouldn't agree that this change is as damaging as Steve makes out (sorry Steve), he certainly poses some interesting questions as to our overall reliance on taking photographs, subscribing to bird news services, and spending more time on internet forums that actually out in the field itself.
Having grown up in the age of the internet, where an increasing number of people have access to shared online information, I've found that its become more and more tempting to rely solely on others to provide the answers. Alas, when I first started 'watching wildlife' back in 2008, at the tender age of 14, I found myself constantly hanging around the Q & A sections of Birdforum, posting (usually rubbish) photos of birds and insects that I hadn't even tried to identify for myself, expecting other people to identify them all for me. I was only a beginner, but I was also lazy, hardly ever looking in a proper field guide for myself before consulting the 'experts'. Whilst its easy to find a huge amount of great resources online, I began to find that I only really progressed in knowledge by taking the time to browse through an actual book, in the field, getting to grips with various families and genera; probably like they did back in those olden days, when the size of your bookshelf determined your attractiveness to the opposite sex.
Here's a 'pick of the bunch' selection from across the taxonomic board that I've been enjoying recently. I know I'm just adding another cliche into an already cliche filled post, but books really do have that added sentimental value that the internet will hopefully never replace:
- British Dragonflies (Dave Smallshire & Andy Swash, 2010)- Part of the excellent 'Wildguides' series, covering all of Britain's Odonata, with a double-page spread for each species, as well as a 49 pages dedicated to simplifying the identification process through various comparison tables and colour keys. Perfect for all skill sets, these are what modern day fieldguides should look like.
- The Encyclopedia of Fungi of Britain and Europe (Michael Jordan, 2004)- A large, comprehensive guide to over a 1000 species of fungi from across Britain and Northern Europe. Very simple layout with 3 species illustrated on a page, accompanied by a small description for each. An absolute bargain at £12.
- Grasses, Ferns, Mosses and Lichens (Roger Phillips, 1980)- I picked up this 1980s classic second hand for 3 quid, and although its been greatly simplified, with many species omitted due to lack of room, its still invaluable for covering the more common species . The author clearly focuses more on high quality illusating for each species, rather than producing extensive written descriptions, which is nice to see for a change, especially with such a technical group of organisms.
- A Photographic Guide to the Grasshoppers and Crickets of Britain and Ireland (Martin Evans & Roger Edmondson, 2007)- A small, concise, illusated field guide to Orthoptera. Its got a very useful key at the beginning, and boasts a large number of photos for each species, that way ensuring that all the possible colour forms that could be encountered are covered for.
- The Vegetative Key to the British Flora (John Poland & Eric Clement, 2009)- A collection of large keys aimed at allowing the user to accurately identify any British plant, even when it isn't in flower. The background information in the first few pages describing the anatonomical side to plants is top notch, as are the 23 coloured plates at the back illustrating different types of plant, but few illustrations within the key itself, and lot of technical bla bla means its definitely more suited to the experts, and will take some getting used to.
- Field Guide to the Bumblebees of Great Britain & Ireland (Mike Edwards & Martin Jenner, 2009)- A very simple, introductory field guide to 23 species of British bee, giving a brief description on appearance, similar species, habitat, nest, and flower preferences. There's a handy key at the beginning which separates each species based on their abdominal banding- making it idea as a quick reference guide in the field, but the photos in the actual identification section are lacking a bit, and the fact that there isn't an index doesn't help much.
- Collins Field Guide to Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe (Michael Roberts)- A fairly meaty volume (but still easily portable, 2001) describing over 450 species. Includes comprehensive identification keys at family, genus and species level, as well as 32 drawn colour plates in the middle of the book, and a section detailing spider field-craft (no mention of the rolled up newspaper method though). The only downside is that a lot of the distinguishing features rely on the user having a microscope handy.
- A Photographic Guide to Shieldbugs and Squashbugs of Britain and Ireland (Martin Evans & Roger Edmondson, 2005)- Made by the same guys who did the Grasshopper field guide above, this one is set out in very much the same simple, easy-to-use way, with a useful picture key at the front, and brilliant close-up images to complement simple descriptions that go with each of the 43 species accounted for.