Naturalism - the tree-identifying kind, not the get-naked-at-the-beach kind.
January 22, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Books and/or websites to help me become a naturalist?

I love being outdoors, and currently live in Michigan. However, my knowledge of the natural world is pretty much limited to "that's some kind of tree, that's some kind of squirrel, that's some kind of predatory bird..." I think you see the pattern. So what books or websites can I use to learn about all this stuff. BONUS POINTS for an Android app. BONUS BONUS POINTS for field-guide style stuff that I can take with me on hikes, etc.
posted by r_nebblesworthII to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
The National Audubon Society publishes a wide range of field guides. They're good, though it does get heavy to take them on hikes. I find that printed books are a lot easier to use than apps or websites, because you may need to quickly scan a big range of pictures until you find one that resembles the creature/object that you're trying to identify.

Gerald Durrell, The Amateur Naturalist, is a very good illustrated introduction to the techniques of natural history--how and when to observe, what to look for, how to take notes, etc. It's out of print but used copies are easy to come by.

Depending on where in Michigan you live, you might see about courses at a nature center--e.g. the Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, or the Kalamazoo Nature Center.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:43 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

By the way, "natural history" is what you're looking for, not "naturalism." And you might consider reading some natural history books to get a sense of what catches their attention. Gilbert White's late 18th-century Natural History of Selborne and Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac are both classics; Berndt Heinrich is one of many contemporary naturalists whose work is worth reading.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:47 AM on January 22, 2011

Thank you for the correction and good answer. I've thought about the Audobon field guides but was holding out to see if someone might suggest something better.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:51 AM on January 22, 2011

I've been a fan of the Stokes's series of bird guides. They focus on a small number of birds and describe their behaviors as opposed to just quick identification.

Go make friends with the Audubon people, they tend to be really nice and welcoming and are interested in all kinds of things outdoors. My sister has enjoyed the Sierra Club as a group of people to go hiking and camping with.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:18 AM on January 22, 2011

Forgot to link to Michican Audubon.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:19 AM on January 22, 2011

Look around for hikes with naturalists - Audubon, Sierra Club, etc., then see what those folks are using. Personally, I find it a lot easier to learn when the tree/flower/bird is right there and someone is telling me what it is.

My favorite bird book for the field is the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America that I was assigned for ornithology class in Minnesota. The others rarely leave the house.

If you can't find an organized hike, start hanging out at your local parks and natural areas, and soon enough you'll find naturalists who will be happy to share their knowledge. One of my favorite memories from college in Ann Arbor was going out early to watch the Sandhill Cranes land with a group. Enjoy!
posted by ldthomps at 10:16 AM on January 22, 2011

The "get naked at the beach" thing is called "naturism", not "naturalism".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 12:08 PM on January 22, 2011

My favorite bird book is Kaufman Field guides He digitally enhances the photographic images to show the characteristics that are sometimes not apparent in photographs.

I also like the fold out laminated guides, which are nice when you want a quick glance and not carry around a bunch a books. The ones that are region specific are best.

Cornells All about birds web site is my favorite online resource for looking up birds. Found this bird app but I haven't used it so I don't know more about it, looks interesting though.
posted by ljesse at 1:32 PM on January 22, 2011

I am partial to the Peterson field guides, at least for birds - this is what my field studies class used.
posted by naoko at 9:49 AM on January 23, 2011

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