Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.
— Lemony Snicket —
Field Guide: Developed the habit of reading much later in my life. But now that I have it, I prefer a book over viewing something on the phone.
The internet has taken things to a whole new level. Attention spans have decreased and audio-visual content has become the most used medium for absorbing information. There are videos practically for everything, from explaining great events in history to fundamental concepts, explaining them all just in a matter of minutes. These do have their advantages and I find myself using the internet quite often. But a good book is a good book! Nothing quite like it!
As a child I loved books with pictures, as a matter of fact I still do. While skimming through the pages if I saw only words I immediately put the book back in its place.
So today much to my delight, we shall talk about some fascinating books with pictures and keep the rest for another day.
What is a field guide?
A field guide is a book that helps you identify the flora / fauna observed in the field.
Field guide are often differentiated based on two grounds:
Birds of India, Indian Mammals, Spiders of India
Wildlife of Central India , Trees of Delhi , Birds of Northern India
A field guide consists of:
- A general description of the fauna or the region under consideration.
- Pictures / paintings: of the wildlife under consideration.
- Detailed Description: describing the color, size, weight and unique markings of the animal.
- Habitat: where to find these animals, example dense forest, near water bodies, etc.
- Distribution map: where in India is the animal found.
Why own a field guide?
Pertaining to wildlife there are a plethora of things one can expect in the jungles of India.
While there is always the focus on the mega fauna like tigers, lions, elephants etc.
The beauty is also in the little things
There is a saying in the jungle ‘Look for the little things and you shall find the big things.’
While spotting a tiger in the jungles of India is a matter of chance; spotting birds, insects and some interesting trees is just a matter of keen observation and some timely information.
A field guide can help you identify what you see sparking your curiosity and also the greed to see more. Example birds: One of the most underrated and often overlooked members of the forest. They can be found everywhere and in a variety of colors. They are waiting to be spotted and identified.
A field guide can provide you with information of the birds of a particular area and in what habitat to expect them.
Even pamphlet field guides, available at park gates are a good source of information. They are colored with good pictures. They provide important information about the park and its residents along with visual descriptions of some of the denizens you can expect on your safari inside.
What to look for in a field guide
An essential feature of a good field guide to lookout for is good quality pictures clearly depicting the animal. Because pictures are taken under different light settings and the same animal may look different under different light conditions. Some field guides use paintings / drawings which at times prove to be more descriptive than pictures. This is especially true to birds which are small and difficult to identify and distinguish at times.
Accurate maps depicting distribution of the animal and best places to see it is what encompasses a good field guide.
Finally, it should be an easy book to search and navigate through to find the concerned species.
Advent of Technology
With the rise in the number of our new best friend (the smartphones) things have gotten easier. Most field guides are available in the form of mobile applications.
Positives are it eliminates the need to carry bulky books, additionally some of the field guides even come with audio recordings, example bird calls.
But personally I still prefer my field guide in the good old book format; however I leave this choice up to you.
Some popular field guides in India
There are plenty of field guides available today and being comfortable with any one is also a matter of personal choice at times.
I am going to list the field guides that I have used and in my opinion successfully serve their purpose:
Birds of the Indian subcontinent – Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp, Tim Inskipp
A great field guide covering birds of the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka)
Pros: The book contains detailed paintings of the birds (Male, female and juvenile) which aids in bird identification
Cons: A new birder may find it difficult to navigate the book (takes some getting used to).
Indian Mammals – Vivek Menon
A great informative field guide covering the 400 odd mammals found in India.
This has something for everyone from amateurs to experienced naturalist.
Variety of pictures from various photographers depicting the mammals.
Also contains a section on aquatic mammals such as whales and dolphins.
Wildlife of Central India – David Raju & Surya Ramachandran
Central India being a popular destination, for wildlife tourism this book offers everything under one cover.
Pros: It covers mammals, birds, butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies (yes they are different), amphibians and reptiles. Hence it eliminates the need for carrying and referring multiple field guides.
It is a great read to spark your curiosity and get you learning more about some of the tiniest and unseen residents of the jungle.
Cons: Birders may find the bird section challenging as the pictures available are only of the male species making it difficult to identify the females and juveniles that look distinct when on the field. In which case a more detailed field guide dedicated to only birds would do more justice.
Jungle Trees of Central India – Pradip Krishen
Difficult to identify and being a subject few people are interested in make trees the least popular in the forest.
However their persistence presence as protectors eventually lures one into their secret world.
A great book that contains detailed pictures of the bark, fruits, flowers and leaves of trees. It serves as an ideal aid in identification of trees.
It also has some fun facts pertaining to the commercial and medical uses of the tree.
So the next time you plan a visit to the national park do some homework, carry along a field guide, make a check list (get competitive and try to spot the maximum species) and lookout for the slightest of movement with a keen eye which will then lead to you spot so many fascinating species (but always remember, do so in an ethical, friendly way) and you will discover the jungle in a whole new avatar.
Don’t look through the key hole when the door is wide open.
Chase after the tiger indeed but while doing so, do not miss to stop and absorb the beautiful view of the magnificent Indian Roller bird perched on a tree, the gorgeous Commander butterfly flutter by and the very macho Bloodsucker (Common Garden Lizard) doing his territorial push-ups.