Current or general favorite field guides?


I thought it would be nice/interesting to see what the community’s current favorite field guides are. As an aspiring amateur generalist I have lots of field guides but I want to know, what’s on your bookshelf and getting a lot of attention recently?

My current favorite in rotation (2018-2019):
Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America

Feel free to add what you like as long as it’s field-guide related. Letting us know if it’s something that you’d recommend to novices vs. pros, too heavy to actually carry in the field or not, new editions/ updates or anything else that could be useful would be welcomed and appreciated too, I’m sure.

Thanks, happy observing!


What's in your field kit?
Field guide book of insects recommendations?

Hmmm, where to begin? Here are a few that I use a lot in the winter and/or that people might not be aware of (with a strong eastern/southeastern US bias, I’m afraid):

  • Woody Plants of the Southeastern United States: A Winter Guide by Ron Lance. His illustrations are fantastic, and he is generous in defining woody plants + includes non-native/adventive species. Pro-level, I guess.

  • Weeds and Wildflowers in Winter by Lauren Brown. Useful for those interested in dry fruiting stalks and other winter remains of herbaceous plants. Somewhat limited in scope but often gets me close, even if the specific species I have found isn’t covered. Novice-friendly.

  • A Trailside Guide to Mosses and Liverworts of the Cherokee National Forest by Paul Davison, available online here. This is a great reference for getting started with mosses & liverworts in the southeast, with lots of good information and photos for each genus. Novice-friendly.

  • Common Mosses of the Northeast and Appalachians by Karl McKnight et al. I always get more interested in bryophytes in the winter when there are not as many other things claiming my attention, and this is my go-to when I want more information than provided in the above. Semi-pro? (If you’re interested in mosses or would like to be, check out Robin Wall Kimmerer’s excellent book Gathering Moss - not a field guide, but a fascinating & accessible look into the world of bryology.)

  • FloraQuest is an interactive, appified version of Alan Weakley’s Flora of the Southern and Mid-Atlantic States. It has a great interactive key with the option to geo-filter by region, and is connected to iNat so you can post an observation after keying something out. If you don’t know a term used in the key, you can tap on it to pull up a definition from the glossary. Limited to iOS, unfortunately, but would be worth getting a designated iOS device for if you’re an Android user (I don’t have a smartphone but bought an older used iPod Touch in part so that I could use FloraQuest). Probably most appealing to serious botanists.

  • While I’m on electronic resources, I’ll mention NC State’s page of online keys & image galleries. These are mostly pretty focused on North Carolina, but some of the interactive keys that Dr. Krings has created are great, including excellent photos.

  • Not a field guide, but I have to give a shout-out to Harris & Harris’s Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary. This is the best reference I have used for botanical terminology, and it’s relevant year-round. Well organized, with great illustrations. Where else are you going to find a “Key to Common Inflorescence Types”?



I’m a non-native Korean speaker living in South Korea so, as an amateur interested in arthropods, the best field guides are ones with photos or sidebars with important information which make it easier to narrow down my search quickly.

There are three that I often check out from the city’s science library and while I’d like to purchase them I just don’t have the space right now. Top of the list though is:

한국의 거미 (Spiders of Korea) by 남궁준

It’s too heavy (648 pages) to carry with me everywhere but it includes a color photo or drawing of a male and female from each species and the edge of the pages are color coded by family. I eventually made an iNat guide to Korean Salticidae using that field guide as a reference.

A few months ago my computer stopped working and I lost all my bookmarks; to keep that from happening again I’ve been adding good internet resources to my iNat profile. Might need to make a journal entry for those before too long.

For what it’s worth, the other two field guides are 한국의 잠자리 (Dragonflies and Damselflies of Korea) by 정광수 and 한국 밤 곤충 도감 (Guide Book of Nocturnal Insects in Korea) by 백문기. An additional field guide that I came across online which has been rather helpful is 국립공원의 곤충 이야기 (Insect Stories of Korea National Park: Songnisan National Park) by 권혁균.



At over 10 lbs (4.5 kg) in weight, so also decidedly not a field-friendly guide, though I do know people who carry it with them, Flora of the Chicago Region (2017) by Gerould Wilhelm and Laura Rericha is a work of art. It has keys to all the vascular flora of the region as well as thousands of floral and faunal associates. Given the overlap with other flora in eastern North America, applicable to a pretty large area beyond the Chicago region.

e.g. Eryngium yuccifolium:



Wow! This is awesome. Thanks for the responses so far, everyone. I’m especially excited to look into FloraQuest. Having a key that I can use while in the field without lugging my guides sounds fancy!

They’re not all field guides pictured here but instead of writing a lot I’d figured I’d follow @bouteloua’s example and learn how to add a photo to my posts! I’m sure a couple of Sibleys are ten pounds together :) By the way, my Eryngium seeds sprouted this morning…nice timing and choice! I like all that information especially about the insect interactions.

Favorites from the ones pictured:

  • The Sibley Guide to Trees, I love the artwork and the layout and organization, it’s easy for me to navigate.

  • Freshwater Invertebrates, just neat. I don’t know anything but like trying to.



For beginners tackling seashells anywhere in North America, I recommend The Golden Guide, Seashells of North America by R. Tucker Abbott.

It is definitely pocket sized and light, and it covers a lot of common species. It will also train you to think in terms of families, which is very useful.

The introductory chapters are very out-of date, but just skip them.



I just use iNat. :-)



It’s getting there, Tony, it’s getting there…

But seriously, I recently took my first trip to South America (Galapagos and Peru), and while there was a decent guide for Galapagos plants, I figured out all of my Peruvian IDs (not yet posted) by mining the information in iNaturalist! Was never too far from heavily visited areas though…



As a seriously key-challenged generalist amateur, I need visuals. My favorite for my location is What’s Doin’ the Bloomin’ by Clayton & Michele Oslund. It covers the Upper Great Lakes and eastward, but works well in lower Michigan too, where I am. With each edition it becomes less field-friendly, but is still worth it I think. Very photo-rich, and a complete absence of keys lol. Definitely novice-friendly.



In southern Africa we are already at the stage where iNaturalist outperforms almost all of our field guides. There are some exceptions (e.g. Trees, Pooley’s Flora of Natal, Birds, Dragonflies, Butterflies), but I cannot think of any others.
Proteaceae are almost there: there is a fieldguide to all species, but iNat is only missing a handful, and iNat has the advantage of dozens of pictures (vs only one in the fieldguide) and electronic links to other pages.
Most regional plant fieldguides in the Cape Flora have between 1000 and 2000 species - most of them illustrated. By contrast, iNaturalist has - some 9225 species of the 9000 plant species that occur in the Cape Flora (oh: in case you are wondering, this excludes the 2000 ruderal aliens and ?? garden plants, which iNaturalist includes). This makes iNaturalist the best field guide by far for any region in the Cape Flora.

So quite simply, I currently use iNaturalist 90% of the time, unless I am in the field. But that is only because the iNaturalist (offline) Guides are limited to 500 species per guide, and most of the mountains dont have reliable access to the internet.



For those on the west coast of North America, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast, which is authored by two iNat users, Noah Siegel and Christian Schwarz (noah_siegel and leptonia, respectively). Beautiful photos and detailed but comprehensible write-ups. (Full disclosure: I’m friends with Christian, but the book really is great.)

Christian even helped us make a intro video to mushrooming, available here:

Another iNat user, R.J. Adams (rjadams55) is the co-author of Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States.



my favorite resource for new England plants is the gobotany website. It’s the same keys and content as Haines Flora of Nova Anglicae but it also has tons of photos and links to definitions of botanical terms.

Sedges of Maine is an awesome resource for sedges, and they are making a version for grasses too.

For California there’s the Jepson manual and all its online resources.



In which case I should mention Ants of southern Africa, authored by Peter Slingsby.

Although it was done on iSpot, the entire community has moved across to iNaturalist.
Some samples are here:



Peter’s been an amazing ant IDer!



On the top of the pile of field guides on my desk is the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America (which has already been mentioned). It’s excellent. Both authors are active on iNaturalist (David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie).

For birds I’ve got the Sibley Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America (and Western, for when I visit there). It has displaced the old Peterson and National Geographic field guides I used to use.

I have one very niche guide in my pile which I really like: “Metamorphosis - Ontario’s Amphibians at all Stages of Development”, by Peter B. Mills. It covers tadpoles and salamander larvae in detail, like this:

Those are illustrations, not photographs.

The other guides in my pile I can’t wholeheartedly recommend.



I get tadpoles in my pool/pond and some baffle me. Glad to hear about this resource!



I’m not exactly someone who could be described as, “super celebrity crazed” but my version was to get so excited when I realized the Jason Dombroskie of field guide photo credit fame was IDing my lepidoptera observations. One could say my version of celebrity is a bit different from a typical American. Joking aside, it was a moment I realized how awesome iNaturalist was. How accessible such a huge amount of information and expertise was at my fingertips.

This is a wealth of awesome information. Thanks to everyone so far!

Oh, meant to mention Caterpillars of Eastern North America too



The two best field guides that apply to eastern Canada (and Northeast US), in my opinion, are:

Ed Lam’s Damselflies of the Northeast. Absolutely gorgeous, very accessible, but with all the information you could possibly need quickly accessible. This is the only field guide I would use the word “flawless” to describe.

Newcomb’s Guide to Wildflowers. Not a book you can learn much from just flipping through, and not particularly nice to look at - but if you see an unfamiliar flower you can have a confident identification in often under a minute! You do outgrow it eventually as it is not comprehensive for rare species - but I would wholeheartedly recommend it for anybody within its area of coverage.



For California’s central Sierra Nevada I think an excellent combo is John Muir Laws’ illustrated “Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada” plus Weeden’s “A Sierra Nevada Flora.” The Laws book is really well done and although incomplete, the flora he highlights is 90% of what you find. It’s easy to page through and narrow down your options, and then Weeden’s is just a terrific flora with keys included. It’s super nice to have a key that only includes species whose range you’re in vs. wading through Jepson only to find you’ve gone horribly wrong and identified your plant as something that’s a rare desert endemic. Weeden’s taxonomy is out of date and the book is also out of print… someone should do a revision! Graf’s Tahoe Basin Plants book is a third choice for central Sierra botany. He does trees and shrubs well.

Also I’ll second Tony’s suggestion of “Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast!”



If you’re interested in guides to obscure taxa and specific regions that might be otherwise difficult to find, check out the Field Guide Exchange group on Facebook for sharing of electronic field guides and keys.