71 Comments
deletedNov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer
Comment deleted
Expand full comment
deletedNov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

No sign of snowy owls or snow goose down here. I have a collection of my mothers wildflower books that served me well for years. Books are so much better than phone apps.

Expand full comment

I walked away from my Master Naturalist course with several pounds worth of new field guides. It was so much fun using them in the field! Especially for plants. I’ve been trying to figure out how to make them practical in the backcountry. (They aren’t, there’s just no way. You either accept carrying those extra pounds or you don’t.) I’ve found both Merlin and iNaturalist--thanks to your introduction for that one!--to be wonderful assists for learning. I don’t always use them, but sometimes I’ll go between them and a field guide, and especially for birds it’s really helpful. I like the way you relate it to learning languages. When I’m learning a language, I use recordings (CDs and tapes once, online now) to try to figure out pronunciation, unless I’m doing immersion, but that doesn’t replace the rest of the text studying, just enriches it.

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

As I learned about nature as a pre-teen I learned and broadened my understanding of nature by reading John Borroughs and others who gave context to their observations. There was a bookshelf full of then I was ready to enjoy field guides to specific groups. Even then I collected older publications like the volumes by Bent on birds of North America. I do love books and finding real organisms where the belong. Also understanding where to look and to be discovering for myself. Thank you for this post. Again you got me to reflect on how I came to love so much of the natural world.

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

I too prefer books to apps. I have a small library of birding books and have at least five field guides just devoted to shorebirds..though like someone said, 'i don't do gulls!'. Most of my field guides are specialized to the western United States. Field guides that provide seasonal ranges, juvenile and gender identification and best of all, behavior, are my favorites. Peterson and Sibley are my go-to favorites.

Expand full comment

Particularly nice post, Bryan.

Expand full comment

Field guides are the way! I want to have a field guide for everything. Currently eyeing up one for bird eggs and one for bird feathers respectively to join my Peterson guide to bird nests.

The guides are also so helpful for more complex identifications like lichens and fungi. I recently picked up a physical book for identifying macrolichens and its brought lovely insight into my PNW naturalist explorations. The knowledge in that book simply isn’t on the internet or an app. And it’s far too complex for AI.

Seek and Merlin are the two mainstays on my phone. I love using Seek as a branching off point: it tells me where to start. And Merlin is also really helpful for learning bird calls while out on walks. It’s hard to remember a bird call and reference it later especially when it’s hard to know where to start.

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

I have to confess to loving Merlin for identifying bird calls. I am not a birder; per se,'and but feed the birds and hear a lot of characters in my backyard. I like to be able to say, oh, hello Carolina wren. Hey, Ms Titmouse, what's up Purple finch. Etc. Otherwise I am apt to be saying, is this the party to whom I am speaking?

Expand full comment

This was so on point. I like using the apps, but I find deciphering clues using my guides more helpful to my learning process – I can almost feel the connections being made in my brain! Ha! I think the apps are a terrific tool when used along with field guides, so you'll usually find me out in the field with a pocket guide, the apps on my phone (I use Merlin to help me identify birdsong), and my nature journaling kit making notes, jotting down questions and guesses, and drawing what I see to later research and subsequently make my illustrations.

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

I must do a shout out for the late George Misch Sutton, Oklahoma's premier birder and artist. I, when younger actually preferred his bird art to the immortal GTP!

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023·edited Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

Thank you Bryan for championing the use of books for learning!

Owning a number of bird field guides is essential to my sussing out plumage nuances. Even then I still goof up but books will always be my primary resource.

Expand full comment
Nov 28, 2023Liked by Bryan Pfeiffer

Great read!

Thank you, a perfect time to be buying guides for gifts. I need to buy myself the Dragonflies and Damselflies.

You are so right about the apps. My husband and I finally gave in and graduated from a flip phone about two years ago. Yes, I know, about time and any other snarky comment you have available.

I was very excited to load any nature apps I could find. You are absolutely correct. Most function as a verification of what you already think you’re looking at. Some of the plant apps are so far from being correct that it seems almost fiction. I do love Merlin.

And no worries on the snowy owl prediction.

Unless you have an owl buddy that brings you messages to let you know

( Harry Potter had a Snowy owl) then we’ll let it slide.

Expand full comment

Great rant and agreed on books over apps. I've flirted on and off with the ebird and merlin apps and finally uninstalled them both for good over the Summer. I found I was not really paying attention on my hikes.

As for Snowy Owls and Snow Geese up here in the Ottawa Canada area, we've had a lot of Snow Geese moving through and will no doubt be in Northern New York State by now. I did look for Snowy Owls last weekend West of Ottawa where they are known to Winter, but I wasn't able to see any. Can't wait for the Snowy Owls to return!

Expand full comment

This is brilliant, Bryan. It's the best, most nuanced discussion on the topic I've seen. We're all about the field guides here. And what you're now offering paid subscribers makes Chasing Nature the best deal around. We'll be digging into your guide to guides with enthusiasm.

Side note: You haven't mentioned opportunities to see snow geese in Maine, so I'm assuming there isn't a particularly good site?

Expand full comment

"..there is no slow and purposeful exploring through pages of possibilities, no discovering and learning as you go, no seeing how various species fall into place, how they resemble or differ or relate to one another in form or function. Learning nature with an app is like learning a language with a phrase book. You’ll get by, you’ll be wrong sometimes, and your knowledge will be superficial."

This. So much this. I inherited a small library of plant and wildlife related books dating back to the 50s from my parents who had such a love for the natural (and artistic) world - even in books these days there just isn't the same level of "plates" of experienced observers' paintings, sketches etc. These "old" books are such a joy to peruse.

Expand full comment