by John Muir Laws, Heyday, 2010, four foldout guides, $21.95
This is a neat, lightweight field guide to the Bay Area’s basic terrestrial ecosystems, suitable for beginner and intermediate levels. Created by local naturalist/artist (and Bay Nature contributor) Jack Laws, it has information about birds, flowers, trees, insects, salamanders, scat, and tracks–just about anything you might find on a hike in the Bay Area.
The guide is unique: It is actually four separate pullouts, one for each habitat zone– creeks, hills, forests, and Bay. Each section folds out like a map to a full sheet, displaying a beautiful array of Laws’s colorful drawings mixed with informational keys. While the fold-out design takes some getting used to, it turns out to be an easy and efficient way to access information on the trail.
These guides are not comprehensive–that’s clearly a bushtit, but what about its feeding habits and call?–but the pleasing layout and large pages widened my interest. On a routine identification of Indian paintbrush, I learned about chamise, buckbrush, and other plants adapted to wildfire–an important element of Bay Area ecosystems.
I ended my trail hike feeling surprised and satisfied with the punch that these little sheets had packed–I learned 10 new species, enjoyed the artwork and layout, and delighted in pulling them out at the slightest opportunity.
Keep this handy waterproof guide in your car or your backpack. And don’t worry about tearing the pages . . . I tried.