Field Studies Council ID Guides - Review

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Field Studies Council ID Guides - Review

I came across these a few weeks ago, and bought myself a selection. Not having seen them mentioned on here before I thought I'd write a short review.

Each ID Guide is about half way between A5 and A4 in size. They are fan-folded and laminated making them easy to carry and use. Although the laminating isn't very thick it should provide protection from being on wet ground or a bit of rain. However once they've been used for a while I suspect the laminating on the folds will fail. They retail for between £2.75 and £3.50, and are available from the FSC website: http://field-studies-council.org/publications/index.aspx There are a large number available, as well as other publications. The rest of this review covers each of the one's I purchased.

Each of the guides also has information about relevant organisations such as the British Plant Gall Society and the Bat Conservation Trust.

Land Mammals

Eight sides, with the 'front' side showing a picture of each animal, and the 'rear' side containing information about each animal. Beside each picture is details of the scientific name, size and where relevant maximum shoulder height (MSH), and combined head and body length (HBL). The front page also has a ruler printed along one edge. The information is divided into categories of mammal:

  • Small insectivores and rodents (shrews, mice)
  • Large insectivores and rodents (Hedgehog, mole, rats, water vole, squirrels)
  • Carnivores (Fox, polecat, badger, otter, etc.)
  • Rabbits and hares
  • Deer (Red, Roe, Fallow, Sika, Muntjac, Chinese Water)

For each mammal it gives the name, head characteristics, Fur colour, Tail, Habitat and distribution. The descriptions aren't necessarily scientific, but what are useful for identifying in the field, and are written in clear English rather than science-speak. There is also a useful introduction to the carnivores explaining the main differences between them. It also includes domestic cat (Tabby) so covers pretty much everything you are likely to come across, rather than just 'wildlife'.


Reptiles and Amphibians


Eight sides, with pictures on the front and information on the back. Covers the following:

  • Newts
  • Frogs & Toads
  • Lizards and slow-worm
  • Snakes

For frogs, toads and lizards, pictures are given for each stage of the life cycle. The photos of all except the slow-worm and snakes are shown life-size, these others being at 1/2 size. The snake pictures also show the comparative sizes of the snakes.

On the reverse the information is divided into Life cycles, watching, conservation, and recording, together with a detailed description of each animal and a map of its distribution.


Bats

The front side of this eight-paged leaflet is a flowchart for identifying each of the 16 species. I think this is only going to be of use if you find a dead bat, or are with a licensed handler, but it's interesting in any case. Each species is shown along with its scientific name, forearm length and wingspan. There is also a ruler printed along one edge.

The reverse side gives tips on identifying bats, together with a warning about the legalities. There is also a section on bat detectors. Most of the reverse is taken up by a large table, giving for each species;
  • Range (distribution)
  • Conservation status
  • Size
  • Roosts (location types such as buildings or trees)
  • Emergence time after sunset
  • Flight pattern
  • Flight picture showing altitude and habitat and how they transition between them
  • Heterodyne detector call description
  • Peak frequency range
  • Call frequency range
  • Call duration
  • Pictorial sonogram

Mammal Tracks & Signs

This guide runs to 12 sides, and categorizes animals based on similar tracks:
  • Paws with four short toes and obvious pads, symmetrical
  • Paws with four short toes and no palm pad
  • Paws with five short toes
  • Mammals with paws
  • Hooves leave two 'slots' which can be paralell or splayed
  • Mammals with cloven hooves

Each print is clearly shown with annotations giving indicators. For the fox, the trail is shown as straight and purposeful as opposed to the erratic trail of a dog. Dogs and domestic cats are also shown, as these are probably the most likely tracks to be found. For cloven animals, sheep and pig/wild boar are shown.

The reverse side gives details and pictures to aid identification of droppings, including size, appearance and smell. There is also information on Burrows, nests, and feeding remains for the animals covered. Finally there is a useful table showing the reliability on field signs for these animals. In other words, are they likely to be confused with other animals.

Plant Galls

Another 12 page guide, covering the following categories:
  • Mite galls
  • Insect galls
  • Bacteria, fungi and viruses

A ruler is also printed along one edge. The pictures are again clear, full-colour images. Although the sizes are not given, each one is shown in context on the leave/branch that it appears, so you can judge scale even without absolute sizes. Curiously, a ruler is printed along one edge, but without sizes being specified it seems a bit superfluous. The host plant is also given. My only criticism is that the common names are not given, but perhaps this is only an issue if you already have some knowledge. It would make learning them easier though.

For the insect galls the class of insect is given (aphids, midges, flies (several typers), weevils, etc). Bacterial or fungal causes are also given where applicable.

The reverse side contains information on what galls are, their causers, and the life-cycle of some of the causers. This is important as some causers need two or more species of plant to complete their life-cycle.

Bees

The final guide I have is the eight page guide to bees. As with the other guides, the subject matter is divided into categories:

  • Bumble
  • Honey
  • Mining
  • Cavity nesting
  • Cuckoo

In total, 28 species are shown. As well as full colour images, a silhouette is also shown. The images are larger than life-size, with the silhouettes being an average life-size. This is useful as some of the identifying features could not be shown if the colour images were life-size. In addition, where there are difference, both male and female are shown.

On the reverse is again, a wealth of information about their feeding habits, and the difference between social, solitary, and cuckoo bees. There is also a table giving flight times (months of the year), distribution and status, and identification notes. There are then a couple of short sections on conservation and making a bee garden.

Summary

I'm very impressed with these guides. and although I haven't had time to read them in detail, what I have read has been well written and informative to the general nature-lover. I can't comment on the accuracy of the information as I have no specialist knowledge in any of the areas, but given the purpose of these guides, and the remit of the Field Studies Council, I would expect it to be well researched and accurate.

The size of these guides makes them ideal for carrying in your pack, covering the majority of what you are liekly to come across without the need to carry around a small library of books. I have put them in a ziplock wallet and they will be living in my bugout bag.

Highly recommended, and in my opinion excellent value for money. Once I've worked my way through these, and as my interest expands, I'll certainly be investing in more from this series.
 

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