#6: Cool Tools – Nature Identification Edition

#6: Nature Identification Cool Tools Edition Nature's Archive


Welcome to my second in-between episode. These are short episodes in between my interview episodes.  I’m calling this one Cool Tools – Nature Identification Edition! I’ll cover what I think are great tools to aid you in identifying, and thus, learning about the nature all around us. I cover phone apps and websites, hand loupes, binoculars, field guides, and what makes for a great field guide – along with many specific recommendations.

NOTE: I begin this show with some discussion of the historically bad 2020 wildfire seasons. I wrote a bit about wildfire causes, policies, and more in this blog post. There are links to all of the studies I mentioned and more resources in that post.

Show Timeline

1:14 – Some discussion about the California and western USA wildfires. See links and resources in this blog post

5:05 – Cool Tools – the original, by Kevin Kelly

6:10 – Traditional Field Guides, and what makes for a good field guide

10:27 – Recommended Apps, like eBird, iNaturalist, BirdNet, and Merlin

13:38 – Hand loupes

14:12 – a short note about my camera, my go-to lens selections, and my camera harness, called a Cotton Carrier

15:36 – what to look for in binoculars – magnification, objective lens, close focusing, and more

Links from the Show


Kevin Kelly, founder of Cool Tools, and so much more. Tim Ferriss calls him “the actual most interesting man in the world”.

Matthew Dodder – Executive Director of Silicon Valley Audubon has some excellent birding videos, including three on eBird features: eBird Mobile, My eBird, and eBird Explore. Be sure to check out podcast episode #2 where I interview Matthew!

Field Guides

Note: links to books are affiliate links

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the West by Dennis Paulson – one of the best field guides I’ve found. A bit large, but worth it.

Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson – the Eastern version of the above.

Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America by Jim P. Brock and Kenn Kaufman

The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. It’s larger than a field guide, but makes a great resource.

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, by David Allen Sibley

The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America, by David Allen Sibley

Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States, by R.J. Adams

California Plants: A Guide to Our Iconic Flora by Matt Ritter

More great Field Guides from University of California Press…these get into more natural history and very local information.

Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis

Field Guide to Owls of California and the West by Hans Peeters

Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions by Arthur M. Shapiro and Timothy D. Manolis

Apps and Websites

eBird – the app is great, but the website has many more features that are great for researching species, trends, locations, trips, etc. Matthew Dodder’s eBird videos provides a great introduction: eBird Mobile, My eBird, and eBird Explore.

iNaturalist – an app that helps you identify organisms of all types using photos. You can connect to experts to get identification assistance, and research where and when species are seen. Again, their website is a bit more full-featured. Check out my blog post “A Newbies Guide to iNaturalist” for a few pointers.

BirdNet – Android only (for now). This turns your phone into a bird call/song identifying machine! If you are on IOS, you can use their webiste directly.

Merlin – the best AI/ML photo ID app for birds! It even handles molting birds quite well!

iBird Pro [Apple] [Android] – My favorite USA app-based bird field guide.

Things – Optics, Cameras, Binoculars

BelOMO 10x Triplet Loupe with lanyard – great for up-close inspection of plants and tiny insects.

Canon 7d Mark ii – Digital SLR – my go-to camera for the last few years.

Canon 100-400 L ii – great wildlife lens with amazing close focus and image stabilization

Canon 100mm f2.8 macro – You need a macro lens to get really good insect and flower photos, like I showed in my Backyard Wildlife post.

Cotton Carrier – a harness that secures your camera freeing up your hands for hiking and scrambling.

Nikon Monarch 5 10×42- These are excellent binoculars that should last a lifetime. While binoculars can cost $1000+, these are about $300 and get you close to what those high end ones give you.

Music Credits

Opening – Fearless First by Kevin MacLoed

Closing – Beauty Flow by Kevin MacLoed

Both can be obtained from https://incompetech.filmmusic.io/

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