Field Guides

A few of my favorite field guides
A few of my favorite field guides

I’m always thinking about the intertidal, so field guides and reference books pertaining to the seashore are a big part of my life.  On February 13, I posted this photo on theoutershores’ Facecebook page, and posed the question, “Do you have a favorite field guide?” I thought the photo was evocative, but the response to my question was underwhelming.  I’ve decided I’m going to risk another crack at it here.

A few more TOS field guides and references
A few more TOS field guides and references

Here’s a stack of TOS field guides and references, including some of my favorites.  It might surprise you to know that most of these are applicable anywhere from California to Alaska, USA.  My all-time favorite is Between Pacific Tides by Ricketts and Calvin. If you follow TOS, you already know I can’t get enough of that.  Next, The Light and Smith Manual; it’s no picture book. You’ve got to be an intertidal stud to spend a lot of time alone with Light’s.  Kozloff’s Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast is fantastic; kind of a modern Between Pacific Tides.  Milt Love for fishes; but it’s hard not to have a soft spot for venerable Miller and Lea.  Finally, Whelks to Whales by Harbo and The Beach Comber’s Guide to Seashore Life by J. Duane Sept; I could browse the photos in those two all day long, and have.

What’s your favorite field guide or natural history reference?


Harbo, R. M. 2007. Shells & Shellfish of the Pacific Northwest. 3rd printing. Harbour Publishing.

Kozloff, E. N. 1993. Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast. 3rd ed. University of Washington Press.

Light, S. F., 2007. The Light & Smith Manual: Intertidal Invertebrates from Central California to Oregon. 4th ed., edited by J. T. Carlton. University of California Press.

Love, M. 1996. Probably more than you want to know about the fishes of the Pacific coast. Really Big Press, Santa Barbara, California.

Miller, D. J. and R. N. Lea. 1972. Guide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California. California Fish Bulletin Number 157. California Department of Fish and Game, Sacramento.

Ricketts, E. W. and J. Calvin. 1968. Between Pacific Tides. 4th ed., revised by J. W. Hedgpeth. Stanford University Press.

Sept. J. D. 2009. The Beachcomber’s Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest. Revised ed. Harbour Publishing.


  1. I’m not sure it qualifies as a field guide, but I love to look through tide tables booklets, imagining the ebb and flow.

  2. Not for the sea, but my favorite is Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska by Jim Pojar et al. I’ve found it to be a real help when trying to ID plants I find along coastal and inland hikes (doesn’t work well for east of the Cascade range though). I almost always pack it when going on a hike, and if I don’t, I take pictures to ID later.

    1. Yeah I was going to say Pojar and Mackinnon as well. 🙂 Super trusty field guide, although not quite waterproof as my copy is not in the best of conditions.

      1. Thanks to the suggestion, I just picked up a barely used copy at my neighborhood bookstore. I’m going to be checking out some dune plants for sure.

  3. That slender green book you have in one of your pics probably comes in at number one for that part of me that dwells in the intertidal. Miller and Lea’s Gide to the Coastal Marine Fishes of California just rocks so hard in all the right ways. I would call Dan Miller’s illustrations the best (and maybe best known) and purest application of the stipple method of biological illustration. As for my all around favorite field guide, various iterations of RC Stebbins’s Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians rule supreme. His small brown guide to herps of the San Francisco Bay Area was the Bible of my childhood. The mature me was drawn to the intense and quiet perfection of Amphibians of Western N America. Unlike others of his guides, Stebbins here included excerpts from his field notes. The beauty of his writing eclipses his artwork, in my opinion. Finally, if you only wanted to have one Stebbins field guide, the Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, 2nd rev. ed. (the “tortoise” cover) is the one. The quality of the Stebbin’s guides had a hyperbolic trajectory over time, with the 2nd rev. ed at the apogee.

    1. Great analysis of the Stebbins guides. I had only a superficial awareness of the details you mention. After thinking about what you’ve said, I have to agree. We also agree on Miller and Lea. Thanks for sharing your favorite guides, I know you’ve had a field guide of one sort or another in your hands since approximately your birth.

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