I grew up in the Superior National Forest in northern Minnesota. Nature has always held a special place in my heart and I try to escape to it as often as I can. It might be little harder, maybe, being that I live on the Great Plains now, but the "working harder" to get to the forests probably make it that much more special to me.
I've learned a lot of things over the years and the miles of hiking, but there is so much variety and diversity in the wild, there is just no way for me to know the names of everything I see. That's where field guides and the internet come into play. Thought I'd share my "Go To" resources. Of course, they are a little biased to my part of the world, but hopefully they could be resources to you too, or a at least a starting point.
Without the field guides I use, I'd have had a hard time figuring out the butterfly above was the Northern Pearly Eye (Enodia anthedon) when we spotted it in Lake Bemidji State Park in Minnesota. The guide I have is fantastic and it appears to be the one most recommended by butterfly enthusiasts.
It's called the Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America and it is organized by groups such as Admirals, Whites, Coppers, Hairstreaks, Metalmarks, Brushfoots, etc. The guide includes range, actual sizes, great images, helpful identification hints and quite a bit more detail.
Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies
In addition to the field guide, I also use the website Butterflies and Moths of North America which is an excellent resource with tons of great photos. Often, I'll find what I think is correct in the field guide and then verify using photos from Butterflies and Moths of North America and Wikipedia.
For their cousins the moths, things are a little more challenging. Maybe because they are often unseen and generally go about by nighttime, they just don't seem to be as popular. I use the book below called Discovering Moths - Nighttime Jewels in Your Own Backyard by John Himmelman.
This is the tool I used to be able to find out that the following photograph was of the Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica), when I happened upon several in Sica Hollow State Park in South Dakota. This one happens to be a daylight flying moth. The Butterflies and Moths of North America website is helpful for moths too.
For wildflowers, I have to use a variety resources to track them down. It seems to be a little more challenging to identify wildflowers than butterflies. Perhaps it is because wildflowers can change so much in their lifespan or because there is such amazing variety. I usually start with the Peterson First Guides for Wildflowers (Northeastern and North Central America). This is a handy small size, so if I carry a book into the field with me, it's this one. It is also organized by color which I find VERY helpful.
The second book pictured above, that I usually go to is Wildflowers, Grasses and Other Plants of the Northern Plains and Black Hills by Van Bruggen (above) This one has nice images and is also sorted by color. The photos in this book generally match what I see in the field better than other books. It is in this book I found out the following wildflower is a Bracted Spiderwort and that it can be seen anywhere from pale pink to dark purple or blue. The book goes on to explain that this may be related to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. SO much to learn!
The third book I use is Wildflowers of the Northern Great Plains. This book has great details and I think it is an excellent book. It isn't quite as easy as the others for identification, however as it isn't organized by color, but by the traditional taxonomic order (I'm sure this is great for botanists, but not as helpful to this crawling in the mud photographer).
Maybe even MORE helpful than the books in this category is an online resource that I think is absolutely amazing. The volunteer run Minnesota Wildflowers site. So many advanced search tools to help you find that elusive wildflower ID. If you find this site useful as I do, please consider donating to these fantastic wildflower people.
So, there you have it. That's how I track down the things I see in my world. If you have a resource I haven't mentioned, I'd sure love to hear about it in the comments.
Until next time!