The Naturalist’s Companion: A Field Guide to Observing and Understanding Wildlife by Dave Hall

The Naturalist's Companion: A Field Guide to Observing and Understanding Wildlife by Dave Hall

The Naturalist’s Companion: A Field Guide to Observing and Understanding Wildlife by Dave Hall is a short guidebook all about how to actually see and understand wildlife in the wild.

The author obviously knows his stuff. He’s been observing wildlife closely since childhood and even runs an organization dedicated to getting people outside and into observing wildlife.

What I Liked

I liked that he provided both a framework of how to find & see wildlife (life cycles, baseline behavior vs. non-baseline behavior, seasons, etc) in addition to specific tactics to actually find & see animals.

I liked the format of the main non-fiction, including the how to use narrative mixed with call-outs or sidebars about more nuanced issues.

I also appreciated how he was honest about the fact that nothing in his book or practice is new. Most hunters would recognize and actively use 90% of the book’s content. The difference is intent, context, and when you can use the tactics.

He does a good job of constantly mentioning the ethics and self-awareness required for interacting with animals. And yet, the book is still about finding, tracking, observing, and interacting with wildlife.

What I Found Complicated

Ok, apparently, there’s a big question over whether this book should even exist. The argument is that deliberately seeking out wildlife to interact with it is always wrong, except in very specific, socially approved contexts (like a wildlife biologist doing a scientific study on a given population for a large, regulated institution). And a book that does anything to encourage and enable individuals to seek out and interact with wildlife is a book that should not exist in the world.

I don’t think we should stop a book from being published. I’m glad this book exists in the world. And I think if there’s anyone who could or should write it – the author is that person.

But! After reading the book, I did find myself agreeing with the critics of the book. The fact is that we live in a world of 8 billion humans that is rapidly becoming less and less hospitable for millions of species just trying to get on with their lives.

Any deliberate human interaction with any wildlife species poses a high risk of poor outcomes (for both the human and animal) that is simply not worth it. It’s like traveling to Antarctica or Mt. Everest—usually, it’s the people with the absolute best intentions who are the ones who are causing the problems. Just don’t do it.

Takeaways

That said, I did take a few things from the book that are useful and ethical and that I hope could be more widely adopted.

First, understanding how wildlife uses our world can make us much smarter caretakers. For example, a pile of brush in the back corner of my yard might be unsightly to me, but it is probably a critical habitat for rabbits or weasels. The book has plenty of tips for learning how to observe if an area or object is being used by wildlife—and we can do that without trying to befriend the rabbit.

Second, humans are the weird, unpredictable predators in any ecosystem. But we don’t have to become friends with wildlife to make their lives easier. We can just be quieter, more predictable, and leave more habitat alone. The book has solid tips on doing all three things (especially the being quieter part).

Third, there is a lot of knowledge about wildlife that we’re losing because we’re not spending time outdoors. We have more facts & trivia about animals than ever before. We have a better scientific understanding of animals than ever before. But without seeing those facts in nature, it’s harder and harder for non-professionals to sort of make sense of all those facts. And again, it doesn’t take getting a beaver to eat out of your hand to understand its life cycle. It just means sitting on a bench near a wetland for a long time and watching.

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