I have commented elsewhere on the need for naturalists to be well dressed whenever setting out into the field. It is no less important, however, to be properly equipped with the essential paraphernalia that will identify you as a working naturalist. Otherwise, you may run the risk of being picked up as a vagrant or worse.
A lot depends on whether you plan to specialize in a certain area of natural history or prefer to be simply known as a GN—generalized naturalist. A herpetology (reptile and amphibian) buff, for example, should always have a couple of cloth bags hanging from the belt in which to transport captured snakes or lizards, a snake hook or tongs, along with an assortment of plastic containers to hold frogs and salamanders as well as potato salad. Entomology (bug) enthusiasts, on the other hand, should always carry a butterfly net. Even if you’re not into bugs, there’s just something about a butterfly net which makes others take notice and lends just the right je ne sais quoi quality to your outfit. Bug people should also carry plenty of small bottles and some sort of killing jar, at the bottom of which is placed an absorbent material soaked with a chemical to asphyxiate insects. I am told that used foot pads work very nicely.
All naturalists worth their salt carry binoculars. It’s a safe bet to say that anyone observed carrying binoculars in the field has to be one of two things—a naturalist or a peeping Tom. Come to think of it, all naturalists are peepers in a sense, forever peeping through an open window at Mother Nature’s enchantments. The most important thing to look for in binoculars is not image quality or durability, but how much they cost, the more the better. Nothing can so ruin a naturalist’s good reputation as a pair of binoculars that look like they came free out of a cereal box. Always make sure the brand label stands out clearly for all to see. Size is a matter of individual preference. Many naturalists consider 7×35 a good, all around size, though some go for the additional power and light-gathering ability of a jumbo 20×80. I have found, however, that such instruments tend to leave scars on the chest when carried too long.
Various field guides are always useful, especially in showing others that you are not some illiterate boob running around trying to look like a naturalist. It is particularly important that you open the book every now and again to make it appear as if you’re scanning the contents. It also helps if you mutter something in Latin. More affluent naturalists may go in for real field guides—those who, for $500 a day and all expenses, will lead their clients to all the natural hot spots and maybe even prepare a nice champagne brunch.
A few additional items are worth mentioning. A small notebook or journal is handy for recording field observations as well as the philosophical prose inspired by the sight of a rare Orinoco crocodile as it chews on your leg. Some naturalists, like Henry David Thoreau, have been known to get carried away with this to the point of spending their entire lives keeping journals. I end up mostly doodling in mine.
A camera is also nice to have, especially if you have just spotted an ivory-billed woodpecker or a sasquatch. Various telephoto lenses will help you take otherwise unobtainable close-ups of certain kinds of wildlife. For grizzlies, a 1000 millimeter lens is just about right.
A magnifying glass will help you examine natural objects more closely, or burn ants when you’re bored. It can also help start a forest fire in the event you become lost.
Those not overly fond of handling slime molds or scat might also wish to carry forceps. They are also handy in plucking leeches or nasty eyebrow hairs.
And the most important equipment of all, especially for those naturalists seeking out some of the more interesting and less primitive natural areas—Tahiti or the French Riviera, for instance—is a little piece of plastic to pay for it all. A naturalist does not live by birds and bugs alone.
©Gene Twaronite 2014
Originally published in 5enses September 2014 http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-well-equipped-naturalist/