For a body of water 110 miles long, 21 miles across at its widest point, and encompassing 1,320 square miles of open water within a coastline of about 600 miles, Long Island Sound somehow tends to be overlooked. But now the giant glacially formed estuarine body is getting its due, thanks to Patrick Lynch’s remarkably comprehensive “A Field Guide to Long Island Sound,” which comes out Tuesday from Yale University Press.
The maps are clear, the photography colorful, the illustrations detailed and accurate — flat-out beautiful, really — and Mr. Lynch, formerly with Yale’s Office of Public Affairs and Communications, is responsible for nearly all of it in what seems an effort of a lifetime, not unlike David Allen Sibley’s “The Sibley Guide to Birds,” which the author heartily recommends as a companion piece.
Here, though the eye is most readily drawn to Mr. Lynch’s bird illustrations, the work is very much one of natural history, with sections on wind and water patterns, the zooplankton and sea jellies of the Sound’s relatively shallow depths, the surprising vegetation of the beaches and dunes — the eastern prickly pear cactus, for one — the muted splendor of unlikely havens like the marshes of Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx, and on to a chapter on human history, from oystering to whaling. While this last understandably focuses on the Connecticut shore, it’s a welcome reminder that what is outwardly the least interesting of states isn’t quite.
On Long Island, Mr. Lynch’s considerations of tucked-away natural gems are always informative and at times eye-opening: “The bluff plant community is unique in the Long Island Sound area,” he writes of Wildwood State Park in Wading River, “for in addition to the usual black cherries, sumacs, oaks, and maples, the bluff area contains an unusual number of American beech trees, forming one of the few maritime beech forest communities on the East Coast.”
Get out your hiking boots.