Tag Archives: birding

Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide

I’m sitting here looking at Antarctic Wildlife: A Visitor’s Guide. I’ve never been to the Antarctic so I can’t tell you what I think of this book from the pragmatic angle of how well it works as a guide, but I can tell you that I’ve learned a number of things just looking at the book. For one thing, I had no idea that almost all tourist visits to Antarctica go to the same general area of the continent. I guess that makes sense given the geography of the region, but it had not occurred to me before.

i-1206f48f7192b765eb5764584b1882a1-antarcticwildlifebook-thumb-300x405-65559.jpgI’ve guided a number of tours in Africa and some of my clients were very serious world travelers; More than once, I’ve had people who were just at one pole and were fitting in an Africa trip before their trip to the next pole. My sister and her husband, who have become very serious travelers over the last decade or so, have been there recently, and my BFF Laurie lived there for a year a little while back. She gave me some interesting items including a stack of Science Digest magazines that she found in the defunct research station under the South Pole. How cool is that? I figure I’ll get down there when some tourist company invites me as part of the entertainment.

And if I do go, I’ll probably carry the Antarctic Visitor’s Guide with me. As a wildlife guide, it covers a diversity of animals, mostly birds, but also sea mammals and even some plants. The book is heavy on advice for how to see and appreciate the wildlife. It occurs to me that it is probably not difficult to identify most birds and sea mammals in the Antarctic because there is relatively low diversity and high disparity (not too many species, and they are very different looking) and this is reflected in the fact that this book is heavy on information compared to field marks and lengthy discussion son how to tell one warbler apart from another when you hardly saw the thing in the first place.

(Oh, no warblers in Antarctica, by the way.)

If you are reading this blog post, you are probably looking for a book on Antarctic wildlife. And if that’s true, you are probably going to Antarctica. Enjoy your trip!

Guide to Birds of the West Indies

i-2f51ca83014b35de7d97723f26b9152d-westindiesbird-thumb-300x436-65557.jpg The West Indies includes the Lucayan Archipelago (Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands); the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Hispaniola [Dominican Republic and Haiti], Jamaica, Cayman Islands); the Lesser Antilles (Leeward Islands [the Virgin Islands of Saint Croix, Saint Thomas, Saint John, Water Island, Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, Jost Van Dyke], Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Antigua, Barbuda, Redonda, Saint Martin, Saba, Saint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat Guadeloupe); the Windward Islands (Dominica, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Grenada, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago), and the Leeward Antilles (Aruba, Curaçao. amd Bonaire). I may have missed a few.

Otherwise known as the Caribbean Islands, for the most part these islands are all high points on a large inland sea (which is mostly open to the ocean). It is the wintering grounds as well as the year round residence of numerous birds. If you live in the central or eastern US or Canada, a lot of birds show up in the spring; Many of those winter in the Caribbean. Of these birds, most, about 550, are nicely depicted, Peterson-style, in Norman Arlott’s abbreviated “checklist” style Birds of the West Indies: (Princeton Illustrated Checklists)

This book does not have much front matter telling you about bird watching, bird biology, bird ecology, or bird conservation. It dives right in to the plats and descriptions, which are organized by basic bird type with between 5 and 10 or so bird species per page (and more drawing where necessary). This is probably good if you are, say, a US based tourist and want to bring the bird book in your luggage and don’t need to learn what birdwatching is on your two week trip to Jamaica. For those who want more, consider A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies, which I have not seen, but that is by the same author and which is, according to the publishers, more than twice the pages and of a somewhat larger format, and quite a bit more expensive (but surely worth it if you live in or regularly visit the region).

The range maps, which are very important as the biogeography of the West Indies is complicated and interesting, are all at the back of the book. At first I thought this would be annoying but it is in the end necessary: Many birds occur on some tiny cluster of islands … as it is the maps are as small as they can be without losing utility, and at this size they are too big to put with the birds, if one also wants to have appropriate groupings of similar birds.

The drawings are high quality, the stock and binding are sturdy (I’ve got a paperback) and the book is in the standard field guide size range. If you are going to the West Indies and you’re a birder, you’ll want this.

When is a bird a real turkey?

This post at 10,000 Birds, an item I accidentally bumped into on the Internet while looking for something else, and an unusual sighting moments ago, converge. And, its a nice distracting convergence which I need right now because as I sit here one week before fishing opener, looking at the glassy surface of Hunters Bay, I see fish jumping everywhere. Not only that, but a 54 inch muskie was found dead a few days ago 25 feet from where I’m sitting now. And, the Department of Natural Resources put up a fish weir just across the bay, and they’ve been coming by every morning and pulling out SCADS of keepers (mostly northern pike). I’m not even going to look for my fishing gear, even though I can feel it in my hands and I can hear the plop of a bushy yellow spinner with clipped-off barbs dropping into the water inches form a rise spotted only second earlier…

OK, OK, back to the birds.
Continue reading When is a bird a real turkey?

Bring your birding to the next level

Description and identification of birds, or anything else, can be done in a rote manner with straightforward reference to details. If information about enough details is available, the identification will be accurate. But as humans we hardly ever do that sort of thing. If you ask someone to describe a car they saw recently, they will not refer to the angle of the back end or the overall dimensions or the specific layout of the headlights and tail lights. A person who does not know the make and model may say something like “It’s a hatch back” or “It’s an SUV” and in so doing provide instant reference to dozens of details of size and shape. These phrases are not short cuts: They are references to a meaningful schema of vehicles. There are SUV’s and they are functionally and structurally different from Hatchbacks.
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How To Identify Hawks at a Distance (and a recommendation on binoculars)

i-698e3747f3f1544c4c69899f56bce8d9-HawksAtDistanceCoverk9417-thumb-250x346-63003.gifImma let you hear all about how Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors is a remarkable and important field guide, but first I want to mention that one of the most interesting parts of that guide is the forward by Pete Dunne, who himself has written a bird book or two. Dunne reviews the history of bird identification guides, going back to the time before they actually included illustrations (yup, just words!) and follows the evolution of bird guides through the 20th century, with special reference to how raptors have been handled. Or, more exactly, mishandled.

It make sense to question the old ways: When was the last time a hawk came to your feeder and hung around in close view, or a small flock of hawks hopped around in a nearby meadow for ten minutes or perched on a bush for a minute or two? Yet, most depictions of raptors have used the same posing and otherwise been handled the same way as depictions of wrens and sparrows. True, various guides, including Peterson’s, have included silhouettes of selected birds in flight, and indeed, that is the point; As time has gone by, bird books have treated raptors more and more differently, until finally Jerry Liguori came up with his now classic Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight.

Continue reading How To Identify Hawks at a Distance (and a recommendation on binoculars)

Your next bird book: The Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds)

Three days ago I happen to glance out the front window of our townhouse and found myself staring at a bald eagle swooping by, presumably after picking up one of the neighborhood dogs or small children1 A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, no one was there but a package was on the stoep. And in the package was my new The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds! It was almost a Harry Potter moment.
Continue reading Your next bird book: The Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds)

What bird field guides do you really need?

There are several characteristics that make up a field guide. It should be “pocket size” (and birders have huge pockets, so this may not be as much of a restriction as it sounds). It should cover the geographical region in which you are watching the birds, although in some remote areas of the world you may not have this luxury. During my years working in Zaire, we had only a Southern African bird guide, and made due. And the book should be of the right kind and level for your needs.

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A New Field Guide to the Birds from The Smithsonian

OK, not so new, but still relevant. The following is a repost of a review of this book.


New Smithsonian Field Guide
Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Ted Floyd is a newcomer to the bird field guide scene. This guide offers a new combination of features that may make it the best choice as the primary guide for a small number of birders, and as an excellent second (or third) guide for most birdwatchers. Given the guide’s qualities and price (it is not expensive) if you are a North American birder (anywhere in the region) this is a must-have for your collection, and if you know a birder who is having a present-able event (birthday, etc.) any time in the next couple of weeks, get this as a gift because they might not even know about it yet and you will gain mucho brownie points.

Having said that, I do think there is room for improvement in this product, so do please read the fine print:

Continue reading A New Field Guide to the Birds from The Smithsonian