Tag Archives: Birdwatching

The Birds Of India: New Guide

A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh is one of those next gen guides that uses photos but photos that are either enhanced or contextualized to serve the same role as drawings served in the old days, when drawings were better and photos were merely fun.

From the editors:

This is the only comprehensive photographic field guide to the birds of the entire Indian subcontinent. Every distinct species and subspecies–some 1,375 in all-

-is covered with photographs, text, and maps. The guide features more than 4,000 stunning photographs, many never before published, which have been carefully selected to illustrate key identification features of each species. The up-to-date facing-page text includes concise descriptions of plumage, voice, range, habitat, and recent taxonomic changes. Each species has a detailed map reflecting the latest distribution information and containing notes on status and population density. The guide also features an introduction that provides an overview of birdlife and a brief history of ornithology in India and its neighbors. The result is an encyclopedic photographic guide that is essential for everyone birding anywhere in the subcontinent.

  • Covers all 1,375 subcontinental bird species
  • Features more than 4,000 stunning photographs to aid quick field identification
  • Includes up-to-date facing-page text and range maps
  • Contains concise descriptions of plumage, voice, habitat, and much more
  • Best Bird Book Of the Year So Far: What The Robin Knows by Jon Young

    There was a dead rabbit in the middle of the road today. I suspected such a thing, nearby, just out of sight, and edible, because I noticed some crows taking off whenever a car went by. Then, when I went over, I could see the rabbit that they were feasting on between drive-bys.

    I had been looking for rabbits lately, because of this: the cat had switched to hanging out by the upstairs window, the better to observe the just arriving Juncos (snow birds, it is fall). She had previously spent most of her time observing rabbits from the lower, ground level windows, until just the other day when, rather suddenly, all the rabbits disappeared. Until then, there was always a rabbit or two. In fact, the entire city had been recently invaded by rabbits, according to several reports, and now they seemed to be disappearing quickly. This, I assume, means that the coyotes finally got busy. Or, an epidemic of tularemia. Either way, something happened.

    I once had a cat that was partly outdoors on Cape Cod. Well, the cat was indoors, but would escape. We’d go looking for it and always find it in a bush (a different bush every time) surrounded by no rabbits. All the other bushes would have rabbits nearby. But not the one with the cat in it. (Until, again, the coyotes showed up and ruined the rabbit-test method of finding the cat!)

    Have you seen the film Dead Birds? See it if you can. This is a very important ethnographic film, of the old style, by Gardner, of a place in Highland New Guinea. Part of the story actually has to do with live birds, not dead ones, and how they are used by sentries at the outskirts if the village lands, during times of conflict, to detect the arrival of enemy combatants. You watch the birds, and you are watching the hidden predators.

    Or you can listen to them. Or you can listen to the monkeys. Anything with an alarm call. I could engage you with story after story, if you and I both had the time, of finding very interesting and elusive critters out in the bush, mainly in Africa, by following up on the predator avoidance behavior of primates or birds.

    And, this brings us to what I think is one of the best bird books ever.

    What the Robin Knows: How Birds Reveal the Secrets of the Natural World by Jon Young is an exploration of nature based on this premise: the robin knows everything about its environment, and this information is regularly conveyed via the bird’s call, or its behavior. By observing that behavior or understanding the robin’s vocalizations, you can poach that information and also know a lot about the immediate environment, which may be your own back yard, the area near your camping site, the wooded gully the enemy may approach you by, or a nearby park.

    And, of course, it isn’t just the robin, it is all the animals including birds, insects, and everything else. But Young is talking about birds, and it is certainly true that in most or possibly all habitats, it is the birds that, owing to their diurnal and highly visible and sound oriented nature, are telling you all this information about your mutual surroundings as well as about the bird itself.

    To me, birding (and nature watching in general) is not so much about lengthening one’s list (though that is always fun) but, rather, about observing and understanding behavior. Young explores this, teaches a great deal about it, and places this mode of observation in the context of countless stories, or potential stories, about the world you are sharing with the birds you are watching.

    This is a four or five dimensional look at a multidimensional world. Lucky for us humans, as primates, we share visual and audio modalities, and mostly ignore odor, and we have overlapping ranges in those modalities (to varying degrees). But birds fly (most of them, anyway) and are small and fast and there are many of them. In many places we live, we are the only diurnal visually-oriented non-bird. Indeed, while I’m sure my cat communes with the rabbits at a level I can’t possibly understand, I’m pretty sure I get the birds in ways she could not possibly get her paws around. (Which is why we don’t let her out of the house. She would prefer to eat them, rather than appreciate them!)

    From the publisher, about the author:

    Growing up near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, Jon Young studied as a tracker and naturalist. For three decades, he has taught and mentored children and adults, combining Native skills practiced worldwide with the tools of modern field ecology, emphasizing the nearly lost art of understanding bird and animal language. The founder of OWLink Media, 8 Shields Institute, and the Shikari Tracking Guild, he consults with programs around the world. Jon has written or produced numerous books, audio, and multimedia projects. His website is www.birdlanguage.com. Married with six children, he lives in the woods above Santa Cruz, California.

    Lots of science in this book, well documented and referenced. Simple black and white but very engaging graphics. So far my favorite bird book of the year.

    Wildlife Of The Galapagos: Updated Field Guide (Review)

    Wildlife of the GalΓ‘pagos: Second Edition (Princeton Pocket Guides), by Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking is both a field guide and a travel guide, focusing on the Galapagos Islands. It includes basic information about each island and each town or tourist destination, and a comprehensive guide to how to visit, what to bring and not bring, and otherwise plan your trip to these amazing evolution-drenched islands.

    The wildlife that is covered includes birds, other land vertebrates including the famous tortoises and lizards, offshore mammals, fish, insects, and plants. There is even a short section on the different geological features, which are not technically wildlife, rounding off the guide as the only book you really need to bring. Oh, and there is also an overview of the Islands’s history.

    Over 400 species are covered with 650 illustrations including maps and drawings. The wildlife (and geological features) are represented mainly as photographs. It is a pocket size pocked guide similar to your average portable bird book.

    The authors are experienced guides and have been involved with Galapagos conservation and tourism for years.

    The first edition of this book was widely used. The second edition has added fish, Spanish names, more information about history, climate, geology, and conservation, and of course, updated information on visitor sites.

    You can’t go to the Galapagos without this book. You can, however, get this book and not go to the galapagos, and pretend you are going! (Or, get inspired, and start saving up now!)

    Feeding Wild Birds

    When the Texas A&M University Press asked me to consider reviewing Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation by Paul Baicich, Margaret Barker, and Carrol Henderson, I had mixed feelings.

    Was this just another backyard bird feeding guide? That would be nice, but not too exciting. After all, feeding birds is just a matter of getting a bird feeder and keeping it full, right? Was it an indictment of what some might consider a bad practice, because it brings birds in close contact with killer windows and cats, and causes them to become dependent on fickle human providers? Was it yet another guide to help bird lovers in their never ending battle with squirrels and other feeder-exploiting non-birds?

    But, I figured, what the heck, I’ll have a look. And I’m glad I did. This is a great book because it is full of stuff you would have never thought important or interesting, but that is, in fact, important and interesting.

    Americans have been feeding birds on a variable but more or less regular basis for well over a century. Human feeders have become part of the ecology of birds, and the practice has probably figured into the redistribution of a number of species, some invasive, some not. Bird conservation and birding, and generally, interest in birds, has been significantly enhanced by the practice of “bringing the birds to the people,” which is usually the reason to do this. The annual backyard bird count, which plays an important role in tracking conservation and zoological status of birds, is an extension of backyard bird feeding.

    _____________
    See also: Books on birds and nature.
    _____________

    Just as importantly, and really, one of the main reasons to read this book, is that the practice of feeding birds, supplying feed, designing feeders (and baths and other things) is an historically rich, complex, nuanced, and fascinating endeavor. Understanding the history of feeding birds is a little like collecting stamps. You can’t avoid myriad connections with history, in this case, world political history, history of American industry, game hunting, conservation, and, the environmental movement.

    The history starts in the nineteenth century, when regular feeding of birds became a thing. By the early 20th century, books on the topic, and a commercial and do-it-yourself industry, formed around the problem of delivering seed. Over time, various seeds and other feed products were invented, and the same industry that feeds our pets and farm animals got involved in producing bird feed. Before World War II, the practice and the associated industries were established, if not yet fully mature.

    Things got tough during the depression and World War II, because of limited resources (see especially the chapter on “Hemp, the Devil’s Birdseed”).

    Somewhere in there, the practice of feeding game birds developed. Bird baths were invented and deployed. Suet was introduced. Windows and cats increasingly became problems, and increasingly, solutions developed (partly).

    The authors investigate the spread of various species, including invasive species, with bird feeding. Of particular interest is the spread and distribution of the Cooper’s Hawk, which in some areas specializes in hanging around the feeder-equipped backyard where it is easy to find prey. (This hawk specializes in catching birds in close quarters.)

    During the 50s, 60s, and 70s, the practice involved a lot of experimentation, including how to address squirrels, and a further diversification of feed types and types of birds attracted, and the development of more companies making more products. By the end of the 20th century, the practice was fully institutionalized, and most of the current practices and products were developed, from seed to suit to hummingbird juice.

    ________
    See also: How do birds survive the winter?
    ________

    If you are a feeder of birds, this book will help you be a better feeder of birds. More importantly, it give you something else. Both bird watching and bird feeding (and lots of other things people do) are pleasurable, and people get hooked on these activities, their leisure time enriched. But these are also activities that are potential touchstones to other, vast areas of knowledge. Just as birders could, in my opinion, have an even better time birding if they knew more about the ecology and evolution of birds, bird feeders can appreciate this activity a great deal more knowing about the history. And this history is not dry, or a hard slog of any sort. The book is engaging, compelling, and just plain cool.

    I strongly recommend Feeding Wild Birds in America: Culture, Commerce, and Conservation for your avian culinary edification.

    The Birds At Itasca and Other Matters

    When I studied the Efe Pygmies of the Congo, I discovered (and yes, it was me who discovered this amazing fact everyone now knows) that the Efe organize their space in elongated linear trails. They knew all about everything along those specific trails, and their knowledge of other trails was often very limited. If an Efe person spent time living with a group associated with a trail, he* would learn about that trail as well. Most interesting is that one’s knowledge of important things like where to find food (or danger) was based on experience not on general principles. So an Efe off his trail, or another trail he knew about, was not much better than, say, me (after a couple of years gaining my own experience) at having a clue. Also interesting is that there is a relatively formal connection between historic families (you can think of these as β€œclans”) and regular use of specific trails or sets of trails. So an older male member of Clan X will tend to know all the trails anyone in Clan X knows.

    Turns out this is true of Minnesotans as well….

    Continue reading here.

    Rare Birds of North America

    Rare Birds of North America is the only extensive treatment I’ve see of the so called “vagrant birds” in the US and Canada. Most, or at least many, traditional bird books have a section in the back for rare birds, occasionals or accidentals, which one might see now and then. But when you think about it, how can five or even a dozen species in a bird book really do justice to the problem of spotting birds that are normally not supposed to be spotted?

    I’m reminded of one South African bird guide that has a half dozen penguin species listed in it. There is only one species of penguin in South Africa but a handful of others have shown up, almost always as a corpse floating around with other junk on the beach somewhere. I suppose when we’re talking penguins, that counts.

    Anyway, Rare Birds of North America by Steve Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell includes 262 species illustrated across 275 plates, from the Old World, the New World Tropics, and the planet’s oceans. The first 44 pages or so are about rare birds, and the rest of the book is a morphologically-grouped compendium of the species. The species discussion run from page to page (unlike a typical modern guide). They include common name, binomial, basic size stats, then info on taxonomy, rarity, normal distribution, and as appropriate, subspecies Most of the plates have multiple illustrations showing various angles and flight vs. non-flight, sex-specirc, and other views. The illustrations are drawings and as far as I can tell are good quality. But since you never see these birds who the heck knows!?!?

    An appendix includes brand new rare species not covered in the book. A second appendix includes species that may or may not have occurred. A third appendix lists the “birds new to North America” by year. This appendix and various data presented at the beginning of the book are analyzed in the work, but seem ripe for further Science by Spreadsheet!

    This is a Hefty, thick-leaved, well made book (I reviewed the hardcover). Not a field guide but not a big coffee table book either. More like the bird-book-shelf and truck of the car style book.

    Steve N. G. Howell is research associate at PRBO Conservation Science and is affiliated with WINGS, an international bird tour company. Hew wrote Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America. Ian Lewington a bird illustrator famous for the high quality of his work. Will Russell is cofounder and managing director of WINGS.