Sunday, May 25, 2014

Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey

Field Guide to Birds of New Jersey
by Wright, Rick and Brian E. Small
2014, 368pp, ISBN: 9781935622420

BASICS:  flexcover; an attractive photo guide to 255 (68%) of the species routinely seen and 55% of all species in New Jersey; each bird shown with 1-3 high quality photos; photos show the adult breeding plumages of the male and female and sometimes of a juvenile-plumaged bird; one paragraph of material on each bird covers descriptions of the bird, habitat preference, some habits, and sounds; a short sentence of key identification notes is used as a legend with each photo; good guide for a novice birder wanting to focus on the birds of the state

REVIEW:  This book presents something just a little bit different and better from previous state-dedicated bird books.  That difference is a guide with a better balance between the size of that book against a proper representation of the region's birds.  This book gives us a number of species that is not too few (which makes for a useless book) and a number that is not too high (which can be overwhelming with all the vagrants).  Instead, this book has just the right number of birds for the new birder who's taking a first serious effort to learn the birds of his own home turf in New Jersey.

Within this book are 255 species the authors consider as "annual or more or less common".  In other words, those birds that can be found without much difficulty every year.  This accounts for 68% of the species routinely seen in the state and 55% of all 460+ birds known from New Jersey.  This smaller subset will serve the novice birder quite nicely for first learning the birds one would expect to see in the state.

The other nice feature of this book is the great selection of 600+ color photographs.  The quality and size of these photographs should be commended.  Many of them take up at least half the page and all of them show the bird in top quality color and clarity. Each bird is shown with 1-3 photos that display the male and female (when different) in adult breeding plumage.  The juvenile plumage is shown for some of the birds, too.  Very few birds are shown in non-breeding plumage, which might make birding in autumn and winter a little bit trickier -- until the birder advances on to a more complete field guide.

The photographs are the highlight of the book while the text provides supplemental information.  One paragraph of material for each bird gives a brief, general description along with notes on the preferred habitat, some comments on habits or behavior, a description of the vocalizations, and, mention of some birding sites where that bird might be found.  These sites tie into a 4-page list of birding locations described in the introduction.

As for information on identifying the bird, the only material is contained within 1 or 2 short sentences used as a legend with the photographs.  This information offers brief tips on what you should examine on the bird; however, this information does not always help separate the bird from a similar species.  As an example, a birder new to sparrows will not get much to help differentiate the Seaside Sparrow from the Saltmarsh or from the Nelson's.  Identification will rely on the person's examination of the photographs, which is only one photo per bird.

This book would be a very good selection to give to a beginning birder or to anyone who's expressed an interest in learning more about New Jersey's birds.  The photos are excellent, the text is not overwhelming, and, the selection of species is a useful representation of the birds expected in the state.  The more experienced birders in the Northeast who already own many bird books will still be happy to add this book to his library

As a note, three other state-dedicated, sister-books are due out this year.  They are for Colorado, Florida, and Massachusetts. -- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, May 2014).

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