Friday, May 16, 2014

North Atlantic Seabirds (Storm-petrels)

North Atlantic Seabirds
Storm-petrels and Bulwer's Petrel
by Flood, Bob L., Ashley Fisher, and Ian Lewington
2011, 212pp, ISBN: 9780956886705

Basics:  hardcover with 2 DVDs; 117 excellent photographs and 52 b&w illustrations show all 9 storm-petrel species found in the North Atlantic plus Bulwer's Petrel; a 6-14 page account provides 7-19 photos and 3-6 illustrations for each species; text gives finely detailed information on distribution, plumage variations, flight behavior, body structure, jizz, and molt; special section compares confusing pairs; two DVDs provide two hours of invaluable video and detailed information on identifying each bird plus video quizzes.

à See the authors' website for purchasing their books…HERE.

REVIEW: "Awesome" is a good way to start off a review of this book.  Two vital aspects of this book make it stand out from all other related works:  First, is its lengthy, detailed identification material on each of the 10 species.  Second, are two 1-hour DVDs packed with video footage of the birds at sea.
This book is part one of a four-part series titled "North Atlantic Seabirds".  This first work focuses on the Bulwer's Petrel and the region's nine species of storm-petrels.  In case you're wondering, this book is not a field guide.  Instead, it is an identification guide that has the hint of being on par with a college text book due to its rich, in-depth material.  This book is not for a person with only a passing interest in the pelagic species.  It requires you sit comfortably in your desk chair and study the wealth of identification material along with the DVDs multiple times before you venture out to sea in search of the birds.
A chapter of 6-19 pages covers each of the 10 species (White-faced, Wilson's, European, Black-bellied, "White-bellied", Band-rumped, Leach's, Swinhoe's, and Matsudaira's Storm-Petrels plus Bulwer's Petrel).  There are 7-19 photographs per species for a total of 117 high quality images.  These photos do a great job at showing the dorsal, ventral, and side views of each bird.  The legend associated with each photo provides additional material that draws your attention to the key points visible on the bird.
The bulk of the text in each bird's chapter is abundant with detail thanks to decades of observations by the authors.  This material requires the reader to dedicate some time to glean through and digest all the information.  Nearly all the material is focused on helping to recognize the field marks and mannerisms for identifying the bird.  This material falls into these primary categories:  Range, Jizz, Plumage Aspect, Flight Behavior, Structure, and Molt.  Each is replete with details.  The description of the bird's range is more descriptive than any other book I've read and can be nearly a full page for some of the birds.  This information contains names of specific islands or group, dates of dispersal and sight records, seasonal presence, and even GPS coordinates.
The sections on Plumage Aspect, Flight Behavior, and Structure are the real meat of the chapter.  This is where the identification happens.  It is also where you may want to take notes when trying to memorize the information and compare it to another species.  This description routinely delves into details on color, patterns, and contrasts of the upper/underwing coverts; or, coloration of the rump and rear flanks; or, other features of the bird.  Great effort is put into describing the flight behavior and mannerisms, strengths, flap rate, hang-gliding, foot-pattering, etc.  In case you don't want to take notes, the authors supply their own ID Jogger at the back of the book that summarizes all the key points.  However, even this is slightly lengthy at 25 pages.  Effectively, all this material is what avid birders pay for and expect to learn from their tour leaders when they sign up for a pelagic birding trip.
Following all the chapters is a highly useful section on Comparison Species.  There are 8 pairings of similar species discussed across 18 pages of detailed identification notes.  This is followed by another 15 pages containing 37 excellent black-and-white illustrations of those difficult-to-identify birds.  These illustrations are accompanied with concise notes to draw attention to the finer points that may normally be missed by the less experienced observer.
The other "half" of this book is the inclusion of two DVDs, each a full hour in length.  The two DVDs present hundreds of videos to study, learn, and practice watching the ten species at sea.  It is a means to legitimately practice watching these birds "in the wild" but without the up-and-down torment that sometimes triggers a bit of Mal de Mar!
DVD 1 contains these four sections: Introduction to the pelagics (12 minutes of 30 video samples); Identification of each species (15 minutes of 71 samples); Confusion Species compared (22 minutes of 86 samples); Identification Challenge (quizzes) of beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels (11 minutes of 60 samples).  The answers to these quizzes are listed on pages 180-182.
DVD 2 shows 112 different video samples that cover all 10 species with 7-16 samples per bird.  Each video is narrated throughout to describe the identification features and flight characteristics.  This DVD also contains all video known at the time of Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel.
Is there anything I can critique about this book?  Kind of, with two things.  One, the glue holding together the book's binding has already dried, cracked, and threatens to allow some pages to come loose.  If you get your copy, do NOT open this book all the way or allow it lay open flat.  Second, the DVDs (created in the UK) work perfectly in my Windows (XP) computer but do not work in the DVD player with my (American) TV despite being PAL format.
This book and multi-media combination is easily the best work I've seen on any family of birds, which means I will gladly buy each new book published in this series.  -- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, May 2014)

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