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).

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)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Hummingbirds of Ecuador

Hummingbirds of Ecuador: Field Guide
by Ridgely, Robert S. and Murray Cooper
2012, 263pp, ISBN: 9789942987822
BASICS: softcover; book shows 394 good color photographs of all but 7 of the 133 species recorded from Ecuador; 120 species are given its own 2-page account with multiple photos; another 6 rarer species are shown by a single photo along with a brief paragraph to denote the bird's range and description; an additional 7 species are represented by only a brief paragraph; each full account for the 120 main species contains a description, identification points, distribution, behavior, comments on feeder visitation, a range map, and, when applicable, taxonomic notes 

REVIEW: This guide is a great photo summary of nearly all (126 of 133) species of hummingbirds found in Ecuador.  There are 120 "main" species shown, each with its own lengthy account and 2-3 photos.  Only six of the main species are shown by just a single photograph.  An additional 6 more species are briefly addressed at the end of another similar bird's account.  These six add-ins are typically the rarer birds, are shown by a single photograph and, have a brief notation about the bird's presence in the country.  I'm pleased to see a rarely photographed Pink-throated Brilliant is included in this book.  Lastly, 7 more species are briefly mentioned in the text but have no picture shown.  I wish a photo of the Peruvian Sheartail could have been included. 

Nearly all the photographs are good quality in color, focus, and size.  Most of the birds also have the female shown when there are notable differences between the plumages.  These photos should help the birder identify most , but not all, of the species seen in the field.  Several of the species are shown from only one direction (e.g., from just the front or the side) which could hinder identification depending on how the bird is seen in the wild.

The text for each bird consists of the same four paragraphs, one each for Recognition, Distribution, Behavior, and Feeders.  It is clear this material is directed to help identify the bird.  The paragraph on Recognition does a good job at describing the bird - both male and female - as well as drawing attention to the key identification marks.  These key features are underlined to denote their importance.  The authors also point out some of the field marks to separate the bird from other similar species.

The paragraph on Distribution is also very helpful since the bird's location in the country, especially around the Andes, can be a strong clue to identification.  Both the habitat types and elevations are discussed.  The short section on Feeders is also worth reading.  This provides clues as to the bird's fondness of visiting feeders and, importantly, which lodges are known for having the birds as routine visitors.

Each of the main 120 species is accompanied with a range map of Ecuador.  These maps show outlines of all provinces and also show the major rivers and cities as landmarks.  Only one color (green) is used to denote the bird's distribution at any time of the year in Ecuador.
This book will be greatly appreciated by anyone with a fancy for hummingbirds.  And, any birder that plans on viewing the hummingbird feeders at the lodges in Ecuador will want to first study this book and take it to the lodges.  It is easily possible to see 50+ species of hummingbirds at just a few lodges in a week's time.  -- (written by Jack at Avian Review with sample pages, May 2014)