A new warbler book

By , January 2, 2014 2:12 pm

WarblerGuideCoverSquaresmallIf you know me or my wife, you know we are active birdwatchers. One of our favorite group of birds are what are called ‘Wood Warblers’ or ‘North American Warblers’ . This is a group of often brightly colored birds, usually with a lot of yellow or green. They are very active birds which you can see flitting from branch to branch, eating insects or insect larvae. Most only pass through Minnesota in Spring and Fall, but they don’t pass through silently. Particularly in Spring before the leaves come out, they are easy to see, even if not always easy to identify.

Princeton University Press has been publishing bird books for years, but mostly these were not well publicized and they seemed directed towards reference libraries. In the last few years they have started publishing books directed towards the average birder, perhaps not the beginner but someone who is not a trained biologist. The first entry was Richard Crossley’s Id Guide of Eastern Birds, and now there is a whole group ID Guides with a Raptor Guide and a Guide to Birds of England and Ireland and more on the way. The Newest Entry is the Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Warbler books aren’t new. The Peterson series has one and there was a wonderful song/pamphlet about Warblers that contained a cassette that was sadly never updated for the digital age. What is new is that this seems aimed at birders who take photos in the field.

In the past most birders didn’t take photographs. Even 20 years ago equipment was impossibly heavy and the cost of film would have been high (typically one may take 40 shots of fast moving birds for every usable one). Digital has changed that. The initial cost is high, but the marginal cost is low. So, what has changed is that many birders have photos taken in the field that may not be instantly identifiable. So, this book tries to solve that problem. It has numerous photos of each bird including the oddball views I have never seen before: shots of the under tail coverts. In he past if you didn’t get it in the field you were finished.

My wife gave me one for Christmas and I have looked it over and read a good bit of it. Given the change in Avian taxonomy in the last few years nothing is settled and with Warblers that is especially so. The authors have arranged the birds by name rather than by taxonomical group. A few regional favorites like the Yellow-breasted Chat have been booted out of the Warbler group but they are included at the end of the book. The book has an extensive section on the use of sonograms. They have a novel approach to remembering Warbler songs, I don’t know how effective it is, but Spring will tell. The book demands a lot from the reader in order to get the most out of it, but that is a good thing in this day of instant gratification.

It isn’t a field guide, it cannot be put in a pocket. Still for those who are trying to kick their birding skills up a notch or two, this may be a good place to start.   There are small negatives, I wish a cd of bird songs was included, instead of being an extra (not expensive though).   The quality of the binding is what one expects of an Asian printed book designed to be as inexpensive as possible.  It isn’t bad but it could be better. That would raise the price, but price isn’t everything if a book is well made.

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