Birder's Guide

DEC 2014

Birder's Guide is the American Birding Association's newest publication. Each issue focuses on a key subject, providing tips from experienced birders on a wide variety of topics like Travel, Listing & Taxonomy, Gear, and Conservation & Community.

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Page 15 of 43

14 Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2014 Field Guides Many experienced birders prefer painted illustrations to photos in their main feld guide. This may seem coun- terintuitive, but it is much easier to por- tray an "average" bird in a painting than in a photo. It's a rare individual bird that is a true average. Catching the typical position of the bird in a photo can be very diffcult. Lighting can be deceptive. Depending on age and molt, feather col- or can be off. A good illustrator takes all of these into consideration. The guide should be arranged in taxo- nomic order. This enables a new birder to learn how bird families ft together— to realize that a warbler is a different type of bird than a fycatcher even if they have some features in common, like col - or or size. In the feld, it becomes easier to narrow things down when one rec- ognizes a bird is a plover rather than a rail. There is one caveat with taxonomic order; it can change over time. Falcons may end up next to parrots, but they are still falcons, so it isn't necessary to up- date your guide every year. I have two favorite guides: the Na- tional Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America and The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley. Both have stood the test of time. Sibley is a bit bulky to carry in the feld, but versions regularly occurring hybrids. Standard in most feld guides is a voice description, but some also fnd ways to emphasize foraging behavior and habitat, which I fnd an added bonus because these notes aid the identifcation process. Precise range maps are quite rare, and feld guides with subsequent edi- tions tend to be more up-to-date in this respect. I prefer that range maps be in- cluded with the species account and not in a separate section. The truth is, every feld guide has dif- ferent strengths, and, fortunately, pur- chasing one is not like buying a pair of binoculars or a spotting scope. I have several ABA Area feld guides in my li- brary, and I often fnd myself cross-refer- encing them. If in some strange circum- stance I were only allowed to keep one, I'd have a tough time choosing between the National Geographic Complete Birds of North America and The Sibley Guide to Birds. Both are impeccable works of art that provide a wealth of information. Sheridan Coffey San Antonio, Texas Birding success relies on two basic and equally important tools: the right binoc- ular and the right feld guide. But it can be a bit daunting to browse for ABA Area feld guides in a large bookstore or on- line (such as at Buteo Books). Each year it seems there is another new guide out there. How does one choose? Is there one "right" guide? What makes a good feld guide, particularly for the inexpe- rienced birder? A feld guide should be more than a series of pictures of birds. It should have accurate maps showing the range of each species as well as whether the species is present year round, a seasonal resident, or a migrant. At least a minimal amount of text should describe the size of the bird, both sitting and in fight; the voice; and any particularly important feld marks, such as primary projection beyond the tertials. Amar Ayyash Frankfort, Illinois Whether you lug it around in the feld, keep it in the car, or leave it at home, a "good" identifcation feld guide is in- dispensable. I often hear birders fretting about the utility of a feld guide: Will it ft in my back pocket? Is the print easy to read? Does the table of contents lend itself to quickly fnding the family I'm looking for? These concerns vary from user to user, and depend somewhat on experience and where the guide is used. What single feature makes a frst-rate feld guide? Accurate illustrations! Al- though photographic feld guides are usually packed with lovely images of "real" birds, illustrated guides tend to furnish more information and detail. I like a feld guide that illustrates age, sex, and seasonal plumage differences. Ideally, the bird is drawn in fight and in a natural pose. Very helpful are guides that use feld mark notations adjacent to the plates, homing in on the most distin- guishing feld marks. The accompanying text reinforces the illustrations, but should also point out differences between similar-looking spe- cies as well as various subspecies and

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