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 17 of 43

16 Birder's Guide to Gear | December 2014 Field Guides close behind. David Sibley is the best of the current North Americans. Beyond the quality and consistency of the artwork, concise and well-written text covering key feld marks, similar species, habits, habitat, and voice is es- sential. A range map in blues, purples, reds, and oranges should be placed with the text. Colors such as yellow and light greens should be avoided. The plates should always be on the page facing the text and range maps. The species illustrations should be opposite their respective write-ups as much as possible. Renderings of distinct plumag- es of each species are important, though not at the expense of the size of the illus- trations. An adequate compromise can sometimes be diffcult to achieve. Of the current ABA Area guides, I am torn between Sibley and the 6th edition of the National Geographic guide. Each has its strong points. I have a preference for some of the artwork in the Nat. Geo., particularly David Quinn's plates, but, overall, Sibley's artwork is more con- sistent. Until the most recent edition, the lack of continental rarities in Sib- ley placed it behind the Nat. Geo., but that has been fxed. Sibley's technique of placing key identifcation points around 2010). With a country boasting nearly 2,000 species, a small feld guide leaves out a lot of information, but who wants to carry a book weighing nearly 3 lb. (1.3 kg)? Let's face it: enormous "feld" guides can almost be considered coffee- table books! What I quickly realized is that the smaller guide lacked one key aspect that would have made it ideal for such a trip: good illustrations. The illus- trations were so atrocious that I could hardly recognize the species that I was familiar with. How was I supposed to identify a bird in the feld if the illustra- tions didn't match what the bird looks like? It was frustrating, to say the least. There are precious few feld guides that combine a manageable size with good illustrations and accurate (even if brief) text. A guide with those three things would, in my opinion, consti- tute a good feld guide. Good examples of a utilitarian feld guide that com- bines these three requirements include Birds of Europe (Svensson, Zetterström, & Mullarney, 2010), the Eastern and Western Sibley Guides (Sibley, 2003), and The Birds of Costa Rica (Garrigues & Dean, 2007). Ron Ridout St. Williams, Ontario My frst feld guide was the 1947 edition of Roger Tory Peterson's A Field Guide to the Birds. In the early 1960s, it was the only game in town, and I carried it on every feld excursion. While feld guides have improved a lot since then, I still appreciate its simplicity of design and evocative text. Having owned all of the major guides, I have developed distinct preferences over the years. First and foremost, and despite having a degree in Advanced Photography, I am frmly in the artwork (versus photographs) camp. There is nothing more instructive than a plate of illustrations rendered by a skilled artist. I consider Guy Tudor to be the fnest bird illustrator, with several Europeans new country. These guides are often not available in local stores, so purchasing them online is usually the easiest option. However, without looking at the guide in the hand, how are you supposed to decide which to purchase? Field guides typically come in two forms: massive tomes of invaluable infor- mation on identifcation, natural history, and status and distribution, with numer- ous illustrations; or smaller, utilitarian guides that include one or two simple illustrations for each species along with a brief species account and either a sum- mary of the distribution or a range map. These two types of guides have very dif- ferent uses, in my opinion, but only one is truly useful as a feld guide. As an example of the feld guide co- nundrum, here is what happened to me this past year when I was planning my frst trip to South America—Colombia, to be specifc. There are two feld guides published for that bird-rich country. One is a voluminous tome that is nearly indispensable for a visiting birder (A Guide to the Birds of Colombia; Hilty & Brown, 1986), and the other is a small handy guide that can ft in one's back pocket (Field Guide to the Birds of Colom- bia; McMullan, Donegan, & Quevedo,

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