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 18 of 43

17 December 2014 | Birder's Guide to Gear or daypack, things can escalate quickly. I like a guide that can ft in my pocket so that I can check for feld marks while still seeing the bird. A detailed reference guide can be essential, especially to the more advanced birders or for more nu- anced species identifcation, but nothing can replace knowing what to look for while the bird is still in front of you. Second, I like having the reference maps and illustrated plates on adjacent pages so that you can look at them con - currently. A range map can be a deter- mining feld mark in itself; it is worth trading some written detail for the abil- ity to glean a species' likely distribution at a glance. Third, I fnd illustrations more useful than photographic guides. I believe the illustration is a composite that conveys the most important details and feld marks all at once, drawn upon from the memory and experience of the illustra- tor. A photo may be more "real", but it cannot convey all that information un - less multiple shots are used, taking up valuable space in the feld guide. With that in mind, I would rather use a pocket National Geographic or a regional Sibley guide than their com- prehensive counterparts for the "feld". They are compact enough to ft in my cargo or jacket pocket. lowed me to be systematic (looking for all montane birds between Nevada and Kansas) and serendipitous (Sage Thrash- ers in Alberta? Really?) simultaneously. It is a good thing that multiple feld guides are out there. For starters, the feld guide that introduced you to bird- ing will, for better or worse, carry a sense of "correctness" for you almost by default. Second, having more than one feld guide is benefcial. One of my fa- vorites is the Nat. Geo. guide, which was my frst guide back in 1985. Consider how we name it by its publisher, not a single author: the Nat. Geo. is not iden- tifed with just one person, which may better lend itself to community-inspired improvements and changes. The com- pleteness signaled by Nat. Geo's inclu- sion of vagrants makes it invaluable: it provides the opportunity to study and, perchance, to dream! David Sibley's guide is my second favorite, because of the many plumage varieties he illustrates so well. The size, though, makes it quite a burden in the feld. That said, I am not a fan of split- ting the ABA Area into "East" and "West" guides. We do not have an overwhelm- ingly large avifauna (compared to, say, Ecuador or Mexico) that would neces- sitate such a division. I travel a lot, and I've noticed that the birds do, too. I'd rather have the vagrant I am detecting illustrated in the book with me, rather than suffer the regret of having the "wrong" book with me. Plus, I enjoy an - ticipating potential ID puzzles by having the whole continent in one book. Alex Wang Hilo, Hawaii First, I think there is a difference between a true "feld guide" and a birding refer- ence book. While the latter can be much more detailed, the frst and foremost parameter for a feld guide is usefulness in the feld. For me, size is paramount. Birding can be a gear-intensive activity. From binoculars to a camera, scope, and/ the illustrations is very useful. So, if I could only take one guide with me on a trip in the ABA Area, it would be the second edition of The Sibley Guide. Jennifer Rycenga Half Moon Bay, California Field guides communicate through di- stilled objective descriptions, in prose, pictures, and maps. They can be mined for nuggets, rewarding repeated visits with new perspectives and answers to questions you didn't even know you had. The feld guide epitomizes the best practices of feld ornithology from the 20th century. But are feld guides still relevant in the 21st century, bedazzled as we are with apps, the web, and the rushing river of perpetual information? Two recent experiences convince me of the ongoing utility of feld guides. I have been expanding my knowledge of other taxa (butterfies, moths, reptiles, trees, spiders). My library of feld guides has therefore expanded. Learning fami- lies and inter-relationships between spe- cies, and comparing where to look for key feld marks—issues like these are now second nature to me with birds. But the process of learning again with other taxa showed me that the feld guide's portability and formatting ft both feld exigencies and relaxed learning when at home. Recently, I found myself spending a delightful hour with my favorite ABA Area feld guide, the National Geograph - ic guide. My wife and I will be driving across the continent, and planning the trip with the printed feld guide allowed for speedy fipping for comparative range maps and seasonality. The corre- sponding Nat. Geo. or Sibley app could have answered all of my questions, but using the smartphone would have been far more laborious. The odd thing is, the app would have been direct if I had only one question (say, the fall migratory route of the White-rumped Sandpiper), but the hand-held printed feld guide al-

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