Book Review: Better Birding

This new book offers tips and tools to bird like an expert.

Better Birding will help make you a better birder.  Via Kenny Coogan
Better Birding will help make you a better birder. Via Kenny Coogan

Present time is here and the best type of gift I like to receive is knowledge. So, if you are hurrying around looking for something great to give to your bird enthusiast friends, or a little something for yourself, you should pick up the new field guide titled, “Better Birding: Tips, Tools & Concepts for the Field,” by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan. Princeton University Press willpublish it December 16, 2015.

According to the publisher“Better Birding reveals the techniques expert birders use to identify a wide array of bird species in the field — quickly and easily. Featuring hundreds of stunning photos and composite plates throughout, this book simplifies identification by organizing the birds you see into groupings and offering strategies specifically tailored to each group. Skill building focuses not just on traditional elements such as plumage, but also on creating a context around each bird, including habitat, behavior, and taxonomy — arts so integral to every bird’s identity but often glossed over by typical field guides. Critical background information is provided for each group, enabling you to approach bird identification with a wide-angle view, using your eyes, brain, and binoculars more strategically, resulting in a more organized approach to learning birds.”

Armistead is the events coordinator at the American Birding Association and a research associate in the Ornthology Department at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He has led birding tours on all seven continents — something I would love to do! Sullivan is eBirdprogram co director and photographic editor for Birds of North America Online at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is the author of a number of papers and two books on bird identification.

“Better Birding” reveals the techniques used by expert birders for quick and easy identification. The 316 page book includes 850 color photos and four maps. I really enjoyed the full spreads of certain bird genus, which include detailed photos and descriptions of the species. Most people can readily distinguish a hummingbird from an albatross, but can you differentiate between a Whiskered Screech Owl or a Flammulated Owl? I couldn’t before, but now I can! According to the book Flammulated Owls have dark brown eyes (Screech Owls have yellow/orange) and stubbier ear tufts. Also if you spot a small owl — it is probably a Screech as Flammulated Owls, because while fairly common Flammulated Owls are seldom encountered by birders. Flammulated Owls also migrate, unlike Screech owls, wintering mainly in Mexico.

Better birding book
By Kenny Coogan
Better Birding features full spread of various bird species.

This book also touches on why nonbirding friends might be confused by the joy you get with your new found hobby. The pros to birding include: getting outside, connecting to nature and the cost is solely based on how much you want to invest. Look up now and you could start birding today. Birding can be as relaxing or thrilling as you like and the personality range of birders includes the kind, curious, intelligent and philosophical. A possible reason why you don’t often hear about birders on the news —they are too nice.

The book simplifies identification by organizing the birds you see into groupings and offers strategies specifically tailed to each group. Composite plates are also provided in addition to the detailed photographs to really differentiate those species that could blur together to the laymen. The book also teachers identification skills admired by birders such as plumage, and how to use the context each bird is in such as habitat, behavior and taxonomy, to recognize easier. Important background information is provided for each group, allowing you to approach bird ID with a wide-angle view using your senses and then strategically narrow them down to the exact species referencing the book. The book is 71/2by 91/2so you can easily pack it away in your book bag on your next avian adventure.

Kenny Coogan

This book is 7 1/2 by 9 1/2 inches, the perfect size to carry with you.

As a novel birder myself, I was amused by the section titled, “Rarities — When You Hear Hoofbeats, Think Horses, but Consider Zebras.” The authors go on to say that one of the most exciting aspects of birding is finding a rarity, which can be rewarding but difficult — hence why it is a rarity. The authors remind novice birders (including myself) that the more time you are out practicing the better changes you have of coming across a rare bird.

They say that good birders are prepared for the unexpected. “Instead of glossing over a large lock of pipits on the California coast in October, a good birder knows that the conditions and season are right to check for the rare Red-throated Pipet.” I better start looking up more.

Article Categories:
Birds · Lifestyle

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