Sunday, November 11, 2018

How Many Field Guides Do You Own?

 Let me start by saying 2 things. First, I cannot answer the question posed in the post title. I have more field guides spread through my house than I can count. I have a hard time getting rid of books in general but field guides are never disposed of. Second, I LOVE field guides, including from places I may never visit. I prefer guides whose illustrations are paintings and not photos. I know not everyone agrees. The first field guide I ever owned was the Golden Guide to Birds and it served as the "textbook" for my first field ornithology class.

I still have it.

When I heard there was going to be a seventh edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America I was excited to see what was new because this is the guide I carry in the field. At first glance it is very similar to the previous additions, it covers all of North America, it is a bit larger than many guides, it is heavy by field guide standards and a Bald Eagle is featured on the cover. However a closer looks shows some significant advances. Here is how the publisher describes it:

About Field Guide To The Birds Of North America

ï Paperback:†592 pages
ï Publisher:†National Geographic; 7 edition (September 12, 2017)

This fully revised and updated edition of the best-selling North American bird field guide is the most up-to-date guide on the market.

Perfect for beginning to advanced birders, it is the only book organized to match the latest American Ornithologists' Union taxonomy. With more than 2.75 million copies in print, this perennial bestseller is the most frequently updated of all North American bird field guides. Filled with hand-painted illustrations from top nature artists, this latest edition is poised to become an instant must-have for every serious birder in the United States and Canada.

The 7th edition includes 37 new species for a total of 1,023 species. Sixteen new pages allow for 250 fresh illustrations, 80 new maps, and 350 map revisions. With taxonomy updated to recent significant scientific rearrangement, the addition of standardized banding codes, and text completely vetted by birding experts, this new edition will stand at the top of the list of birding field guides for years to come."

It's all this and more that will keep the National Geo guide as my go to book in the field. The book is reflective of our new knowledge about bird taxonomy based on DNA sequencing. A geneticist I know said that in 10 years we won't have to buy any new field guides because the taxonomy will be all figured out. We'll see. The new taxonomy has its pluses and minuses. I am excited to see the subspecies maps at the back of the book but the concept of subspecies is still being worked out (how many subspecies of Song Sparrow are there???)  The rearrangement of the order of bird families is something to get used to. If you are good at flipping to specific sections of the guide without thinking about it you may be surprised where you land now.

As a bird bander myself the addition of the Bird Banding Laboratory 4-letter species codes is nice to see though I don't know how many people will use them as shorthand. In some birding groups people get upset if your mention an AMRO instead of saying or writing American Robin. I did find one error in the codes, the banding code for Yellow Warbler has been changed to YEWA whereas the guide lists the old YWAR. I don't know of any other errors.

It is a beautiful book with useful, detailed illustrations and descriptions. I recommend it as a top choice when friends ask for advice about buying a field guide.
You will not be disappointed.

Social Media
 #fieldguidetothebirdsofnorthamerica     @tlcbooktours.

Purchase Links

National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Field Season Comes to an End

Well it was a good year for banding and I got out as much as I could but it looks like the weather is going to keep me away from the banding site for a few months. I did get out on Saturday before it began to rain and actually had a nice morning though it was pretty quiet most of the time. I ended with 11 birds of 4 species. Two birds were retraps (chickadees).


Black-capped Chickadee      5 new  2 retrap
Dark-eyed Junco                  1 new
American Tree Sparrow        2 new
Northern Cardinal                 1 new

I especially liked getting the Am. Tree Sparrows. I think they are just beautiful!
These really say "winter" to me. They are tough little birds.
The bicolored bill is always a good field mark.
And of course the junco is the most common sparrow here in the winter. This male had quite a bit of stored fat so he may not be quite to his winter vacation spot jut yet.

I'll keep posting bits here and there. The Christmas Bird Count is coming in a little over a month. Northward migration will begin in January.

Remember, year round there are always birds migrating somewhere in the world!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Splendor of Birds

In celebration of "The Year of the Bird" on the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, National Geographic has published a 500+ page book of photographs and paintings called The Splendor of Birds.

The Splendor of Birds is a collection of images from around the world as seen in National Geographic Magazine over the last 130 years. These images in this book are divided into 4 chapters that are organized chronologically. There are short introductory essays at the beginning of each section and they reflect what was happening at National Geographic during each time period and how birds played a role in the mission of the magazine.

When I had a chance to look through the book the first time I was impressed by the variety of images. Being a bit of a photographer myself, I could appreciate the time and effort many of the photos required especially in the days of physical film. The paintings included in the book are from some of the great bird illustrators of the day. The turn of each page presented images that ranged from spectacular to ordinary.

As I browsed through the book I tried to think of how I would describe it to someone. Was it art?, history?, photography? all of the above? It certainly could qualify as a coffee table book, something as much for display as it is for perusing. I realized that after looking through the book I had lots of questions. How were the images chosen? Was there a common theme beyond "birds" that described sets of images. Why were the time periods arranged the way they are? I couldn't make a connection between that chronology and other events that might have made the periods relevant.

There is a feature of the book that I like and that is a variety of facing pages labeled "Now and Then" where the picture on the left is an older photo of some bird and the picture on the right page is a more modern image of the same species. The comparison aspect is a nice touch.

However the more I looked through the book the more criticisms I had.

I found the captions of many of the images too small and less than informative. It would be nice to have more context about many of the images. Some of the images included are more focused on people or places than birds. Many selections feel as if they were chosen randomly and I  didn't find the book to have a good "flow" in it's presentation. Finally, for a book that costs $75 I would want a book that would draw me back over and over again to get a deeper appreciation for it's content. I don't know if this is that book.

So, would I recommend this book? That depends. I certainly think many people would enjoy this book and having a collection of beautiful images  to look at again and again might just be the thing when you're in the right mood. Is it worth the cost? I believe that is something that each reader must decide for themselves. Am I glad I have it? Yes and you might be too. If you are curious, it would be worth your time to look this over and see if it resonates with your love of birds.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Cold. Windy Saturday for Banding

We held our regular monthly banding program at the Lowry Nature Center in Carver Park Reserve near Victoria, MN today and despite the cold and wind had a slow but productive day.

It's always nice to be able to work in a beautiful setting and the maple trees today were quite lovely.
As I said the biggest problem we had today was the wind. We were restricted to using only Potter traps which tends to lower the number of birds we handle. We ended the session with 12 birds of 5 species which was better than I thought we might do.

Today's list:

Black-capped Chickadee        4
Dark eyed Junco                     5   (3 new, 2 retraps)
American Goldfinch                1
White Crowned Sparrow        1
White breasted Nuthatch        1

The interesting catches of the day included this very young male Northern Cardinal.
The bird must have been a relatively late hatch (second or even third brood). The dark bill should be light by now.

A bird we don't catch very often was this White-crowned Sparrow. A really beautiful bird in the hand.
A close-up shows nice detail of it's head.
And just to prove that winter is right around the corner, we had lots of Dark eyed Juncos around the feeders including this nice dark gray male.
The plan is to try and do some banding Sunday morning as the winds are supposed to diminish and the temps should be a bit warmer. I'm still able to get into the field right up until it snows as long as there are birds around. Sparrows are here in good numbers and last week 2 very late Parula Warblers were seen near a lake in Minneapolis. You never know what might show up so keep looking up.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Migration Out of Florida

Radar on Friday morning shows a big movement out of the southeastern U.S.. Interesting is that the concentration of movement is in the exact area impacted by Hurricane Michael.
A look at wind patterns shows winds out of the north providing a nice tail wind for migrants. It would be really interesting to know the dominant species in this movement.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Lots of Migrants Leave on a Dangerous Trip

Checking radar images this morning, it appears that large numbers of birds are making the jump across the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Michael moved north.
This image from 8:07 CDT shows large concentrations of what are assumed to be birds moving south from the gulf coast. Behind the Hurricane Michael system there are strong southerly winds.
This is a wind field image showing wind moving straight out of the north and over the gulf. Migrants leaving in these conditions should have a real advantage making the jump. It is quite interesting to be able to see what is physically happening in the atmosphere and relate this to the movement of birds. Birders along the coast might be in for a big show today as flocks move out.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Banding Ahead of a Weather Front

I spent yesterday morning, Saturday, at the "Big Sit" event sponsored by the National Park Service at Coldwater Spring in Minneapolis. It was crazy how many birds were around. The count ended with 60 species for the day but by far the most common birds were the sparrows. Having seen that, I thought this morning would be a good banding session so I got out to my site and hoped for the best.

It started out slow but did eventually pick up. In 3 hours I had 15 birds of 6 species, the majority being sparrows. The one species that was around yesterday that I didn't catch were Fox Sparrows.

The full list for today is:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet       2
Yellow-rumped Warbler     2
Field Sparrow                    1
Black-capped Chickadee   1
Lincoln's Sparrow              3
White throated Sparrow    6

 I saw lots of Ruby-crowned Kinglets yesterday and sure enough they showed up in the nets today. One of the smallest birds I handle regularly. Weighed just under 6 grams.
 The male sports a bright red crest which you don't see very often. Parting the feathers reveals the crest feathers.
 I put this photo in to show the contrast between the outer rectrices (tail feathers) and the inner rectrices. Note the outer feathers are dull and worn. They will be much nicer in the spring.
 I didn't expect to catch a Field Sparrow today but this one was hanging out with a flock of White-throated Sparrows and followed them into the net.
 One of my favorite sparrows is the Linclon's Sparrow. A beautiful smaller sparrow with a buffy chest that is finely striped. They are in the area in big numbers right now.
This chickadee was very unusual in that one wing had feathers that are deformed. This was not caused by the net and the other wing is perfectly normal. For some reason the feather grew this way. The shaft is not broken but rather is curved. The feathers could not be straightened. The bird could fly but appeared to labor a bit. Has anyone seen something like this?

The next 3 days are supposed to be very wet so I think the migrants will be stuck here for a few days. I'll see how next weekend looks for banding. There aren't many days in the field left for this year. Reports from north of here indicate the last of the migrants are leaving and the winter visitors are showing up. If the "Finch Forecast" is correct it will be a fun winter for birding.

Keep looking up!