Those nice folks at Princeton University Press sent me copies of Sterry & Small’s two new photographic bird guides (Birds of Western North America and Birds of Eastern North America ) and I must say I’m impressed.
I’ve been bird watching (in Europe and the US) for over thirty years and as much as I like my Sibley, I’ve always had a soft-spot for photographic guides and these guides are exemplary. While they don’t cover every species or variant, they offer relatively large and clear photos of many of the species that an intermediate birder is likely to encounter in North America. Two or three species are covered in in each two-page spread with information on the left-hand side and beautiful, clear, photographs on the right. Clear up-to-date distribution maps are provided using data from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. The text offers observation guidelines, voice descriptions, information on status and habitat, as well as observation tips which often direct the reader to specific areas and locales to maximize their chance of observation. Some of these tips are somewhat wry – we are, for example, told that pigeons are “a positive benefit to urban Peregrine Falcons”!
I have always felt that a vital first step in birdwatching is to familiarize yourself with the shape, color and form of the species in an area before going into the field. These guides are a wonderful tool for just that, and they are a pleasure to browse. As I haven’t yet used them in the field, I cannot comment on their utility, but I do intend to keep them in my car for use as I travel across this country. Highly recommended even if you don’t intend to actively watch for birds.