Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: The Warbler Guide

This is a book you'll want.

When I lived in Hampton, VA I often went birding with a lady named Dorothy, who lead bird walks each month at Newport News Park, a beautiful park and excellent for birdwatching. Dorothy was the best I have ever seen at identifying warblers in the field. You could bet if you got even the smallest glimpse of one or heard a song, she was going to know exactly what it was. She had also written a small volume on warblers. Dorothy had banded birds, primarily warblers, at Kiptopeke Songbird Station since it opened, so had held hundreds, if not thousands, of warblers in her hands over the years, making a thorough study of the small birds.

However, for most of us, warbler identification is tough. The birds are small, shy and constantly moving. Therefore I was excited to receive a copy of The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle from Princeton University Press this past week.

This is a beautiful book, chock full of pictures. The best part is that many of the pictures are what we usually see when we see a warbler--from underneath or in flight. The book also shows comparison species and from the same angle the species in question so you can clearly see the difference. The book also has photos of both sexes in various plumages--a great help to those of us who normally only get to see the birds in migration, when most are not in breeding plumage.

Another very useful portion of the book is "What to Notice on a Warbler." This detailed section takes you through step by step specific areas to note when you see a warbler in the field to help with identification. "Aging and Sexing Warblers" and "How to Listen to a Warbler Song" are also very helpful. The book has sonograms of warbler songs, which is not something I have found to be very helpful in the past. However, this book also has a section on "Understanding Sonograms," which I think will help me use these graphs to help my identification skills.

In addition to the warblers, the book also shows some similar non-warbler birds and has a quiz section in the back to practice.

Like many species guides, this is definitely not one to carry in your pack. At 560 pages, it is a heavyweight. However, this is an excellent work to read at home to prepare for migration here in north Texas and a super reference work.  At $29.95 this is a must-have for any birder's library. It's only $18.99 at Amazon. You can also find additional supplemental material at the companion web site.

If you're not sure about the book, take a look at a sample on the American Redstart.

Now if I can put the book down, so I can get back to housework. Bleh!

Good birding!

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