Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Better Birding

I am behind on many things lately, to include reading the books sent to me for review by Princeton University Press. I finally took some time to look over the book, Better Birding: Tips, Tools and Concepts for the Field, by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan.

This is not a field guide. It doesn't have every bird you are likely to see. What the authors have done is to provide a few groups of birds that are very similar and use them as examples of the types of things that birders need to consider in the field other than the usual field marks that field guides emphasize. This is often referred to as "birding by impression."

Often, you see a bird in the field and you studiously look for the field marks noted in your field guide, but you still cannot make an identification. Birds don't always look like they do in the book...for many reasons. The light is different, the time of year may affect the plumage, plumage can be worn, etc.

Often, when I am birding with someone who hasn't been birding long, they will often ask, "Why did you decide the bird was a ???." Often the answer I give has nothing to do with field marks. It often has to do with where and when the bird was seen, how it stands, how it moves, etc. For example, during the Christmas Bird Count we were sorting through some ducks at a distance and I called out "ruddy duck," although field marks were not visible. The question was, "How do you know? They are far out there." The answer was, "They look like little cow patties on the water with a short, stubby tail sticking up." Someone broke out their spotting scope and sure enough, they were ruddy ducks. The Hints and Considerations portion of each group discussion discusses many considerations such as habitats, time of the year, immature and other types of plumage as well as hints on what to look/listen for to help distinguish between similar birds.

The book has 850 color photos, with many side-by-side comparisons of similar species which are very helpful.

This book is for reading and studying at home, not in the field, but in combination with practice in the field, can be very helpful in identifying birds when you are out.

This book was published in December 2015. It is available for $29.95 from Princeton University Press or slightly less on Amazon. Remember our local charities when shopping at Amazon by using, com to access your account.

You gave everyone else good presents last week--why not reward yourself with a little something, like this book?

Good birding!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Christmas Bird Count Next Weekend!

Next Saturday, December 19, is the annual Wichita Falls Christmas Bird Count.  If you wish to take part, be sure to send me an email at or Terry McKee at

This is the 116th CBC. I am not sure how many years the Wichita Falls CBC has been running-- a good question for our compiler, Debra McKee.

Decent Birding at Lake Arrowhead This Morning

Debra McKee, Mike Cavett and I met at Lake Arrowhead State Park for the monthly bird walk. I initially had great hopes for the walk, thinking we had a good chance for winter ducks. On that score, I was disappointed.

Because birding was a little lackluster, we went off trail to track some small dickey birds in the brush that we would not have gone after on a better day. One of those side excursions paid off with a pair of ladder-backed woodpeckers, some Harris' sparrows, white-crowned sparrows, juncos, a small flock of five ruby-crowned kinglets, a yellow-rumped warbler, a Bewick's wren, a field sparrow, and a very tame mockingbird. That little patch certainly helped our list for the walk.

We didn't have many ducks. There were a large number of American coots on the lake, mixed with a couple of gadwall, a couple of other unidentifiable ducks (too far and too choppy), a couple of white pelicans, several pied-billed grebes, and the ubiquitous Canada geese. We did see some least sandpipers and a greater yellowlegs with the killdeer along the shoreline.

After the walk, I decided to drive around to see if anything was on the Bridwell tank--I discovered coot.

Debra had mentioned seeing about 15 turkey and a few hundred pintail in a flooded area on her way in from Henrietta, so I headed that way. The turkey were not in evidence, but hundreds of northern pintail certainly were. There were at least 300 birds. They are my favorite duck because they look so elegant. There were also some northern shoveler and at least 100 mallards.  The stop also yielded a song sparrow and a loggerhead shrike.
Pair of Northern Pintail. Photo courtesy of JM Garg, Wikimedia Commons

Some roadside birds traveling between stops included red-tailed hawks, kestrel, northern harrier and some eastern bluebirds.

My park list for the morning included: double-crested cormorant, Canada goose, American coot, gadwall, white pelican, pied-billed grebe, ring-billed gull, killdeer, least sandpiper, greater yellowlegs, mourning dove, Eurasian collared dove, northern harrier, eastern phoebe, northern mockingbird, northern cardinal, Harris' sparrow, white-crowned sparrow, junco, house finch, meadowlark, yellow-rumped warbler, ruby-crowned kinglet, American robin, field sparrow, Bewicks' wren, great-tailed grackle, and European starling.

Outside the park, I added northern pintail, northern shoveler, mallard, loggerhead shrike, song sparrow, eastern bluebird, red-tailed hawk, and kestrel.