Book Review - BETTER BIRDING: Tips, Tools, & Concepts for the Field

BETTER BIRDING: Tips, Tools, & Concepts for the Field
It is a lot of fun to develop better birding skills through the years as it enhances your enjoyment. If you are able to study a bird and find field marks for comparison with a field guide, birding is fun. But if you cannot study a bird, and you get only a brief glimpse, birding can still be very fun. As they point out in this book, you have to get to know a bird, notice its behavior, listen for songs and even call notes, assess the habitat - all can lead you to identification. One of the multiple attractions of birding to me is being a "detective", observing and assessing the clues presented. You have to become good at observation - there is no substitute for that. This book states as its purpose:

"Our primary goal for this book is to help you develop a solid foundation for building your filed skills...By providing information about a bird's habits...a better chance of knowing a species..." And that is perhaps the crux of being a better birder - knowing the species.

Before I go any further let me mention the gorgeous photographs in this book (e.g. check out the breeding plumage Pacific Loon on page 28. Wow!). As a person who loves to look at beautiful birds, I enjoy this element of the book greatly.

If you do nothing else but read the Introduction to the book, you will learn things to help you identify more birds. I particularly like the caption for the Black-chinned Sparrow which points out that "many birds have a suite of other distinctive vocalizations that aid identification, including chip notes and flight calls". I have learned the value of these subtler vocalizations through the years - I tended to be dismissive of them as a younger birder. Now I know quite a few more birds just from recognizing the call notes - sometimes that is all you get!

After the Introduction, the book examines twenty four groups of birds in detail to give you a feel for getting to know a bird. I was particularly taken with the section on the Bristle-thighed Curlew. I spent the summers of 1979 and 1980 in remote NW Alaska (on the job) and I was incessantly searching for this bird among the many Whimbrels that occur there. After reading this section I realized I was not looking for the best field marks - you have to look at the streaked neck and breast contrasting with the plain belly and flanks - I did not know this! I saw a lot of great birds during those two summers so I can't complain, but I may have picked up a Bristle-thighed Curlew had I known what to look for.

All in all, I would say the book is a worthwhile addition to any birder's library. The photos alone are worth the price of the book!

I will conclude with a comment on an interesting section of the book (in the Introduction) - Why Birding is Cool. They pose the question: "What is it specifically that you like about birding?" They point out that birding is at least a pleasant activity and at times it is utterly thrilling. I agree wholeheartedly with that supposition. My thoughts are that what I love about birding is that birds are very, very beautiful to see, I enjoy the "detective" element of birding, and at times I love the "thrill of the chase" in finding an identifying Life Lister birds. It has been a life long passion that began at age 5 or 6 with the surprise discovery of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (See The Passion for Birds Begins in a Wondrous Way) and has continued on for more than 50 years and 500+ species! 

Feel free to post a comment below on the question: "What is it specifically that you like about birding?" Express yourself!

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