A couple of new bird books have crossed my desk that I think will be interest to birders. The first is a new field guide to the birds of the eastern part of our continent. Published by Princeton University Press, this guide is titled Birds of Eastern North America: A Photographic Guide, written by Paul Sterry and Brian Small.
The old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words certainly applies to nature guides. The most important part of any bird field guide is the illustrations. Most field guides reply on paintings or drawings by skilled artists. The artist can draw or paint a bird from an angle to best show its distinguishing characteristics. Nonetheless, some people may consider even the best paintings to fail to capture the living quality of a bird.
Alternatively, photographs are true representations of how a particular bird looks under the lighting and background conditions when its picture was snapped. Some birders find it far easier to match an unknown bird with a photograph rather than a painting.
Acquiring suitable bird photographs for a field guide is a challenge. Birds don’t pose for the camera, lighting may wreak havoc on the true color depiction of a bird and getting close enough to a bird for a crisp, close-up is tough. Despite these challenges, Sterry and Small have produced what I believe is the finest photographic field guide of eastern birds.
Both authors are highly skilled nature photographers. Small is the Photographic Editor for Birding magazine and I have admired his photographs for years. The photographs in this guide are crisp, informative and, in many cases, stunning.
The book is organized like most field guides with a brief introduction to bird anatomy and plumages. The majority of the text is composed of species-by-species descriptions of birds in the currently recognized checklist order.
The left page has text on two or three species, giving, in telegraphic style, information on identification features, different plumages and similar species. Information is provided on the status of the species and tips on how to find each species. One or two small photographs for each species are given on the left-facing page. A distribution map is provided as well. The right-facing page is devoted solely to photographs; many seem to leap out of the page.
At the end of the guide, you will find a section called Out of the Ordinary where vagrants to the east, like Barnacle Goose and Ivory Gull, and exotic waterfowl, like Mandarin Duck and Common Shelduck, are briefly covered.
Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems about Birds is a charming book. The book is edited by Billy Collins, former Poet Laureate of the United States. The poems chosen span two millennia, from the Roman poet Catullus through Chaucer, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Hardy, and Emily Dickinson to more recent poets like Gray Snyder, Wallace Stevens, Jane Hirshfield, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins himself.
I had to smile when I realized that the bird poems are arranged in checklist order, just like a field guide!
But the poetry is only a part of the charm of the book. For many poems, David Sibley has provided a lovely portrait of the bird featured in that poem.
Osprey Egg Contamination
The Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham has released its troubling report on contaminants in the eggs of Casco Bay Ospreys. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other organic contaminants were found at levels known to adversely affect chick development in chickens.
You can download the whole report at http://www.briloon.org/contaminants/index.php
Maine Butterfly Survey
The Maine Butterfly Survey, a five-year project to map the distribution and abundance of the butterflies and skippers of Maine, is beginning its fourth year. This project relies heavily on volunteers. The first three years have yielded over 4300 records (specimens or photographs). Volunteers have established four new state records and a large number of county records in the first three years of the project. You can see all of the records to date at the MBS website: http://mbs.umf.maine.edu/
Please contact me if you are interested in becoming a member of the MBS team.
[originally published on March 21, 2010]