For the Birds – Book Reviews
Hawk migration is beginning in Maine. Keep your eye to the sky when northerly winds are blowing for migrating accipiters, buteos, eagles and falcons. Migrations can be quite spectacular at places like Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park or on Mt. Agamenticus in York County. However, on a good day you can see migrating raptors from most vantage points.
In this column, I would like to draw your attention to a couple of relatively new hawk identification guides that should increase your hawk-watching pleasure. First, is “A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors” by Brian Wheeler and William Clark. Both authors are veteran hawk-watchers. First published in 1995 by Academic Press, the current edition was published in 2003 by Princeton University Press.
The major strength of this guide is the 377 color photographs of hawks, some flying and others perched. Each species in North America is treated in checklist order. Each photograph has a caption describing the identification features that can be seen in that particular view. Each species has multiple photographs. For the highly variable Red-tailed Hawk, 46 photographs are provided!
A short text account is given for each species. Very little material is provided as an introduction to hawk anatomy and identification.
A nice feature of the guide is a section at the end on thorny identification problems like accipiter identification.
In 2005, “Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight” by Jerry Ligouri was published by Princeton Paperbacks. Ligouri is also highly skilled at hawk identification, having spent many seasons on hawk watches throughout North America. As the name indicates, this guide focuses on the identification of raptors on the wing.
Ligouri’s book has 339 color photos and 32 black-and-white photographs. Like the Clark and Wheeler guide, each photograph is accompanied by a text description of the particular identification features visible in each shot. The photographs are smaller than the ones in Wheeler and Clark.
Each species has a text account, longer than the accounts in Wheeler and Clark. At the beginning of each major group of hawks, e.g. the accipiters, Ligouri provides some text on migration of the group as well as size and structure of the members of that group of species.
At the end of each group, Ligouri provides an informative account on pitfalls of identification, giving identification tips based on flight style as well as structure. Then, Ligouri makes good on the “every angle” phrase in the title of the book. He gives tips for identification of soaring birds, head-on birds and side-on birds, all well illustrated in black-and-white photographs on a single plate. I don’t know of any other hawk guide that covers the identification of birds flying directly at you so well.
Either one of these guides will make anyone a better hawk-watcher. They are relatively inexpensive. Why not splurge and get a copy of both as the fall hawk migration begins?
Another recent bird book that may be of interest is “Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion”, published by Houghton Mifflin Press. This guide has accounts for over 700 North American birds that provide more information than a field guide possibly could.
Dunne provides sections on Status, Cohabitants, Movement/Migration, Description, Behavior, Flight, Vocalizations and, for some species, interesting tidbits in a section called Pertinent Particulars.
This book is not intended to be taken into the field but rather provides information for you to enjoy before or after a birding trip. This book presents a great deal of material concisely and clearly.
Dunne gives each species an “alternative” common name that may help in remembering identification features. For instance, the Gray Catbird is named the Gray Thicket-Mimic and the Brown Creeper is named Legless Perpetual-motion Bark Wren.
Describing bird vocalizations in words is difficult and is the weakest portion of this book. Would you know “raaough raaough raaough” is a call of the Blue Jay? There’s no doubt that listening to bird songs and calls is the best way to learn them.
You can do just that using “The Songbirds Bible” by Noble Proctor, published here in Maine by Ronnie Sellers Productions. This book, with accompanying CD, provides information on the voices of 100 of the most common songbirds in North America.
The text account gives information on habitat, migration and vocalizations. Listening to the recordings while reading the text descriptions is a powerful way to learn these vocalizations.
By my count, 73 species covered occur regularly in Maine. This book is ideal for beginning birders who are just starting to build skills at identifying birds by ear. It’s a fine book.
[First published on September 3, 2006]