Hmmm, ...another bird book soon to be gracing the shelves of the bookstores around town—or so I thought, flipping through the glossy pages of the latest from Princeton University Press.
The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, to be released in March 2011, boldly features the photographic excellence of Richard Crossley, a life-long lover of birds and admitted “twitcher,” as bird chasers from his native Britain are sometimes called. In 640 beautifully mastered composite plates assembled from over 10,000 single digital images, Crossley has created what he hopes will help us become better birders. Another bird book, a revolutionary guide…really?
With technological prowess, Richard Crossley has taken advantage of the digital revolution to create a guide featuring scenes of different habitats loaded with multiple views of the represented bird—“near, far and everything in between.” Close-ups often show the bird in as much detail as if it were perched on your windowsill, while, in the same scene, a flock of the same forages at the distant horizon or flies silhouetted against the sky. There may be dozens of birds in different plumages, different poses, all scattered across the page—and at first glance, I was confused as to what to do with them all! Hidden in tall spikes of teasel or plucking thistle down from messy, matted seed heads, 17 American Goldfinches looked back at me from one page. Isn’t a field guide supposed to show me a nice, clean picture, and point to some clear field mark so I know what to look for?
In desperation, I turned to the Introduction.
Crossley implores the reader, “please, please, do read on,” for his description of the Guide and its revolutionary approach are nothing like those of the other guides already stacked on my shelf. Several paragraphs later, the purpose for his new Guide became clear.
Instantly, I’ve become a big fan.
Crossley’s intent is to create an interactive experience—involve a birder of any skill level in the active practice of field skills without their ever having to leave home. By studying the 3 or 4 large, captioned images on each page, the reader should then be able to apply and hone their own skills of observation to successfully identify the age and sex of the smaller images in the background--those more like what would be seen in real life.
photo courtesy Crossley Books, Princeton University Press
For each species account, a distribution map is included. In an effort to more clearly illustrate the bird’s actual size, in addition to its measurement in inches, 16 pages at the beginning of the Guide show smaller photographs of the birds as they compare to each other.
It’s a typical February day here in southern Ohio—lifeless and brown all around. Our spring is still weeks away. But, with my trusty heater blasting warmth toward my toes, I sit and stare at page 203, White Ibis. Afternoon sun has cast shadows onto the rippled water where the long-legged waders stand probing in the shallows of the beach.
In the distance, a couple walks hand in hand toward sunset.
It’s not just another bird book.
It’s an inexpensive birding vacation.