Sunday, October 3, 2010

Making a list

Birders and lists go hand in hand.
We keep yard lists, trip lists, life lists.
If you’re anything like me, this turn of the season, an almost overnight change to the crisper days of autumn, has prompted the generation of yet another list--an attempt to stay on task and responsibly navigate the fleeting fall months to come. There’s a cluster of family birthdays for which to prepare, window screens to wash and tuck away for winter, patio furniture to clean and cover, piles of plants that wait to be set into the ground...and, yes, plans to make for the holidays—
a list of givers and gifts.

A new book for birders will hit the bookstore shelves later this month. It’s The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America by Donald & Lillian Stokes. This substantial paperback resource from the well-respected heavyweights of the birding/nature world covers 854 species in 816 glossy pages. A work of photographic excellence, its 3400+ images have been contributed by nearly 200 photographers, the majority by Lillian Stokes. A bonus downloadable CD is included with the calls and songs of 150 birds common to North America.

While the debate will continue as to which type of field guide illustration serves the greatest use, I find that I refer equally to guides illustrated with paintings (Peterson or Sibley) and those with photographic images (Kaufman or Stokes). Both have a place on my bookshelf. I still prefer the detail Sibley is able to show on the wings of soaring raptors as seen from below, but find the strength of the Stokes Guide to be its comprehensive coverage, often spanning several pages to include images of adult and juvenile birds, summer and winter plumages, morphs and birds in flight. The Red-winged Blackbird is detailed in 9 photos across 2 pages with remarks of the 14 subspecies. And 23 photos covering morphs and immature birds fill the 4-page spread profiling the Red-tailed Hawk. Most helpful to me, however, is a small notation in the lower corner of each photograph encoding the geographic location and date by month represented by the bird in the image. With a little guesswork, I can convert Stokes’ identified birds to those unknown birds beyond my window. Those tricky fall warblers in their non-descript plumage? They’re in here, in such generous numbers to fill the gap often left by other guides. Could that be a Nashville Warbler outside my window? Why, yes! Here’s one that looks just like it in a photograph bearing the caption OH/10! Maybe you’re curious to see the 3rd winter plumage of a Glaucous Gull? It’s in here, too… just a little further off the beaten path, marked RUS/12. I like that!

Birds are presented in the guide in phylogenetic order and are grouped by family with user-friendly, easily-visible bands of color at the base of each page, as in the popular Peterson guide.
Because a bird’s overall shape is often more consistent than variable plumage, the Stokes stress “quantitative shape” in carefully describing the hundreds of species--an expression that compares the relative difference in length of body parts within the same bird. For example, the Little Blue Heron is described by noting, “neck is shorter than body.” In emphasizing these relationships, even subjects which may be backlit or at a distance, can be accurately identified using careful observation and understanding of shape.

Throughout the book, Identification Tips are provided within typically challenging groups of birds. These helpful highlights offer clues for birders of all skill levels—from the basics of discerning differences within groups of seemingly similar birds to hints for especially difficult Species IDs.
Because most species are presented on separate pages, I find that comparison between several species at once unfortunately often involves the flipping of pages back and forth.

Finally, as one who shies away from the term “birder,” preferring to think of myself more as a generalist, I especially appreciate this guide for the glimpse it offers beyond birds alone—we see a small snippet, a suggestion of habitat. Whether perched on a precipice or wading among the reeds, the unaltered photographs allow recognition of birds in context—a valuable impression often lacking in other sources.

The Great Giveaway
(or Let’s turn the World on to Birding!)
Three lucky people will receive a complimentary copy of
The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America
by Donald & Lillian Stokes.
If you would like an opportunity to be chosen as a recipient
of one of these outstanding field guides,
please leave a comment in the comment section of this post.

Winners will be chosen on October 25, 2010 (its release date) by the True Random Number Generator at from the total number of comments generated to this post by 11:59 pm EST on October 24, 2010.
Enter as many times in as many separate comments as you like—the greater the number of comments you leave at this post, the greater your chance of being chosen!
Limit one complimentary copy per participant.

Let’s start with something like this…
“That sounds like a great gift for my neighbor!”
Be creative, be original (if you can).
Remember, this guide is appropriate for both novice and experienced birders.
Do you have someone in mind? (no names, please!)
Let’s turn the world on to birding!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, October 1, 2010

Advice from an Old Goat


Where are you going, as I stand here behind wise eyes that watch you as you pass?
And what is it you are looking for?
I used to be your favorite, you know, your first.
I remember the hours we spent each day together sitting in this field.
It hardly seems like fourteen years.
And all the time, you never seemed to mind the green-trimmed holes I chewed in your t-shirts, or the way I marked you as my own with rubbings against your knee.
We jumped and climbed... and frolicked beneath a blue sky, you and I.
And you brought me goldenrod.
I know…

Others younger have come and gone.
Bigger and bolder—in every way they made sure I knew my place was always to be the very last.

Once a dozen, now we are just three.
But who would have thought I would be queen?
I know…

Stop a while and sit with me.
Marvel at my soft and gentle lips, the whorl of hair on my forehead, the brushed-bare black of my knees.
Let me untie your shoes and wipe the sweat from your brow.

You will find the sun of an autumn afternoon to be of the most perfect kind.
Crickets are singing from the grasses of the field.
We can rest together beneath the wide blue sky.
And you can bring me goldenrod.

Stumble Upon Toolbar