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Monday, January 23, 2012

Review #3

The Crossley ID Guide - Eastern Birds

"Turning Birding Upside Down" reads the literally upside down double page advertisement for the Crossley ID Guide. It was instantly clear to me that this guide was going to revolutionize the birding world.

Six months later I was holding this very book in my hands and reverently flipping through the pages.

The Crossley is a big book not the slim, dog eared, field guides that birders can carry out in the field tucked away in a back pocket. This is more of a lap book designed for the birder to memorize the birds while sitting in their living room and sipping a cup of tea or coffee not while cruising through a field of waves on a pelagic trip.

What so attracted me and thousands of other bird enthusiasts to the guide were the stunning illustrations which have been put together in a way never before seen on the pages of a North American guide and probably not in any of the worlds many guides. A guide unique to itself. Photographic guides have rarely used more then five images for any one species and here was a book using hundreds of photographs. All the photographs were taken by the author.

Each plate is mosaic of richly layered photoshopped images; dragging and placing over 10,000 photos of 640 species. An individual, or sometimes two, in each different plumage is placed in the foreground while many more birds of the same species can be seen in the background. Often the birds in background are no more then specks. Crossley calls this reality birding. I enjoy it when I am able to recognize a place that I have birded, namely the sandy beaches of Cape May.

All these birds are placed on a background image showing the habitat the species is likely to be found in. Common and uncommon species are each given a whole page while rarities, vagrants and species restricted in range have half a page or less for their illustration and descriptions.

The descriptions discuss, habitat, status, identification, and often voice. Each description is written in a light tone along the lines of this: "Elegant and beautiful, or big and nasty, take your pick as both can apply. Takes over it's patch, immediately attacking any other swan that dares to come nearby. Nest is large and conspicuous. Young are protected zealously: an adult, standing it's ground, has hissed fear into many a human.". Quoted from Crossley's description of the Mute Swan.

The Crossley ID Guide is a very enjoyable book to read. It's the type of book I can spend hours thumbing through and still have not had enough.

Instead of the usual taxonomical order this book is arranged in the order which Crossley, Howell, O'Brien, Sullivan, Wood, and Lewington suggested in their November 2009 article in Birding titled "Taxonomy Vs. Utility" (pg. 44). They suggest that guides should be arranged in this order:
1. Swimming birds such as Alcids and Cormorants
2. Flying birds such as Tropicbirds and Gulls
3. Walking birds such as Oystercatchers and Herons.
4. Upland Gamebirds such as Quails and Grouse
5. Raptors such as Vultures and Falcons
6. Miscellaneous Larger landbirds such as Corvids and Nightjars.
7. Aerial Land birds such as Hummingbirds and Swifts.
8. Songbirds such as Tyrant-Flycatchers and Finches.

I find this a very reasonable ordering compared to some guides arrangements. Case in point: the American Bird Conservancy's All the Birds of North America muddled organization.

The body size measurements are given but wing span measurements are surprisingly absent; these on occasions could have been useful.

Next to the scientific and English names are the banding codes aka "alpha codes". I, for one, have not yet come across a guide which uses the codes so extensively. In the descriptions when Crossley mentions another species he will put the birds banding code in place of the full English name. For example in the description of the Tundra Swan (TUSW) Crossley writes: "Slightly smaller than MUSW with shorter and straighter neck. Head and bill profile strikingly different. With head tucked in, shorter tail is quite easy to pick out (TRUS is also short tailed).". This at times can be confusing if you haven't memorized all the codes - a challenging task. But these codes do allow more room for the text which is squished below the prominent illustrations.

Beside the descriptions are the range maps which look puny next to the oversized illustrations. These maps are no smaller then any other field guides and their puniness is just an illusion.

Occasionally a keen sighted reader will come across a stray species such as the puffins floating unobtrusively in the background of the Common Murre plate or the American Coot hiding behind an American Wigeon in the American Wigeon plate. I am unsure if these birds where intended to be in the background. For a beginner it may cause a misidentification though that is highly unlikely considering that these puffins are barely more then spots in the background and when a species is in better focus such as the Northern Pintails in the Cinnamon Teals plate it is almost always mentioned. I think that often times these species are used for size comparison, such as the male Mallard which is in the Cackling Goose plate. I have found the spot-the-stray-species game an enjoyable pursuit; a birders Where's Waldo.

I think this is an amazing guide and I look forward to the promised The Crossley ID Guide - British Birds and The Crossley ID Guide - Western Birds.

One can visit Crossley's website for more information on the book as well as some videos giving tips on birding,

I've had some great birding recently. On the the 10th I saw the Snowy Owl on Island Rocks at Sachuest Point NWR. This bird had been seen there since the 5th: really cool. My third Snowy in two weeks. Is it just me or has everyone noticed that quite often when you finally get a life bird you suddenly find yourself seeing this species on a regular basis. This was the case with the Barred Owl and the Roughed Grouse on my life list. Following this pattern I bet I'll see tons of Red Necked Grebes the next time I can convince my parents to bring us down to Satchuest.

I had an adult Bald Eagle circling over the Washington Bridge on the Providence/East Providence line. Wild Turkeys spotted grazing by the side of the Col. Rodman Highway and a very needed lifer Red-necked Grebe at Beavertail State Park.

So far I have seen 74 species of birds this year.

Good job to anybody who identified the last the two Dunlin and the Greater Yellowlegs in the last photo quiz. Here's your next quiz.
This photo was taken some time in November at Nayat Point in Barrington, RI

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