Birding Birds

First Impressions of the First Edition of Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America

I went to the book launch of the Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America yesterday (pictured on the left) and I was struck by a couple of design decisions that I think are a bit peculiar. While my caveat emptor is that I spent about 5 minutes leafing through it, two one deficits jumped out at me immediately:

The first is size. The book has grown and now is more in line with the original Sibley’s guide (the website has the book dimensions listed as 6×9 inches). For me, a book of this size no longer becomes a field guide–a book that can easily slip into a coat pocket and is forgettable as you carry it around–it becomes a desk reference. Yet, right there on the cover is the fact that this is supposed to be a field guide. Sibley’s guide as a desk reference is “worth it” in my opinion, because the extra space is used to describe and illustrate a wider variety of colour morphs seen across North America. In the new Peterson guide, the bigger pages are filled with larger illustrations. I don’t know if this is a demographic decision (Houghton Mifflin: “Birders are getting old. We need to make the bird illustrations bigger so they can see them easily”), but I was somewhat surprised that the new edition is essentially an old Peterson Field Guide “super-sized.”

Second, range maps are in the back of the book. Another bone-headed move on the design front. Having to flip around a book to try and find if what I think I’m seeing should actually be where I’m seeing it is extra effort. This is actually a step backwards for the Peterson guides because in the most recent edition of the Eastern guide (and I have to assume Western, too) there are range maps right on the same page as the plates. All the “current-generation” bird books that I own have range maps right with species descriptions and plates. The only reason why I can think the move was made has to do with the size of the maps: they’re much larger then they would have been if they were to have been included with the text. Personally, a small map never was much of a limiting factor when using a guide.

Update (09-11-08): As per the first comment below, it would seem that I managed to miss the inclusion of range maps beside the species descriptions. So, it would appear that you get flip-free small range maps and the larger range maps in the back.

This guide is supposed to assume the mantle of the new edition of Peterson bird guides. I suspect that Houghton Mifflin will, à la Sibley Guide to Birds, publish more compact regional versions (previous Peterson guides covered Eastern and Western North America) of this guide sometime in the future. It’s an interesting plan because while this worked for the Sibley guides, I’m not so sure it will work again in the case of Peterson. My resoning is this: at some point people don’t need another field guide. There was enough value-added in The Sibley Guide to Birds to warrant having both a desk reference and a field guide. I don’t see any extra value in owning the first edition of the North American Peterson and a field-guide size regional version too. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this edition.


Spring Migration at Rondeau

Blackburnian Warbler, originally uploaded by Gavatron.

Dad and I got back this weekend from a three day trip to Rondeau Provincial Park to take in the spring (warbler) migration. Now that’s not to say that we didn’t see anything else other than warblers—that was hardly the case—but no other family of birds has managed to capture Eastern North American birdwatchers’ attention (and admiration and love) like the Parulidae family.

Why? That’s a good question. I suspect because wood-warblers are small (a.k.a. cute); relatively colourful (you can’t beat the “safety cone” orange of this Blackburnian); have interesting life histories; and species-wise, they provide enough of a challenge to get to know all of them.

The Wood-warblers are (typically speaking) insect-eaters that nest in intact wooded areas (I’m talking your typical forest here—deciduous or coniferous, it depends on the species) and migrate great distances from their Northern summer range to their winter ranges (places where their food is still active & alive). So, in our minds it a geographic thing—they migrate; moving in time and place from point A to point B. I would imagine, however, that in their minds, they’re following the food. For them, they’re riding the top of a climatic crest, if you will, where at the apex they find the most food.

In this sense spring migration isn’t geographic—it’s biotic—the confluence of the earth’s northern hemisphere pointing more and more toward the sun; the emergence from dormancy of ecosystems; the swarming of insects; the movement of birds.

Animals Apartment Birding

I’m experiencing a little falcon fan-boy moment

I just had two Peregrine Falcons (Falco peregrinus) scream by the apartment building at eye (fifth floor eye) level. One pulled up and did a little “wing over” before peeling off in another direction.

This is the second time that I’ve seen Peregrines in the last week or so. I know that they live over on the CIBC building at Yonge & Bloor, but I hadn’t seen them outside my window.

Birding Photos

David Foster Vists Niagara Falls

I also noticed David Foster at the edge of the falls while looking for a Black-legged Kittiwake. See? Not only can I identify birds, but I can identify celebrities (a stretch, I know) as well.

Birding Photos

Gavan Being Bad

Gavan Being Bad

Gavan Being Bad,
originally uploaded by corbeau_du_nord.

I went looking for gulls along the Niagara River today. I decided to go for an ill-advised swim…


Birding Ollie

Birding in the ‘hood

Went for a long walk with Heather and Ollie today. While being annoyed by dog owners who have their dog off-leash, let the dog run up to Ollie and then say: “He’s not good with Puppies”, I did manage to enjoy some spring migrants. My morning list highlights:

  • Baltimore Oriole
  • Yellow-rumped Warbler
  • A Verio of some sort
  • Black and White Warbler
  • Black-throated Green Warbler
  • Black-throated Blue
  • Redstart

The busiest spot was on the Davenport hill just below Casa Loma and Spadina House. Not suprising given that it’s the best habitat for migrants in the area.

This was a nice follow-up from the birding trip that my Dad and I took at the beginning of the month. I took some neat-o photographs, so feel free to have a look-see.