Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton
Princeton University Press
Once in a while a bird book comes along that makes you sit up and take note – this is one of those books. I must admit though, as I opened the book for the first time I was thinking ‘what the…? ‘ and after flicking through a few pages I was still a bit bemused. It seemed to be a jumble of photos, thumbnail views, notes and sonograms. Clearly I needed to start again.
As any woman will tell you men are not very good at reading the instructions, preferring to just dive straight in… this generally results in frustration. The concept here is so new that it is nothing like diving in to a copy of Sibley or The Collins Bird Guide.
Unless you’re a warbler expert (and we’re dealing with Nearctic Warblers here) you simply must start at the beginning – as the song says ‘it’s a very good place to start.’
The Warbler Guide is designed very much a way to quickly and reliably identify warblers in the field and it does this by getting you to focus quickly on what field mark to look for (or listen for) and features many expert tips that are easily explained. There are some very novel ways to do this featured, I particularly like the desaturated photos that help you sort out a Common Yellowthroat, a very novel approach. I’d like to test the book out on Scilly by trying to clinch a Bay-breasted Warbler this October! The quick facefinder would be useful at Magee Marsh in Spring. One day I hope to prove that.
The species accounts are thorough. The bold chapter heading takes you through a quick visual guide with the key shapes, range and habitat before a series of stunning images and useful thumbnails takes you through the distinctive and supporting features. There is also a series of thumbnails for similar species and sections on sexing and ageing as well as discussion on songs and calls. I wonder why my copy already falls open at Blackburnian Warbler? The bird I most dream of finding in the Garrison Pines on Scilly.
There are also plenty of sonograms and a fantastic chapter on how to interpret sonograms, in fact this is probably the easiest account of this skill I’ve ever read. Probably my only gripe is the lack of an accompanying CD. You can download everything you need from the website but I’d prefer the tracks on my MP3 player.
Finally the topography section is amongst the best I’ve ever seen for a beginner and expert birder alike. There should be no excuse for not know you Greater Coverts from your Undertail Coverts now. Couple this with a stunning Northern Parula on the cover and you have a complete winner. Now what’s my luggage allowance on Skybus?