Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide

By now, I am sure you have heard something about The Crossley ID Guide by Richard Crossley. It is one of the most anticipated and spoken-of guides to come out in recent memory. He and the Princeton University Press were kind enough to provide us with a copy to review and put to use. I wanted to provide everyone with some feedback on my impressions of it after reading it, looking at every beautiful page, and utilizing it a few times already.

You can view some sample pages and more information on the book here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9384.html

Additionally, a companion website is here: http://www.crossleybirds.com/

So as not to bore you with a lengthy dissection of what is an exciting, novel, and sizable guide, here are my impressions and thoughts:
• This is a big book. When I opened the box and pulled it out I was quite surprised how large it was. It is 7.5X10 inches with 544 pages. This makes it possible to feature over 10,000 color images.
• That is also why I am glad it is not called a field guide. This is a book meant for home or left in the car, as I often do with some of the best texts.
• There is a lot of information that is squeezed in around those photos.
• Look at that, alpha codes! That cracked me up. Alpha codes are four letter abbreviations of bird names. They are very helpful in survey work (we use them all the time), in communicating sightings quickly, etc. I have never seen them in a book like this before.
• Habitats are listed and sometimes described in field guides and other texts. In this book, they are the background of the photos of the birds. Examining the striking bird photos may make you miss them, but don’t - they are a vital part of the experience of each species. Birders often wonder where they can find this or that, and these are exceptionally helpful in depicting where to find a species and exactly how they will appear there. And by that I mean...
• The photos for each species are also meant to display common postures, positions, flight and movement, and so forth. It really gives you the feel of being in the field staring at it. The photos are not meant to simply show you what the bird looks like.
• Besides that, they allow you to have an understanding of how you will view a bird in the field. You are not going to see every species of bird from a uniform distance. Most often, you will not see something like a Greater Scaup a few feet in front of you as you would a Tufted Titmouse. You are going to see them from a distance, probably with a scope, and many birds are shown as if this were the case. Some people might not understand why the photos are often this way, but it is to make you understand and appreciate identification as close to life as it can be. Many of the duck pages reminded me of viewing birds off Stratford Point during our survey work.
• The photos also let you see a variety of field marks instead of the bird from only one angle or in particular light that prevents seeing key information.
• Comparing some species birders sometimes consider tricky ID separations seems silly with this guide. One example would be Redheads and Canvasbacks. They are on pages 62 and 63 of the guide, and examining them even for a minute would allow anyone to see the large differences between the species.
• The front of the book has a very cool section comparing bird sizes.
• Everything you will likely ever see in the east is included, all the way to an extreme rarity like Northern Lapwing.

There is so much to explore and look at in this book with all of the photos. It will definitely help birders of all experiences. You should not hesitate to pick it up, as it will be a helpful addition to your birding library.

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