ABOUT ME - My name is Amy and I'm a birder living in central Florida. On this blog I post book and birding product reviews as well as birder gift ideas and announcements related to my birder gift shop on this site. I also have a personal birding blog called Powered By Birds.

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Archive: February, 2011

February 2011 Giveaway: The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

Posted on February 24th, 2011 in Contest

On Tuesday, I posted a 5/5 review of Richard Crossley’s revolutionary new guide The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. Today I’m very excited to announce that this new book is my February blog giveaway!

This is my second giveaway and I’ve decided to keep it simple once again. The contest is open to everyone (global). If you’d like to enter the drawing to win a review copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, just leave a comment on this post before 11:59pm EST on Thursday, March 3rd. A random entry will be chosen sometime on Friday, March 4th.

Book Review: The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

Posted on February 22nd, 2011 in Book Review, Books

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds by Richard Crossley. First published 2011. As reviewed and pictured: Softcover flexibound, 530 pages.

I have to admit, I’ve been looking forward to this book for well over a year (some sample pages have been available online since at least late 2009). Now that I have the book in my hands, I’m just as excited. This book – a totally different kind of bird guide – does not disappoint!

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds covers some 640 species in a truly unique way. Each species is presented on its own plate, more appropriately called a “scene” by the author.

But even from the introductory pages, this bird guide is unique. The index is totally visual. First, a summary of the bird families are presented. Next, 16 pages of more detailed index show the most common birds in profile and in relative size. Overall the birds are arranged in two main categories, waterbirds and landbirds, and then into sub-categories. They are arranged as you might find them in the field, rather than strictly taxonomically.

Initial index, showing the bird families as they are presented in the book

Next, the introductory pages clearly state the purpose of the book: to make the reader a better birder. As I first paged through the scenes, one of my initial thoughts was that this is more like a study book for birders, rather than a traditional guide to be used in the field. The author goes a step further, writing: “Although this book will be used for reference, the principal reason for its design is to be interactive with the reader – much like a workbook at school.” There’s no use comparing this guide to field guides, I think, because it’s simply not a field guide. It’s a new tool for birders to use as a study guide.

Here I’d like to briefly mention the size of the book, which took me by surprise at first. It is BIG, about 7.5″ across and 10″ tall. I’m showing it here next to the Sibley eastern guide for comparison. For such a strongly visual book, meant to be studied rather than referred to in the field, the size is just right.

The scenes themselves are a pleasure to study. The photographs, over 10,000 put together (nearly all of which, remarkably, were taken by the author himself), are arranged to show as many different plumages and positions for each species as possible. Birds are shown in flight, swimming, perching, hunting, socializing, feeding, preening, even mating. Some of the scenes are busier than others, and at first glance I have the childish instinct to treat the busiest ones like a puzzle, trying to find each individual bird among the foliage, seascape, marsh, or urban landscape. The backgrounds vary wildly, of course, presenting the birds in the type of habitat in which we’re likely to find them. Human structures and even humans themselves appear in many of the scenes, for that is where and how we often see birds. For example, hummingbirds are shown by sugar water feeders, Barn Swallows by farm implements, American Oystercatchers (and others) by the Cape May lighthouse, and Chipping Sparrows on a golf course. Here are some example scenes found in the book.

Common Eider and Black Scoter

Barred Owl

Roseate Spoonbill and White Ibis

Black-and-white Warbler

American Kestrel and Barn Owl

As you can see in the sample images, a range map and brief text accompanies each scene. The text first focuses on behavior in very familiar language. ID clues are also provided, pointing out differences between similar species and reinforcing what is shown in the scene.

Full-page scenes are given to the more common species, with some less common birds being shown on a half or quarter-page scene. The text accompanying the smallest, quarter-page scenes is smaller than the text which accompanies the other scenes, which I find extremely distracting. Mixing font sizes in this way seems unprofessional to me and I would hope this could be fixed in subsequent versions. There, you have my only major beef with this book.

Four rare ducks (with smaller text) and Northern Pintail

Throughout the text, four-letter alpha codes are used to refer to the birds. These abbreviations help keep the lines of text shorter, but they can be a bit tricky to follow, especially for those not used to referring to birds this way. Take this portion of the Alder Flycatcher text, for example:

“Most migrate later than WIFL in fall. Formerly conspecific with WIFL. Song: fee-beo, more monotone than similar but more emphatic fitz-bew of WIFL. ALFL occasionally gives a more WIFL-like song – beware! Call: a pip — different from other empids and often likened to HAWO.”

I have to stop and think about these abbreviations, so it’s a bit distracting. However, as a budding bird bander, I’m happy to learn these codes and I’m sure this book will help me with that. Alpha codes are also sometimes used more widely in the birding community, so it’s not bad for all birders to become at least familiar with them. The alpha codes are even used in the index. Two other indexes sort the birds by scientific name and common name.

I’m really looking forward to studying this book, which will take some time, for sure. It definitely warrants long-term and repeated study. As excited as I am, I can’t help thinking about the rumors that a western version is in the works. Indeed, on Crossley’s own website, there are already placeholders for more books: The Crossley ID Guide – British Birds; The Crossley ID Guide – Western Birds; and The Mystery Guide.

I give The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds 5 Goldfinches out of 5.

Disclosure: This is my own original, honest review of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, a copy of which was provided to me free of charge by the publisher.

Book Review: Pigeons

Posted on February 11th, 2011 in Book Review, Books, Pigeons!

Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World’s Most Revered and Reviled Bird by Andrew D. Blechman. First published 2006. As reviewed and pictured: hardcover, 239 pages.

Rock Pigeons are thought to be native to Asia, though they are among the most widely distributed bird species on the planet today. Their natural breeding habitat, coastal cliff faces, is easily replaced by city skyscrapers in urban areas. But pigeons were thriving among humans well before the age of the skyscraper. It was via strong-flying pigeons that the results of the first Olympic Games, in 776 B.C., were distributed.

I learned this historical tidbit, and countless others, reading Blechman’s engaging Pigeons. The book follows several different modern interactions between pigeons and humans: high-stakes pigeon racing; pigeon shooting; fancy pigeon breeding; pigeon farming; pigeon rescue groups; and more.

I was especially interested by the chapters on pigeon racing, where the author closely followed one champion pigeon racer through parts of a racing season. In contrast, the chapters on pigeon shooting (a “sport” I was not even aware of until this book) and pigeon meat farming (ditto) were difficult for this admittedly biased pigeon-lover to read. Some chapters were more interesting than others, though I did learn something from each of the authors encounters with various types of pigeon people.

While I enjoyed the book, I felt that several topics were barely explored, leaving me wanting more. Topics like champion pigeon racing or the use of homing pigeons to deliver life-saving messages in times of war deserve books of their own, and I felt a bit cheated more than once when finishing a chapter of Pigeons. I guess that’s always a risk when covering such a varied topic in one book. I give Pigeons 3.5 Goldfinches out of 5.

Bird blog & online contests for February 2011

Posted on February 7th, 2011 in Contest

Here’s a list of current (as of February 7th) blog & online contests by birders, for birders, and/or offering bird- or birder-themed prizes. Click on the links to learn more, check eligibility, and enter to win! If you are running a contest or know of something that should be added to this list, let me know by leaving a comment or sending me an email. This is a monthly post appearing on the first Monday of every month. I will add any updates I find during the month as a comment on this post. If you’d like to stay updated, you can subscribe to the comment RSS feed for this post.


Fans of Birding Adventures TV on Facebook have a chance to win a free app from Audubon Guides. Visit the fan page and correctly answer the question posted with the video on the morning of February 5th. Submit your answer before Friday, February 11th for a chance to win.

Two-Fisted Birdwatcher is giving away a blog-branded hoodie. Find this month’s hidden bird to be eligible for the drawing. This monthly giveaway usually ends by the end of the month, so submit your answer before February 28th! See the contest page for details.

The Zen Birdfeeder blog is giving away a copy of the book Wild About Northeastern Birds. Leave a comment on this blog post by February 15th to be entered in the drawing.

Enter to win a matted 8×10 Whooping Crane print by helping Wild Florida Photo choose which photo in their series to print. Enter in person on online by February 28th. Visit the contest page for more details.

ONGOING CONTESTS of interest to birders

Birder’s World (soon to be BirdWatching) magazine runs a Photo of the Week Contest. Check out the rules page to find out how to enter. Prizes include gear from Zeiss optics.

Duncraft hosts a caption contest on Facebook every week. Become a fan of Duncraft to see each contest posting. Enter to win a $10.00 Duncraft Gift Coupon. New caption contests start each Monday.

WildBird on the Fly periodically gives away books and other prizes with fun, short-notice contests. Follow her blog and her Twitter account @WBeditor to get in on the prize giveaways.

Each month the Birds & Blooms website runs the Where’s Webster? contest. Find Webster the duck on the website and enter to win. Prizes vary and the contest runs month to month.

The Eagle Optics Email Contest is ongoing for anyone subscribed to their newsletter. A new winner is chosen every month and prizes vary. Click here for details.

Birder’s Lounge runs a monthly ID Challenge. Contestants play for their favorite bird/nature/conservation charity. The prize is a $10 donation to the winning charity, in the winner’s name. (Thanks to Amber for the details!)

Book Review: The Feather Quest

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Book Review, Books

The Feather Quest: A North American Birder’s Year by Pete Dunne. First published 1992. As reviewed and pictured: softcover, 355 pages.

What birder hasn’t dreamed of having a big year? Sure, as a newbie to the hobby, one’s first reaction might be that big year birding is slightly, well, crazy, but after the birding bug grows I think most birders wouldn’t pass up the chance to spend a year doing nothing but birding, birding and more birding for one year. This kind of allure is what makes books about big years so enticing to readers. And that is one of the big draws of Pete Dunne’s fabulous birding memoir The Feather Quest.

Quest follows Dunne and his wife Linda as they bird some of the most famous birding sights in North America. The book chronicles a year (1989), more or less, of non-stop birding in such places as the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the Florida Everglades, New Jersey’s Cape May, and Attu, Alaska. The Dunnes don’t have a competitive big year as their motivation, so they take the reader along on a leisurely journey through these hotspots where they can actually savor the birds, spend time with the locals, and put the birding experience into historical perspective. For example, their visit to Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania isn’t just a quick stop along the way. The history of the area is explored and the story of how the famous Hawk Watch came to be is shared in beautiful, poignant detail.

I love Dunne’s descriptive, witty, and clear writing style. I especially love the rather uniquely abrupt way several chapters of the book close, which somehow manage to leave some things up to the readers’ imagination in this non-fiction tale. The book is full of humor, and even as a newer student of birds I found myself nodding in agreement or really laughing out loud in recognition of the more humorous situations birders may find themselves in. The book is full of “universal truths of birding.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I look forward to reading more Pete Dunne. I give The Feather Quest 5 Goldfinches out of 5.