Content & Photos © Bill Schmoker unless noted otherwise. Thanks for visiting- drop me a comment!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Bird Book of the Year?

I know it is still only January, but I have a feeling my favorite bird book published in 2012 has already found a place on my bookshelf. I'm referring to Steve Howell's comprehensive Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide (Princeton University Press.) I find all of Steve's titles to be indispensable fonts of information, helpful for anything from quick photo comparisons to deep reading on identification tips, distribution, biology, and conservation issues. This tome is no exception- the sheer scale of the book's contents (a plethora of photos for every species represented, reams of authoritative text, and by far the best maps for these birds) boggles me- there is literally years of sea-time from Steve and his consultants distilled into this volume. Seasoned pelagic veterans and landlocked birders alike will have tons to learn about North American tubenoses from this book and I know it will offer enjoyment to anyone interested in wild birds!

The bottom line: This is a must-have title for any serious North American birder- get it!

From the publisher:

Petrels, albatrosses, and storm-petrels are among the most beautiful yet least known of all the world's birds, living their lives at sea far from the sight of most people. Largely colored in shades of gray, black, and white, these enigmatic and fast-flying seabirds can be hard to differentiate, particularly from a moving boat. Useful worldwide, not just in North America, this photographic guide is based on unrivaled field experience and combines insightful text and hundreds of full-color images to help you identify these remarkable birds.

The first book of its kind, this guide features an introduction that explains ocean habitats and the latest developments in taxonomy. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features such as flight manner, plumage variation related to age and molt, seasonal occurrence patterns, and migration routes. Species accounts are arranged into groups helpful for field identification, and an overview of unique identification challenges is provided for each group. The guide also includes distribution maps for regularly occurring species as well as a bibliography, glossary, and appendixes.

  • The first state-of-the-art photographic guide to these enigmatic seabirds
  • Includes hundreds of full-color photos throughout
  • Features detailed species accounts that describe flight, plumage, distribution, and more
  • Provides overviews of ocean habitats, taxonomy, and conservation
  • Offers tips on how to observe and identify birds at sea

Steve N. G. Howell is an acclaimed field ornithologist and writer. He is an international bird tour leader with WINGS and a research associate at PRBO Conservation Science in California. His books include the Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds and Hummingbirds of North America (Princeton).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Greater Roadrunner Where Now??

Earlier this week, my buddy Joe Roller did some great bird detective work and weathered several fruitless trips to finally track down a rumored Greater Roadrunner on Dinosaur Ridge, west of Denver near the fabled Red Rocks Park (Joe's highly entertaining full story of his roadrunner quest can be found here.) After his original confirmation of the bird he led 1 successful return trip followed by a string of dips in worse weather. Today, though, the weather improved, the weekend rolled around, and several Denver-area birders including yours truly positioned themselves along the bird's favorite haunts to see if it would make another appearance. At about 12:30 we were rewarded with looks that began as distant & fleeting but got better and better. Below are some of my favorite images of this bird, and yeah, the white stuff in many of the images is snow!! Thanks, Joe!

Enjoy- Bill

Roller's Roadrunner Raiders getting their twitching orders.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Snake In The Grass

At the Midwest Birding Symposium, my friend Clay Taylor tuned me on to a great digiscoping lens for Micro Four Thirds Cameras. I knew that I would have to get the Olympus 14-42mm MSC lens to pair with my Panasonic DMC-G1 after he let me try it- on my Nikon EDG Fieldscope I can get vignette-free images at nearly any zoom. The internal focus of the lens prevents any bumping and it seems very sharp on initial perusal. As a nice bonus, I found out that it also makes a really nice macro lens when I came across this Common Garter Snake at Boulder Reservoir last week. With the zoom range (28-84mm equivalent), digiscoping friendliness, and excellent macro capabilities, I think that it will be the ideal companion to tote along as a compliment to my telephoto rig. Here are a few macros taken with this new rig- digiscoping examples will follow eventually...

Thursday, October 06, 2011

How Cool is This? Nikon Announces Stabilized Scopes

I just got word that Nikon will produce an imaged-stabilized version of the vernerable EDG Fieldscope. There will be straight and angled 85mm models, each equipped with Nikon's VR (vibration reduction) technology that has been perfected in their stabilized camera lenses. I swear by the VR in my 200-400mm f/4 VR Nikon camera lens- it makes hand-holding the rig a reality, even with a 1.4X teleconverter. I think the potential for VR in a scope is pretty amazing, particularly for digiscoping. Using stabilized cameras for digiscoping really doesn't help since they can't counter movements in the scope, so this should be a major weapon for getting sharp digiscoped shots. I'm not sure when I'll get to put my hands on one of these but I'll let you know what I think when I do!!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Fall Warbler Workout

I recently had the fabulous opportunity to attend the Midwest Birding Symposium representing Nikon Sport Optics. The event was headquartered in Lakeside, Ohio, and in addition to our booth Nikon sponsored the famous Magee Marsh Boardwalk birding site. This meant that my partner Tom Dunkerton & I had to scout the boardwalk and then head out to help the birders heading there as part of their symposium dance card- a tough job but someone has to do it!!

I especially appreciated the mental workout of identifying migrant fall eastern warblers- as a Colorado birder I don't see many of these. (Most of my experience with eastern warblers is from trips north and east to tally these beauties during the breeding season when their full colors and songs make the sorting much easier.) I think I've sussed the following birds out but please set me straight if you think I've gotten any wrong! Hope you enjoy the non-bird stuff, too. (Click on any image to enlarge.) Enjoy- Bill

Cape May Warbler (thanks, Nate!)

Blackpoll Warblers (note the yellow feet!)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (no mistaking that one!!)

Black-throated Green Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warblers

Baby Eastern Fox Snake (thanks to Tom Dunkerton for the pic of me with the snake)

Philadelphia Vireo (by far the best pic of this species I've gotten so far!)

Sunrise @ Magee Marsh

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Red-eyed Vireo (young bird- note dark eye.)

Sanderling (on zebra mussel shells.)

Tom Dunkerton photographing a Northern Watersnake

Yours Truly photographing above Sanderling (thanks again, Tom Dunkerton!)

To See the Grebe, Be the Grebe

Sorry about the lack of activity 'round these parts lately- I should mention that for a while now I've been blogging every other week on the ABA Blog. I'll try to remember to post links to my ABA Blog entries here, like my latest about grebe photography from a kayak. I'll also try to have some fresh stuff here on BrdPics- especially photography, perhaps with less commentary (as my ABA posts often are more verbose.) Thanks, faithful readers! -Bill

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide- Eastern Birds

I was very excited to recently receive a thick envelope from Princeton University Press (THANKS!!), knowing it held The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. I had discussed the book a few times with the energetic author, Richard Crossley, and knew it would be groundbreaking, unique, & valuable. It didn't disappoint!

The book begins differently from the very onset, with a quick reference guide on the endsheet (yeah, I had to look that up) organized by birds as you see them in the field instead of following the current (& ever changing) AOU taxonomy. There are sample images of birds from each of his 8 groups based on habitat and physical similarities (Swimming Waterbirds, Flying Waterbirds, Walking Waterbirds, Upland Gamebirds, Raptors, Miscellaneous Larger Landbirds, Aerial Landbirds, & Songbirds) with pages listed to get beginners going to the right sections and to let more advanced birders know how to find birds in this guide. The table of contents is also totally different than any other bird book I know of, with simply a small photo typifying each bird (all that share a page to the same scale- sweet!), the 4-letter banding code, and a page number.

I enjoyed Richard's preamble discussing the layout of the book, how to use it, and his thoughts on bird ID. In fact, one thing I enjoy about new bird books is the textual introductions (both to the book and to the various sections), with nuggets of knowledge to be gleaned from each author's expertise and perspective. Richard's species-level notes also have much food for thought and ID tips to apply in the field.

The biggest difference of this publication is its treatment of each species, which consists of a background image selected to represent a typical habitat for the bird and multiple (dozens in many cases) of bird images composited into the plate to represent various plumages and poses, nearly always including flight shots. I can't imagine the effort that went into getting flight shots for the little guys! The idea is that as birders we see birds near and far, in different plumages, at various angles and in flight and the book aims to replicate that. Richard is an intense, high-energy guy and his plates are a reflection of his personality- pedal to the metal birding that could border on information overload! He isn't afraid to show birds that aren't always pretty, such as a House Finch with conjunctivitis, little guys lurking among branches, or nocturnal birds with eye glow. Richard includes people and human structures in many of the backgrounds- again, reality supersedes always going for beauty which I feel is appropriate. It is essentially a massive photo library of reference shots for the 640 species represented.

The book is large, something I'd leave at home or in my vehicle for reference instead of toting around in the field (it is even bigger than the "big" Sibley Guide.) Some images may be too small in the background to be entirely helpful, though I suppose even those could supply helpful gestalt for the species. Some of the plates are also a bit dark to my eye. Admittedly, we see distant, small birds and we find ourselves in dim conditions so reality rules here, too, though in a book one might wish for brighter more detailed images throughout.

Richard's web site ( promises upcoming Western US & UK
versions, both of which I'm very anxious to see as well (especially the Western version as I hail from the Mountain Time Zone.) I congratulate Richard on this monumental effort and for coming up with a bird guide concept so new and yet so potentially helpful to birders across the spectrum of ability and experience.

From the publisher:

This stunningly illustrated book from acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley revolutionizes field guide design by providing the first real-life approach to identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

Unlike other guides, which provide isolated individual photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. These scenes--640 in all--are composed from more than 10,000 of the author's images showing birds in a wide range of views--near and far, from different angles, in various plumages and behaviors, including flight, and in the habitat in which they live. These beautiful compositions show how a bird's appearance changes with distance, and give equal emphasis to characteristics experts use to identify birds: size, structure and shape, behavior, probability, and color. This is the first book to convey all of these features visually--in a single image--and to reinforce them with accurate, concise text. Each scene provides a wealth of detailed visual information that invites and rewards careful study, but the most important identification features can be grasped instantly by anyone.

By making identification easier, more accurate, and more fun than ever before, The Crossley ID Guide will completely redefine how its users look at birds. Essential for all birders, it also promises to make new birders of many people who have despaired of using traditional guides.

  • Revolutionary. This book changes field guide design to make you a better birder
  • A picture says a thousand words. The most comprehensive guide: 640 stunning scenes created from 10,000 of the author's photographs
  • Reality birding. Lifelike in-focus scenes show birds in their habitats, from near and far, and in all plumages and behaviors
  • Teaching and reference. The first book to accurately portray all the key identification characteristics: size, shape, behavior, probability, and color
  • Practice makes perfect. An interactive learning experience to sharpen and test field identification skills
  • Bird like the experts. The first book to simplify birding and help you understand how to bird like the best
  • An interactive expanded captions for the plates and species updates