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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