WCAS NewsBook Review
The Shorebird Guide
Jeffrey Hall
Book Review
The Shorebird Guide by O'Brien, Crossley, and Karlson

Jeffrey Hall

The Shorebird Guide, Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, 2006 ISBN: 0-618-43294-9

Richard Crossley, one of the three bird identification experts responsible for The Shorebird Guide, was Washington Crossing Audubon Society's speaker at our September meeting. Many in attendance brought their copy of the book for Crossley to sign, and others purchased a copy that evening. Having used The Shorebird Guide for a few months, I can recommend this book to anyone interested in shorebird identification and appreciation.

The Shorebird Guide is intended to be as much a teacher or mentor for field identification as a field guide. The size and weight of the book discourages one from carrying it along while walking-—it is better reviewed beforehand, then kept in the car for quick reference after a session of scoping a flock of shorebirds.

Crossley and his co-authors suggest that we don't recognize other people by a series of field marks, but by a "holistic" or "gestalt" impression of their overall appearance. The book takes the same approach to recognizing and identifying birds. The size of the bird, its general structure, its behavior, and its voice are the starting points for knowing it. These fundamentals are "the least variable and most visible in the field" and form the basis for identification.

To help the book's user learn these fundamentals, The Shorebird Guide features a series of photographs of each of 48 species of shorebirds domestic to North America. For each species, there is an initial "impression" photo that illustrates the bird as we would see it in the field—distant, often in a flock, in characteristic habitat. Then there are a chronologically arranged series of photos that show the bird at the stages of its life cycle: juvenile, nonbreeding, molting, breeding. The species in question is often shown with other species for comparison. From time to time, there is a "quiz" picture asking the reader to use some of the information from earlier photos to solve an identification problem. Finally, for many species there are "portraits" that show a beautiful image or interesting behavior, more for admiration than identification.

Similar, but less extensive, sets of photos cover 44 additional Asian or European species of shorebirds that appear in North America as vagrants or rarities. Textual material covers status, taxonomy, behavior, migration, and molt for each of the birds illustrated.

The Shorebird Guide is a success. The photos are attractive and kept me "coming back for more," and in doing so, I continued to build my awareness of the similarities and differences among many species. I'll be happy to have this book in the car next to my scope the next time I drive around Brigantine or Bombay Hook.


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Last revision: Thursday, October 19, 2006 - 9:15 PM