Friday, August 15, 2008

Field Guide Review: The Shorebird Guide

Maine's coast is currently packed with shorebirds. I've been down to Pine Point in Scarborough three times this week to scan the flocks (Marbled Godwit? Check). The problem is, identifying shorebirds is hard. How hard? Let me count the ways:

Everything looks exactly the same
Birds of different molt, age, sex, species and subspecies in one flock
They're tiny
They're far away
They spook easily, and don't stay in one place
They're usually in a place that smells bad

There are more, but you know. Every birder knows. This year, though, I've come prepared. I got The Shorebird Guide.

Look, I know I'm not exactly breaking new ground by writing about this book, but I'm justified by the excitement of being able to better identify a whole new group of birds.

The book details about 75 species of shorebirds that are possible in North America. It uses photographs: lots of big beautiful photographs. Each species gets a full treatment, with photos of juveniles, breeding, nonbreeding and male/female plumages. Most helpfully, many of the photos include several species, mimicking the mixed flocks that are most often encountered out on the mud flats. Special attention is given to species that are likely to be mixed up most often (dowitchers, yellowlegs, etc).

In short, I love it. The photographs are much more helpful than paintings for the detailed challenges that shorebird identification present. The GISS method provides probably the easiest framework for tackling a daunting flock. I'll be at several shorebird spots in Maine, Mass. and New Hampshire in the next day or two, and this book will be at my side the whole time.

Here are a couple picture I took at Pine Point on Tuesday:

Black legs? Plump body?  Straight, blunt bill? Short primary projection?  I'm gonna go with a molting juvenile semipalmated sandpiper.

Dark back? Single breast band?  Half-orange bill?  Breeding semipalmated plover.


John B. said...

It's long past time that I pick up a copy of this book.

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