Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thoughts on New Sibley


I mean, what do we want in a field guide?  What's the point here?  

sibley guide

I'm amused by all the griping about the new Sibley guide.  Not because I don't recognize that there are obvious changes in the color and texture in a lot of the plates but because, so what?  Will we lose the ability to identify a Scarlet Tanager in the field?

The holy status earned by the Sibley guide has perhaps worked to its detriment here, as the only place it can go is down.  Nevermind that this new edition has added more than 600 new paintings, enlarged most of the images and fully updated range maps, there's a hint of fallibility in this edition and people are overreacting.

Let's just relax for a second.  Let's take a second to remember that there are imperfections in this look like there are in every single field guide - imperfections that, for me, result in a much less complete and useful guide than Sibley.  Stokes has lighting issues and not enough poses.  Crossley doesn't have enough text or ID points.  Peterson and National Geographic are too limited.  Yet I don't hear people demanding refunds when those books come out.

The fact remains that even in this second edition - especially in this second edition - Sibley remains far and away the best guide on the market.  No guide is more complete, no guide is easier to use, no guide presents as many plumages.  It'll remain the go-to guide for identifications, and it's still be the first guide I'd recommend to a new birder looking to learn the scope of American birds.

6 comments:

Rick Wright said...

Nat Geo "too limited"? Tell us more, Nick! (By the way, your twitter images are great -- )

NickL said...

Ha no other guide has quite the cult following as Nat Geo. I don't mean this as a knock on Nat Geo as much as to point out that every book has a set of drawbacks. I've always found Nat Geo to be too cramped and confusing, with not as many plumages illustrated as I'd like (though, looking at plates online, it's better than I remember). I prefer Sibley's method of having each bird face the same direction to the slightly more action-oriented poses of Nat Geo. Perhaps "too limited" was the wrong phrase.

John Beetham said...

In all seriousness, though, lighting makes a big difference in how dark the colors appear. I noticed that when I was evaluating the members of the cardinal family prior to writing my own review. When I brought the book closer to a light, suddenly the colors looked more vibrant.

Anonymous said...

The scarlet tanager isn't a big deal, but check out the Royal and Caspian Tern bills, the black-legged gull, and the crossbills. I agree that Sibley is the best guide out there, but those are serious flaws that should have been dealt with prior to publishing.

Michael Olsen said...


I bought Sibley's Second on holiday in Arizona last week. It's great, but noticed that the family names for the Black-Necked Stilt and American Avocet are reversed in the introductory section for those birds. Maybe not a major mistake, but it makes me wonder how many others there might be.

Rick Wright said...

Michael, there are a few such errors in the captions, but happily, that's the sort of thing easily remedied in the next printing.

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