Wednesday 9 February 2011

Book Review: The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds

The Crossley ID guide to eastern [US] birds is definitely a different kind of bird book. I wasn't quite sure I would like it, but after an initial flick through (and heading straight for tricky-to-depict species like Easter and Western Willets, and large gulls) my mind was already changing.

Its a heafty thing, so certainly one to have on your shelf, rather than take out in the field with you, but I think it demands that position on your shelf with its content. It's more of a coffee table book, than a field guide, but somehow I don't think you'd take this out with you anyway. Its a book to savour at home in a comfy armchair.

The focus of the book is definitely about identification, and although there isn't much text per species, it is consise and accurate. There is also a small distribution map for most too, zoomed in if the species has a limited range - also useful.

The books main feature, as to be expected, is the range of photographs of each species. Each species has only one plate, but it is packed with many individually photographed birds and digitally blended together. The photographed backgrounds are mostly of the species typical habitat, and the author has worked hard to make the birds look as if they fit in the photograph by using similarly lit individuals. I was staggered to read that almost all of the 10,000 photographs used in the book were taken by the author - an incredible feat in itself!

The range of poses on offer for each species is impressive, and makes the jizz of a species come over the page rather well - An excellent example of this is the Peregrine plate, with 11 flight shots showing just how diverse the shape of this bird can be in the air. No other photo guide that I have seen does this to such a high standard. Indeed, this is also where classical painted plates can also fail to deliver, especially when the artist can't quite capture some of those subtleties either.

I also like the use of blurred photos. This is definitely not a scarcastic critisism, as these have been deliberately put in amongst cristal-clear, sharp images. Some of them really add to pulling the jizz of the bird off the page. The one example that sticks in my mind is of a flying Blackburnian Warbler. The bird has obviously just lept off a branch and heading over the photographers right shoulder, so its facing at a slight angle. The image is blurred enough to really give you a flavour of what sticks out on this bird as it moves quickly from tree to tree - an orange supercillium, dark cheeks, orange throat and breast, and a large panel of white in the wing. These are invaluable visual tips when only poor views are on offer.

The bottom line - an impressive piece of work and one I fell in love with after a few minutes. It has set the standard for modern photographic bird guides. Buy it.

This is the first of a series of these type of guides from Richard Crossley. The next will be one for Great Britain, then one for western USA. Creating these books will only work for very well photographed avifaunas, so one for somewhere like Ecuador may take a few more years to accomplish!

To see a few examples of the pages, visit the Princeton University Press webpage:

To find out more about the author visit his website:

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