Friday, April 17, 2009

Overlooked bird guide

Last October I stumbled across a pile of copies of the NGS Complete Birds of North America on a table in a flea market. Like the full Sibley guide, this is a desktop volume (696 pp., hardcover, 7"x10" format) that can be carried in your truck or your luggage but would be unwieldy to carry on your person in the field. It is the companion volume to the NGS field guide, and like the field guide it is a compilation of work by dozens of prominent birders, ornithologists, photographers and artists, edited by Jonathan Alderfer.

I was amazed, as I had no prior knowledge that this work even existed. The fellow running the table at the flea market said it was his best seller, but I and most other birders I have shown it to were oblivious to it, even though it carries a 2006 date. This is a shame, too, as it is quite a nice volume. In the marketplace of course it is "competition" for the famous and ubiquitous Sibley guide; but from a birding perspective it is much better seen as a companion, not a competitor. It features lengthy and highly detailed species accounts. As an example, each gull species is given one full large-format page with small type, including the rarities such as Yellow-legged, Slaty-backed, and Yellow-footed. Molt sequences are discussed and illustrated not exhaustively, but in far more detail than is possible in field guide format. Large amounts of recent knowledge of field ID, including difficult groups and "gizz" characters, are incorporated in the species accounts and in sidebar articles on particular challenges. And, worthy of note, it includes every species that has been recorded in the ABA area, including single-record vagrants, extinct species, and the "phantoms" of uncertain and controversial status.

I would encourage every birder in the continent to track down and aquire a copy of this guide to add to their basic reference library. Of course it has its flaws, as does everything ever published. But in my opinion it is a valuable and informative addition to the core collection of bird ID works that all serious North American birders should have and consult. It is available on Amazon, of course; or you could ask your local independent bookseller to order it for you... or check the discount bookstores and flea markets!


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