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Monday, November 29, 2010

New Review, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Solitary Sandpiper, subspp. solitaria, adult summer, by Lillian Stokes

Great Egret, photo by Lillian, both photos from The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Here's a nice new review of The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America (SG) from Jim McCormac of the Ohio birds and biodiversity blog,

"SG has curb appeal, as the cover is adorned with a beautiful photo of a male Painted Bunting... There are over 3,400 photos, and the list of photo credits reads like a who’s who of ace photographers. A great many were taken by Lillian Stokes, who is also a spectacular lenswoman. Most species have multiple photos, depicting nearly every plumage one might encounter. Trickier species that go through multiple plumage stages, such as the four years to adulthood Herring Gull, have as many as eight photos. I kid you not – the book is worth having just to ooh and ahh over the wonderful photography... I think SG does an admirable job in providing aid to the new birder, as well as catering to the hardcore propellerheads...

A few innovations that I find appealing: each photo includes the year and state in which it was taken. Information on subspecies is included, which I feel is very important for a variety of reasons. No guide has this level of detail. If you are a fanatical twitcher, you’ll be pleased. SG includes even the mega-rarities, such as Jabiru, Fork-tailed Swift, and Reed Bunting. Finally, and I think this is quite cool; all known hybrids for each species are listed. Including facts such as these makes the book useful for researchers in a way that most field guides are not. And SG is as up-to-date as they come, even including the latest changes from the American Ornithologists’ Union, such as the new genus name Oreothlypis for what were formerly some of our Vermivora warblers...

Let’s have a quick look at one of the accounts, the Solitary Sandpiper, which is a common migrant throughout Ohio. There are five photos: adults in both alternate (breeding) and basic (winter) plumage; a juvenile; and two in-flight shots that show wing and tail characters. Most of the account is devoted to describing appearance, including a nice synopsis of the differences between the two subspecies. Studies have suggested that these two subspecies differ markedly in genetic makeup, indicating the possibility that they could be split somewhere down the line, hence the importance of including such information...

There are also brief descriptions of habitat and voice, and these tend to be quite good. In the case of the Solitary Sandpiper, SG points out how it differs from the similar-sounding Spotted Sandpiper. Finally, a note about the maps. They are topnotch, as is to be expected when leading bird distribution expert Paul Lehman made them. The maps typify the thought and detail that went into the production of SG, a book that was some six years in the making...

As SG becomes more widely circulated and inspected, I am sure that more nits will be picked, and probably a few outright errors will be detected. In my skimming, I didn’t see any, though. As the Stokes involved some of the most knowledgeable birders and ornithologists in North America in the making and review of this guide, its accuracy is sure to be quite watertight, though...

If you’ve made it this far, you can probably guess that I’ll end with a strong recommendation to add the
new Stokes guide to your arsenal of bird literature. It’ll help your growth as a birder, and enrich your appreciation of our birds with
its unrivaled collection of outstanding photographs."

To read the complete review go here.

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