We so often hear people say the phrase, "I need all the help I can get identifying birds." We see them struggle, scratch their heads, and come up with the wrong ID. We have just spent the winter in South Florida teaching many people about birds and also photography, so we feel their pain.
We really like helping people learn how to identify and appreciate birds, that's why we have spent the last 31 years doing so. That's why we have just come out with 2 new field guides, The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. That makes 34 books on birds and nature that we have published! We hope you like our new regional guides and we hope you don't mind if we tell you a little about them. We sometimes hear people say, "who needs another field guide," as though they have all they need, there are too many out there, or what could possibly be useful about another field guide since it's all been done. But our guides are truly different and we would like you to know how they would help you. Believe it or not, in today's world where you are bombarded every day by more information (on the internet, twitter, blogs, facebook, etc.) than you can possibly look at or absorb, it's not always easy for you to find out about new books you would be interested in.
Our new guides are based on our highly acclaimed, national best-seller, The Stokes Field Guide to Birds of North America, which came out in 2010, contains over 3,400 photographs, got rave reviews, and was hailed as "among the best photographic guides to North American Birds ever" (Rick Wright, American Birding Association). Here's some information about our new guides and reasons why you might enjoy them.
1. Information rich text
Our new guides have the most detailed and complete text of any field guide on the market. The text is not split up over the page, but all joined together and very readable. This is important, for it is easier to get all of the information in one place and not have to glean over a page to find hidden clues. Unique aspects of our text include: detailed analysis of shape; complete information on ID clues; details of aging and sexing; the names, characteristics, and ranges of all subspecies; all known hybrids; and the rarity code of the American Birding Association for each bird.
2. These are photo guides
The photos have been carefully selected by us to be of exceptionally high quality and usefulness in bird identification, are clearly presented in an uncluttered way, and show each bird from the important angles for identification. There are over 2,200 photos in The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region and over 2,400 photos in The New Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. "Nowadays,... there is such an abundance of good — even great — photographic material available... that scrupulous selection... can produce comparisons as precise as any set of paintings" (same ABA review as above).
Going beyond that, photographs show the real bird. This is especially true when it comes to shape, that complex of proportions and outlines that make up a bird’s physical appearance. Illustrated guides (and no disrespect to the beautiful artwork that is in illustrated guides) often do not get the length and proportions of the bill, the proportions of the head, and the outline of the bird's body correct. This is why the illustrated bird never quite looks like the real bird when you see it. Shape and plumage are the two most important aspects in bird identification, and both may be compromised when looking at illustrations. Almost all birds in illustrations are shown in pristine feather condition, a state that exists only immediately after a complete molt. In the real world, almost all birds have varying amounts of feather wear; in juvenile and immature birds it can be extensive. Thus, the illustrated birds, as shown, simply do not exist in the wild.
We have multiple photos for each species, showing all important plumages with more photos and info. given for the hard-to-identify birds. Here's 2 pages for Cape May Warbler
3. Our photos are labeled and vetted
Some people say that they just go to the internet to look up photos of birds to help them identify a bird. There are many reasons why our new field guide will work better than this. The main one is that all of our photos have been vetted and verified by the very best experts in the country. This means when you look at all of the photos of gulls in all ages and perched and in flight in our guide, you can count on them being accurate. This is not the case on the internet where even species are often labelled incorrectly. Our photos also have additional information in their labels, such as the sex and age of the bird, the subspecies when known, and the location and month in which the photo was taken. Neither the internet nor any other field guide gives you this much information this accurately.
Many aspects of field guides become obsolete over time, including common names, scientific names, phylogenetic order, splits in species, maps, and ID clues. Our new regional guides are the most up-to-date of any field guides, including the new scientific names and phylogenetic order of the warblers.
You can tell Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs easily apart by our "quantitative shape" approach in our new guide.
5. We have an emphasis on shape
American birding has been obsessed with color for identification. But there are other great tools for identification that have been neglected. Shape is at the top of the list. While colors of a bird change with age, sex, season, wear, and morphs, the shape of a bird remains constant through all of these. A detailed analysis of shape is the best way to better your ID skills, really! Our guide even takes it further by introducing what we call “quantitative” shape. This involves comparing a measurement of one portion of a bird to a measurement of another portion, such as the length of the bill to the length of the head. This new approach will fast-forward your birding skills and is the key way to distinguish between look-alike species.
Not all maps are equal. Some are better than others. Our maps were done by the established authority on bird distribution, Paul Lehman, for our national guide. They not only show up-to-date summer and winter ranges, they also show migration routes and extralimital wanderings.
7. Tips on ID-ing groups of birds
Scattered throughout the guides are special inserts that help you learn how to identify the various groups of birds. These are called Identification Tips. For example, the gull identification tips tell you how to age gulls; the sparrows box tells how to identify sparrows by Genus and behavior. The beginner will find these especially helpful.
8. Special help where you need it
We know birders struggle more with identifying some birds than others. So we give more, not less, photos and information in the accounts of hard-to-identify birds. For example, for the gull species, we show every age of each gull species both perched and in flight. As one reviewer said of these new guides, "this guide does an excellent job with the gull plates... if you live in the east, this feature alone is worth getting the guide for." (Thermal Birding)
When we wrote the national guide, our main goal was to make the most complete guide available and as a result the guide was quite big. With our new regional guides, our goal was to make the guides easier to use and easier to carry. Dividing the guides into eastern and western regions made them thinner, lighter, and easier to use. But they still have all of the depth of information and great photos of the larger national guide, (minus the extreme rarities, which, if you wish, you can get in our national guide.)
10. Good for ID-ing your digital photos
Many people today take digital photographs of the birds they are watching or trying to identify; it has become an integral part of their birding experience. After taking the photos, they often want to know the name of the bird. This is where a photographic field guide is very helpful, for you are comparing photographs to photographs and not photographs to illustrations. It is much easier to ID the bird.
Speaking of digital photographs, the other new trend that is happening in birding and bird photography is the use of point and shoot super-zoom cameras, Like my Canon SX 50 HS, which I, Lillian, have been using extensively and taught about this winter. Don and I will be at The Biggest Week in American Birding at warbler capital Magee Marsh, OH, this May 10th giving a keynote address and book-signing and we will be talking about "Birding and Photography, the best of both worlds." So we will have a lot to say to help you be better at both. Hope to see you there. It will be fun!
If you are an experienced book reviewer and would like review copies, email us and we will have the publisher get in touch with you.
Thanks for listening and good birding!
Lillian and Don