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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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Merganser, male

'Tis the time of year when ducks are migrating. We had 34 Hooded Mergansers on our pond here in NH this morning. The gorgeous male can raise or lower his crest, making it like a big, white, fan as in my photo. This photo of mine (along with over 500 of my other photos) appears in our new, just published, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.
Watch for ducks now on lakes, ponds, rivers and coastal areas.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon, at Dodge Pond, Rt. 1, Hampton Falls, NH, I photographed from very far away. This is an Old World species that regularly shows up in winter in North America, mainly on the coasts but it can appear anywhere. So check ducks you see.

Here it is with 2 Canada Geese, a nice size comparison.

It's a male Eurasian Wigeon.

The beautiful russet head with the tan forehead is unmistakable.

Here's a male American Wigeon, a fairly common North American duck. He has a creamy whitish head and crown with a green swath from eye to nape. In sunlight the green looks iridescent.

Here's a pair (female, left, male right) of American Wigeons.

We, last week, saw the Eurasian Wigeon at Hampton Falls, NH. It was still being seen as of yesterday. The male is easy to distinguish from the male American Wigeon, but the females are harder to tell apart. The female Eurasian Wigeon, is warmer brown overall, especially on the head, (although head can be grayish like American Wigeon) has gray axillaries, seen in flight and does not have a black line around bill base. The female American Wigeon has white axillaries, is more grayish overall, has head contrasting with breast and flanks and usually (not always) has thin black line around bill base.
See page 20 and 21, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America for more photos and detailed description of both species.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Stokes on NPR Scott Simon Saturday Weekend Edition radio show

Don, Lillian and Scott Simon. We had a great time taking him birding.

We went to Huntley Meadows Park, Alexandria, VA where we saw Tufted Titmice at the feeder.

A Brown Creeper, an unusual little bird that hitches up tree trunks, came to the suet feeder.

Scott was blown away by the color of the male Mallard's head. Like sparkling emeralds!

There was a Great Blue Heron in the marsh.

And we saw gorgeous Eastern Bluebirds.

We were just on NPR radio, the Scott Simon Saturday Weekend Edition show, where we took him for a bird walk and he mentioned our new field guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Listen to the complete interview here.

Test your birding skill, NPR has a fun game you can play of matching the song and photo of some of the birds we saw with Scott. They used Lillian's photos of the birds.

We had great fun introducing self-admitted city guy, Scott, to the experience of seeing beautiful birds up close through binoculars and a spotting scope. Scott really seemed to be getting into birding and realizing why about 50 million Americans are hooked on watching birds.

We took Scott to Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria, VA, a beautiful 1,425 natural area with great bird habitat. We started by looking at the bird feeders by the visitor center in order to teach Scott how to hold binoculars and spot birds.

Tip: Put the eyecups on the binoculars down if you are wearing eyeglasses, or up, if you are not wearing eyeglasses. Look at the bird with your eyes first, then raise the binoculars up while keeping your eyes on the bird.

Scott got the hang of it and was able to see Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Chickadees, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and Brown Creeper. At first the birds were reluctant to come to the feeders because there was a Cooper's Hawk in the area and we all saw it fly overhead. Cooper's Hawks hunt small birds but don't stay all day at the feeder.

Tip: Provide a brush pile, dense evergreens or other cover near your bird feeder so birds can seek safety there if a hawk comes by.

We next took a walk through a wooded area, then emerged to a boardwalk that led through cattails and marsh vegetation, out to a pond. We saw and heard Swamp Sparrows, Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches in the trees and a lone Pine Siskin with the Goldfinches. Many sparrows seek grassy, shrubby areas as preferred habitat. Their mostly brown coloration helps them blend into their habitat. Pine Siskins are called an "irruptive species" because, in some years when their food supply is low, large numbers migrate south from their northern and western breeding areas across the lower 48 states, where they can often be seen at bird feeders.
While many people just watch birds at their feeders and around the home, 20 million Americans take trips each year expressly to see more unusual birds.

We continued out the boardwalk and set up a spotting scope and looked over the pond. Seeing the fantastic iridescent green of a male Mallard's head gleaming in the sunlight brought a "wow" reaction from Scott. Next we saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron, preening at the edge of the grasses, a species new to Scott.

At a grassy meadow past the pond, Huntley has bird houses on poles in the meadow, perfect for attracting nesting Eastern Bluebirds. We spotted some bluebirds in the trees and Scott got to see why this bird has a whole national organization devoted to it. Bluebirds are a show-stopper and beloved by millions.

It was a thrill for us to take Scott birding. We told him how we met, over 30 years ago (we've been married for 29), when hawk-watcher Lillian took a bird course given by Don and how lucky we have been (after 30 plus books and our own PBS birding show) to have introduced so many people to the passion of birding.

Thanks to Scott for having us on his show and a special thanks to his producer Justine Kenin. Excellent job!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Townsend's Warbler

Yesterday we went to see the Townsend's Warbler near Walpole, NH. It has been hanging out for over a week in a weedy edge near farm fields on North River Rd. On a very gray day, I took a number of photos with my Canon 1D Mark IV at 1000 ISO. The bird was very small in the frame and these are cropped photos. A lot can be learned from the photos. The above photo clearly shows the dark cheek patch surrounded by yellow and the yellow wash on the breast, all distinctive clues that help ID Townsend's Warbler from other warbler species. If this were a breeding male in spring, this bird would have a black throat and heavy black streaks on back and sides. Even in fall an adult male would have some black on throat. The summer adult female would have some black on throat with finer streaking on back, breast, sides and flanks. This bird has a whitish throat and somewhat blurred streaking on sides.

This is a good view of the back and there are no obvious defined black streaks or black spots on the back.

The right side view shows the back, gray cheek, whitish central throat. A few of the black streaks on the upper right side of the breast seem dark and noticeable, the side streaks on flanks are more blurry.

This is a nice view of the back. There is a smudge of orange in the yellow eyebrow, perhaps a result of this bird coming in contact with the bittersweet berries it had been seen foraging near. I do not know if it actually ate the berries, we did not see it do so. Townsend's are known to mainly eat insects. It would be nice to think it ate berries, if it is going to attempt survive in winter at this location.

In this extreme blown up section of photo you can see there are fairly wide dark shafts through the white median covert feathers. According to the bird bander's manual (Identification Guide to North American Birds, part 1 by Peter Pyle) under the Townsend's Warbler account, page 475, the HY/SY female (i.e. first year female) has "medium coverts usually with wide, black streaks through the white tips." According to Pyle, the adult female and first year male have "medium coverts with narrow black streaks through the white tips," and Pyle has a drawing of these feathers. If a bander had this bird in the hand, they would be looking closely at the shape and feather wear of the primary coverts and tail feathers for clues to aging and sexing.

Here is a better view of the throat and chin, which is pale yellow and whitish on lower throat.

This photo shows the streaks on the undertail coverts and, amazingly you can see the yellow soles to the feet!

Another view of the back which looks very plain.

I happened to catch it just as it flew, a beautiful little blur.

Special thanks to Ron ("I will someday see a Cackling Goose") and JoAnn, two VT birders who were already there and showed us the warbler. And, they even bought our new Stokes Field Guide to Birds!

Telling the age and sex of some of the warblers in fall can be challenging. For Townsend's Warbler, the first winter male and winter adult female are quite similar. The winter adult female is similar to summer plumage, but has the black on throat and back streaks somewhat obscured by yellow feather tips. The first winter male is very similar but has small black spots on the back. The first winter female has little or no black on lower throat, with some birds having the center of the throat pale yellowish or white, and no streaks on back and blurred streaking on sides and flanks. This bird has more of the marks of a first winter female. A bird bander, holding the bird in hand, could be definitive.

It was a thrill to see this bird, which is so out of range. Townsend's Warblers breed in the Northwest, up to Alaska, migrate through the West and winter on the West Coast. Many have wandered to eastern states in fall. We do not know what will happen to it, but we hope it survives.

After seeing the warbler, we went to the famous Burdick's restaurant and shop in Walpole, NH which has THE BEST chocolate!! Rare bird and world class chocolate, it doesn't get much better than that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Stokes at Wild Birds Unlimited, Saratoga Springs

Lois, Lillian, Don and Nancy at the Wild Birds Unlimited store, Saratoga Springs, NY

Hi All,
We just got back from a highly successful book-signing at the Wild Birds Unlimited at Saratoga Springs, NY. Stores owners Nancy Castillo and Lois Geshiwlm did an excellent job of getting the word out we were coming, and sold a ton of our books. Many thanks, Nancy, Lois, your nice staff, and all who came!!!
Nancy and Lois are two very nice women who really know how to run a bird retail store. They give personal, expert advice to customers who want to know how to feed the birds, get into birding and buy binoculars. So if you're in the Saratoga Springs area, stop in and see them.
Many of you know Nancy from twitter, facebook and The Zen Birdfeeder Blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Book Signing Harris Center and more

The most fun part of being an author is signing your book and meeting great people. It is sooo much better to have written a book than to be writing one.

We had a big crowd at the Harris Center, and no, we do not get writer's cramp. We like to personalize each copy.

We just love it when kids get our book! So many kids just love the photos of birds, and young minds just absorb so much.

Last night we did a very successful talk and book signing at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, NH. It was great to see friends and so many wonderful people, of all ages, there. Today we are off to the Wild Birds Unlimited Store in Saratoga Springs NY for a book signing. See you there this afternoon!!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Stokes Book Signing Wild Birds Unlimited Saratoga Springs, NY, Sun. Nov. 14th 1-4 PM

Downy Woodpecker male. Can you tell Downy from Hairy Woodpecker*? The new Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America will tell you how.

Hi All,

This Sunday, Nov. 14th from 1-4 PM we will be doing a book signing at the Wild Birds Unlimited store in Saratoga Springs, NY for our new book, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America.

Wild Birds Unlimited is located at
The Shoppes at Wilton
3084 Route 50, Suite 1
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

This store is owned by Nancy Castillo and Lois Geshiwlm. Many of you know Nancy as an active member on twitter and facebook. We are thrilled they are hosting this event and we hope to meet you there and sign our new field guide for you or for people on your Christmas gift list.
Come see us, this will be fun!!!

Friday, November 05, 2010

Stokes Book Signing in MA, tomorrow, 1:30PM, MA Audubon Society Joppa Flats, Newburyport, MA

Hi All,
We are doing a talk and book signing tomorrow, Nov. 6th, Sat., 1:30 pm at Mass. Audubon Society, Joppa Flats Center, Newburyport, MA, sponsored by Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift and Nature Shop. See some of you there!
Lillian and Don

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Stokes Book Signing Tomorrow, 7pm at Wells Reserve, Wells, Maine

Atlantic Puffins are popular birds that can be seen in Maine

Hello Maine,

Tomorrow, Wed. Nov. 3rd, we will be doing a talk and book signing at 7PM at Wells Reserve, Laudholm Farm, Wells, Maine for the York County Audubon Society and Wells Reserve, call 207-646-1555 for more info. For directions go here.

In our talk we will present our all new national field guide, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America and tell how we designed it for you, the birder of today. More than six years in the making, and with over 3,400 color photos, this is the most comprehensive, national photographic field guide ever published. In our entertaining presentation, we will take you behind the scenes into what’s involved in producing a work of this magnitude, teach you how to fast-forward your bird identification skills, and show some of Lillian’s best photos from the book, including some of Maine's famous birds.
Hope to see some of you there!

To learn more about our new guide read the rave reviews!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Cape May Historic Bird Flight

Yellow-rumped Warbler

We just got back from Cape May, NJ, where we did a book signing for our all new, The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and witnessed their epic bird migration flight of songbirds this past weekend. A perfect storm of birds, due to favorable weather conditions, landed tens, if not hundreds of thousands, of birds all over Cape May, NJ just on their biggest fall birding event, the Cape May Bird Observatory, Autumn Weekend/The Bird Show. Wow!

Hermit Thrushes were everywhere!

There were birds everywhere. Lawns were carpeted with Yellow-rumped Warblers, every bush had scores of sparrows, Hermit Thrushes popped out of shrubs, trees and littered the parking lots. One had to be careful while driving not to hit the multitude of birds flying across the roads and the sides of the roads had dead birds, the unfortunate ones who didn't make it. Birders we talked to at the Sat. night banquet described the last 2 days as "the best birding of my life!"

We have never seen so many Swamp Sparrows, in one place, in our lives!

Hermit Thrushes were drinking out of the puddles in the parking lots, you had to be careful not to run them over.

The photo ops were outrageous. This shows the beautiful rufous tail of the Hermit Thrush a great ID clue.

There were many other kinds of sparrows too, such as this Field Sparrow.

Song Sparrows were so numerous, you almost had to watch where you stepped.

Swamp Sparrows could be seen from every angle. Here's one from the birding site, Higbee Beach WMA, where the sparrow action was hot.

A Henslow's Sparrow had been seen in the meadows at Higbee, and the field trip leaders tried to find it for everyone. Some folks saw it on Sat. but it eluded many of us on Sun.

Higbee is planted for bird habitat, so there are large expanses of sorghum (also know as milo, the kind you get in bird seed) to feed the migrant birds.

There is a tall platform at Higbee where birders can see the Morning Flight. Thousands of robins and Yellow-rumped Warblers passed there on Sat.

View from this tower includes a look out to the bay, where these scoters were flying by.

Below the many hawks Cape May is famous for, such as this Sharp-shinned Hawk, hunted for songbirds.

The Hermit Thrushes had to find food, competing with the thousands of other Hermit Thrushes, as well as dive for cover when the Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks came by.

Cape May is famous for it's lighthouse,

which you can see from the hawk watching platform, where official counters tally the season's species and numbers of raptors. My photos on this blog were all taken with my Canon 1D Mark IV camera and a 300 mm IS lens, plus 1.4 teleconverter.

From up on the hawk watching platform, you could look for hawks, look out over the water at ducks and geese,

or look down in the grass below were there were hundreds of sparrows. I got this photo of a beautiful and uncommon Lincoln's Sparrow in a bush right next to the hawk watch platform!

Cape May, NJ, one of the great birding meccas in the United States, had one of the most epic bird migrations in it's history. We feel so lucky we were there.