Thursday, June 30, 2011

Maine (Baxter) Trip Report: June 16-19, 2011

June 16:
A couple weeks ago I led a small group of Connecticut Audubon Society members on a birding trip to Baxter State Park. We departed Connecticut on the morning of the 16th and headed north. To break up the drive we stopped at Kennebunk Plains for some grassland birding. Despite our arrival during the heat of the early afternoon, there were still birds to be seen. VESPER SPARROWS were conspicuous, some carrying food. BOBOLINKS and EASTERN MEADOWLARKS were actively singing. After hearing a few GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS, we finally spotted a singing bird that teed-up nicely for us. A flyby UPLAND SANDPIPER was gratifying. We did not see or hear any sign of the few Clay-colored Sparrows that had been reported here, but the time of day was likely to blame more than anything.


one of many Vesper Sparrows

Night at Big Moose Inn.

June 17:
We started this day with our first try for Spruce Grouse. The park does not open until 6am (they open at 5am beginning in late June), so we arrived at the gate for opening and headed straight for the thickest boreal habitat along the Tote Road. It's about a 20-mile drive on a narrow, dirt road to the best boreal birding, so we didn't arrive until around 7am.

It didn't take us more than 15 minutes of driving slowly through the appropriate habitat to spot a male SPRUCE GROUSE a few yards off the road (nice spotting Marie!). The group enjoyed some really nice views of this bird as it walked slowly through the dark shadows of the thick spruce-fir forest. What a cool bird. Too easy!




male Spruce Grouse

With the toughie out of the way, we park the van and spent the next couple hours walking and birding along the same stretch of road in search of other boreal residents and breeders. BAY-BREASTED WARBLERS were fairly common and the males were quite vocal this morning. They played hard-to-get for a while but we eventually secured scope views (!) of one cooperative singing male.

A small flock of GRAY JAYS passed through to our delight. After a few more minutes we heard a BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER calling from off the road, but it just did not want to show itself. No worries though, as it wasn't the last time we would have a shot at this bird. A little while later we were taunted by another (or the same) calling BBWO, still not in view. We then had a couple birds calling excitedly, one of which briefly perched high in a tree right along the road! Morris Finkelstein was able to grab a few photos, which I have posted below. Thanks to Morris for allowing me to post a few of his photos in this report.


Black-backed Woodpecker


Gray Jay

The boreal birds kept on coming. We had multiple YELLOW-BELLIED FLYCATCHERS, FOX SPARROWS, WINTER WRENS, both KINGLETS, BLACKPOLL WARBLERS, SWAINSON'S THRUSHES and a singing LINCOLN'S SPARROW. More common warblers included MAGNOLIA, NASHVILLE, and CANADA.

We were about ready to leave the area when a vocal BOREAL CHICKADEE appeared seemingly out of nowhere right next to the van. We had great looks at this bird that was very responsive to 'pishing.'


Boreal Chickadee

This stretch of boreal forest is just spectacular and worth the visit to the park by itself. If you're looking for Spruce Grouse, this is the place to go.

We headed south a bit to the Nesowadnehunk Campground for a look around. The best bird was a singing TENNESSEE WARBLER, but we weren't able to get a look. The warbler list continued to climb as we added NORTHERN PARULA and BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER. Nice looks at a YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER and ALDER FLYCATCHER were new for the day.



After a picnic lunch we continued to bird our way south along the Tote Road, heading back in the direction of the southern entrance gate. Miscellaneous stops at ponds and streams yielded RING-NECKED DUCKS, COMMON GOLDENEYE, and HOODED MERGANSER.


the group

After reaching the entrance gate we turned to the northeast and headed toward our destination for the afternoon: Sandy Stream Pond. Known for its moose sightings, we were hoping for a sighting of this unique ungulate.

En route we had two RUFFED GROUSE cross the road at different spots, providing great opportunities to compare them to the SPRUCE GROUSE that was still fresh in our minds.

We took the short hike to Sandy Stream Pond where two MOOSE were waiting for us, a young bull and an older cow, chomping away on aquatic vegetation. They seemed largely oblivious to our presence, allowing confiding views.








Moose!

On our walk back to the parking lot we had our most cooperative BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER of the day.

It was back to Big Moose Inn for a fine dinner, drinks, and a good night's rest. On the way back, this curious RED FOX was intrigued by the big gray van from Connecticut.


Red Fox

June 18:
We awoke to overcast skies and a fine mist in the air. Determined to make the most of it, we headed back into the park and toward the Roaring Brook Campground parking lot, the park's best location for breeding Philadelphia Vireo. Unfortunately we arrived to a rain and were unable to get any decent views of the singing vireos.

We pressed on, returning to Sandy Stream Pond to check for more Moose. No Moose this morning, but a hen COMMON GOLDENEYE and her six very small chicks entertained us. The weather seemed to be improving and I suggested we continue on a 2.5 mile loop trail. Bad call, Nick! Over a mile into the trail all was going well when the skies opened up. This steady pouring rain was not brief...it lasted for quite some time. The walkable trail quickly turned muddy, and the ample rocks and tree roots were as slippery as could be. We were already halfway around the loop and decided to press onward. How bad could it get??

Well, it got worse. More rain, more slippery rocks, and...a rushing stream that could only be crossed by wading up to your knees! Hey, that wasn't part of the trail description! I admit my heart was in my throat a few times, hoping that we would get through this without a major orthopedic injury! Luckily the group persevered, kept their chins up, and forded the stream successfully. We were all relieved when we arrived back at the parking lot after our little adventure.


Still happy and smiling. This was a great group!

As for birds along that whole stretch? It was tough to hear anything over the sound of steadily falling rain.

At this point we were cold, wet, and tired. We drove back to the Inn for lunch. En route, as if my blood pressure wasn't high enough already, a moose decided to cross the road right in front of the van. A narrow miss!


they're awkward runners

After hot showers and a relaxing lunch, the skies began to clear mid-afternoon (as Tom predicted, nearly to the minute!) . We were eager to get back outdoors, so we targeted some birding along the Golden Road that runs outside the southern end of the park. There are some great pockets of habitat along this road, and good birds to boot. Here we enjoyed nice looks at PINE WARBLERS and deciduous breeders like AMERICAN REDSTART and OVENBIRD. We watched an EASTERN KINGBIRD building a nest in the stump of an old dead tree. The trip's only PALM WARBLER was singing here, and one shrubby marsh held two singing WILSON'S WARBLERS that finally showed themselves after a good deal of patience.

Tonight we headed into Millinocket for dinner, after which a few of us decided to head back to the Golden Road for some birding after dark. We were hoping for owls, but they were silent tonight. On this still evening we enjoyed calling WHIP-POOR-WILLS and yodeling COMMON LOONS, which were just barely audible over the raucous amphibians.

Night at Big Moose Inn.

June 19:
Today was our last day in Maine, as we would be back in CT before dark. Not without some birding, though.

I had trouble sleeping and decided to head out for some sunrise scouting along the Golden Road. I located a cooperative pair of OLIVE-SIDED FLYCATCHERS and got on another BLACK-BACKED WOODPECKER, this one a male. Yet another MOOSE was feeding at a roadside lake.




male Black-backed Woodpecker



After breakfast with the group, we headed back out to see the OS Fly's I had found earlier. The pair did not disappoint, and everyone enjoyed killer scope views. Another family of GRAY JAYS passed through.








Olive-sided Flycatcher

Further up the road we stopped at one of the many lakes and ponds, this one with a fair amount of open marshy habitat. We were treated to a pumping AMERICAN BITTERN which we eventually spotted sky-pointing between rounds of gulping air. Yet further up the road we were treated to a trio of flybys: a pair of adult BALD EAGLES, a particularly aggressive PILEATED WOODPECKER, and several CLIFF SWALLOWS going to and from their nests under a bridge.


American Bittern



Eventually we pulled ourselves away from the birding and began our trip back home. The skies cleared further and the wind really picked up. We made a short vigil for Cape May Warbler at a reliable location, but it was nearly noon by the time we arrived and the breeze was really keeping the passerines quiet.

Finally, before we left the state of Maine we made a detour to Messalonskee Lake to view the BLACK TERN colony there. Our high count was five birds in view at one time from the southern boat ramp.

From here it was back to Connecticut, after tallying 105 bird species as a group over those few days.

I hope to lead this trip again in the future, possibly as soon as next summer. If I had to make changes to the itinerary, I would add another full day of birding the Baxter area, as we were still finding plenty of new birds up until the second we left. Alternatively, we could make this a week-long trip that includes a couple days in the Bar Harbor area to enjoy the coastal birding scene, including a bird and whale-watching trip offshore for marine mammals and puffins. Either way, I can't wait to get back up there!

Oh, did I neglect to mention black flies? Yeah, there were a few of those...

- Nick

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Coastal birds today: Roseate Terns, Black Skimmer and more

June is typically a slow month for birding in CT as few true migrants are around, particularly in the second half of the month. The odd mega-rarity aside (see Anhinga and Eurasian Collared-Dove), this can be a very quiet time.

I spent a few hours along the west-central coast today, hitting my two favorite hotspots: the mouth of the Housatonic River and Sandy Point.

First, a quick stop behind the warehouses in Stratford yielded one very vocal COMMON RAVEN calling from the communications towers on Pleasure Beach.


Common Raven, an increasingly regular coastal bird

I was very pleased to find the mouth of the river about as birdy as it could be at this time of year. As the Connecticut Audubon Society blog notes, there has been a concentration of small baitfish here recently, and this was evident at low tide this afternoon. In addition to dozens of Great and Snowy Egrets, there were about 300 Common Terns feeding and roostingLink in the area. Also many Laughing Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants getting in on the action.

Among the Common Tern flock were at least six adult ROSEATE TERNS. Most of the Commons were adults, but two begging juvenile birds were noted along with a few first-summer birds. Only one Least Tern was noted. A solitary BLACK SKIMMER appeared out of nowhere on a distant bar.


four of the six Roseate Terns are in this photo


Black Skimmer

These birds were quite distant, not exactly allowing for feather-by-feather study. Still, it was great to see so many terns locally at this time of year. Let's hope the baitfish numbers remain high...in which case it could be another exciting summer here!

A walk out Sandy Point in the early evening revealed the tern colony there to be thriving. The Least and Common Terns were as numerous and raucous as I can remember, which is even more meaningful following two very subpar years for this colony.

The shorebirds are also apparently doing well here. One pair of Willets had two growing young, while two proud Oystercatcher parents were tending to three chicks. A few adult Spotted Sandpipers and Piping Plovers were kicking around as well. The Pipers have young this year, but I'm not sure about the Spotties.


large Willet chick


American Oystercatcher chick

One could make the argument for the single adult SEMIPALMATED PLOVER being the season's first southbound migrant here, but I'll err on the side of caution and say this may be a summering bird.


Semipalmated Plover

All in all, a VERY birdy late June afternoon along the shore.

- NB

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Hooded Crow....uh oh!


Hooded Crow (Corvus cornix); Staten Island, NY, USA; 25 June 2011

A Hooded Crow was found at Great Kills Park on Staten Island, NY on June 20th. According to local joggers, the bird had been around for a couple weeks. This first-year bird shows no overt signs of captivity (no unusual wear, strange molt, nor any leg bands etc). There were 88 accepted records in Iceland as of 2006, with a significant number of those being spring records. I have also been told by a couple folks that there are two records from Greenland. The park is situated at a location that screams "ship-assisted," at the entrance to a major port area. The most likely scenario, IMO and in the opinion of many folks, is that this bird found itself aboard a ship in the Atlantic that carried it to NYC. Who knows how far it got by itself, but it seems quite unlikely that it reached Staten Island entirely on its own power.

There's sure to be plenty of debate on this one, regarding both its origin and its 'countability.' Either way, it was worth seeing. You know what they say...see the bird now and do the research later!

This morning (25 June 2011) I headed down to Staten Island with Phil Rusch and Roy Harvey to check it out. We observed the bird for a few minutes on the beach before it was flushed by a beachcombing vehicle. The light wasn't fantastic, but scope views were enjoyed by all.






Hooded Crow

- NB

Thursday, June 23, 2011

193 in Mass, 187 in Maine

This has certainly been a great year for Big Days in New England! Not long after we set the CT record of 192, a team in Massachusetts hit 193 (highest number for any New England state; J. Trimble, P. Trimble, V. Laux) and a team in Maine hit 187 (L. Brinker, D. Ladd, R. Lambert, B. Sheehan).

Most folks, including myself, assume that once the dust settles and each state "maxes out" their totals, a team from Massachusetts should end up with the highest total out of the six New England states. Rhode Island seems too small, Vermont too landlocked, and New Hampshire perhaps with too little coastline. But what about CT and Maine?

Compared to MA and ME, Connecticut lacks an open ocean, has more homogeneous habitat types, lacks many northern breeders found just to the north (Mourning Warbler, YB Fly, OS Fly, etc) and lacks some southern breeders/overshoots that are regular on Cape Cod (Blue Grosbeak, Chuck-wills-widow etc). To partially make up for that, a few southern breeders are more common in CT (Worm-eating Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Acadian Fly) or simply absent elsewhere (Boat-tailed Grackle, and now maybe Eurasian Collared-Dove). There is also less driving to be done here.

I admit I had never given Maine a shot to reach the 190's and beyond, but this year's 187 effort can likely be improved upon (pure assumption on my part). Maine is a large state (by northeastern standards, anyway!), which on one hand means a great variety of habitat and breeding species, but on the other hand means that there's a lot of driving involved between said habitats! When you think about it, Maine has a bunch of great breeding birds of the boreal forest (Spruce Grouse, Boreal Chickadee, Gray Jay, Black-backed WP, 3-toed WP, Bay-breasted Warbler, Cape May Warbler and others) plus most of the typical deciduous breeders of the region, not to mention an extensive coastline. I would think that the precise route-planning in Maine is even more crucial than it is in the smaller states of MA and CT.

So, which team/state will reach 200 first? The smart money is probably on Massachusetts, but we hope to give it another shot here in CT next year, as long as our schedules allow. I don't think we would go without our full team of 5.

- Nick

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

THANK YOU eBird!!!

Recently back from my CAS trip to Baxter State Park in Maine. I've just entered the results using eBird's NEW and IMPROVED data entry. Wow, is it fast!

The old entry method was, IMO, painfully cumbersome. Being used to Birder's Diary, which is very quick and easy as far as data entry goes, the former eBird method made me want to pull my hair out.

Now I can enter my sightings without having to block out part of my day! It really is a drastic improvement, one the eBird folks should be commended for. The pages load instantly...there is much less clicking...it's much easier to scan a single column than it is to scan several...navigating the entry forms are super intuitive. Some of the improvements seem small at first but really improve the process.

So, if you haven't gotten into the habit of using eBird yet, this is a great time to try!

- NB

PS - A full Maine trip report will follow here.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

ANHINGA in Hamden, CT


Anhinga (Anhinga anhinga) 11 June 2011, Hamden, CT

I was happily woken up by a phone call from Roy Harvey this morning, which I figured was regarding a good bird. He was calling to report that Flo McBride and others had found a male ANHINGA at Lake Whitney in Hamden, CT.










threatening an approaching DCCO









The bird appeared a bit worn, and certainly not in high breeding colors. Subadult or basic-plumaged male? Research needed on my part, and comments welcome.

Previously accepted records from CT are from September 1987 (Mantlik), September 1996 (Burke et al), August 1999 (Wood), and September 2006 (Bielfelt et al). All four accepted records are sight records of birds in flight. There have been several other reports of fly-bys that were not accepted by the ARCC because the committee felt that DCCO could not fully be ruled out. This is a more difficult ID than one would think, particularly when a lone DCCO is seen soaring high overhead with tail spread...a behavior common for Anhingas also performed by DCCO. Anhinga had not been photographically documented in CT until now.

Thanks again Flo!

- Nick

EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES nesting (!?!) in Stratford, CT

On the afternoon of June 7th, Frank Mantlik found two EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford, CT. On the following day the birds were observed collecting nesting material and were seen copulating on the 9th. Keep in mind that this is ONLY the THIRD record of this species in CT, so a breeding pair has certainly caught everyone here off-guard, especially that they are not yet breeding within several hundred miles of the state.

Given the species' incredible spread through the southern and western US, we've considered it a matter of time before breeding occurs in New England. But I don't think anyone was expecting quite this soon. This is, as far as I know, their first breeding attempt in New England.


one of two Eurasian Collared-Doves


pair just after copulation on June 9th

Quite an amazing turn of events. The question is, just how excited should we be? I admit that the initial report of EUCD did not have me running to Stratford, but the breeding attempt is fascinating. I was sure to get down there on the 9th to see them myself. Despite the doves having spread throughout much of the south and west, there does not appear to be much hard data about their impacts on Mourning Doves or other native species.

If anyone is aware of any studies out there, please let me know.

- Nick

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review: The Crossley ID Guide

[Disclosure: Princeton University Press provided a free copy of this book for review.]

Richard Crossley’s “The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds” is the most extensive and ambitious photograph-based North American guide to bird identification on the market today. This is not your typical guide to bird ID, nor is it meant to be. For this reason it has caused a stir among the birding community. With the hugely successful “The Shorebird Guide” by O’Brien, Crossley, and Karlson fresh in everyone’s minds, the anticipation was high leading up to the book’s release.

GISS (General Impression, Size, and Shape):

Since one of Crossley’s ambitious goals for this guide is to teach the GISS for each species, we may as well turn the tables and apply GISS to his book! While you may find this book in the ‘field guide’ section of your favorite book or nature store, this is no field guide based on size alone. Not unless you carry a backpack with you at all times. This book is large, measuring 10in x 7.7in x 1.8in and weighing in at 3lbs 12oz (according to my trusty fish scale).

Intro:

Upon opening the book and proceeding past the Table of Contents, you first see several pages that contain a single representative photo of nearly every species presented in the guide, with each page being drawn to scale to make for useful size comparisons. Under each species’ photograph is its 4-letter alpha code and the page on which you can find its full plate and text.

Then we have the Introduction, in which Crossley displays a very informal writing style, as if speaking directly to you. This style of text remains true throughout the book, written in his own words. This is Crossley’s book and he wants you to know it. Over 99% of the photos in the guide are his own.

In his Introduction, Crossley attempts to answer the “why” behind his book’s unique style. For instance, the plates are not arranged in strict taxonomic order. Rather, they are grouped by like appearance, though the general order of families is fairly close to taxonomic order (he starts with geese and ends with passerines). For this he states multiple reasons, such as the usefulness to a field birder of grouping similar species and the always-changing order of taxonomy.

He also throws in a section entitled “How to Be a Better Birder.” Here Crossley taps into his decades of experience to relay tips on learning birdsong, the basics of molt, and understanding factors such as lighting and wear on the appearance of a bird. He places a heavy emphasis on note-taking and paying attention to structure, and rightly so. Lots of wisdom in these few paragraphs.

Next up are a series of Bird Topography (AKA surface anatomy) plates. These are very well done and thorough, including such features as primary projection and gonydeal angle. The following groups are represented in this section: songbird, raptor, duck, gull, shorebird, and hummingbird. Each photo is well-labeled.

Species Accounts:

Now onto the good stuff: the Species Accounts. The birds are categorized into the following groups: swimming waterbirds, flying waterbirds, walking waterbirds, upland gamebirds, raptors, miscellaneous larger landbirds, aerial landbirds, and songbirds. Each section begins with an overall description of the group. This description points out the unique qualities of that group and other useful tidbits such as general molt and migration strategies. For example, in the goose part of the “Swimming Waterbirds” section, Crossley states that large goose flocks can act as “carriers” for vagrant individuals. The text is ripe with useful information like that.

To describe age Crossley uses the life-year system (first-year, second-year, etc). Back in the Intro he gives a nice rundown of the pros and cons of the most popular aging systems, and he explains the details behind the life-year system.

Each species account consists of a large photographic montage that takes up most of the page. At the bottom of the page is the following: species common name, Latin name, alpha code, length in inches (**only body length, NO wingspan), range map, and text. Many species get an entire page, while others get one-half or one-quarter page. More space is devoted to more widespread or variable species, while less space is reserved for the vagrants (of which there are many included here).

Let’s break down the plates themselves. You get one large photo of the species’ preferred habitat in the background with several bird photos superimposed on it. There’s a lot going on in each plate. The habitat photos are rich and colorful, sometimes striking enough to take the focus off the bird. Sometimes there are literally dozens of birds on the plate and you just don’t know where to look first. It can be a bit overwhelming. Here in Connecticut I’m just not used to seeing so many birds at once! (kidding…sort of)

Why so many photos? Crossley’s goal, in his own words, is for you to “get a feel for” the species you’re studying. This includes seeing the bird in different plumages, at different angles, at different distances. If you’re expecting a nice profile example of each plumage, prepare to be disappointed. He wants you to learn to identify each bird by practicing seeing it in the same way you might see it in the field. You’re more likely to see a flock of scoter at a quarter of a mile instead of point-blank range, so he includes photos of rafts on the water and flocks in flight.

Not all individuals are labeled to age/sex. It is up to the reader to age/sex some of the birds in the photos. This bothers me a bit, because there are many cases in which there’s enough space to insert a tiny little label. But I recall Crossley’s repetitive use of the word “interactive” in his Introduction. He wants to make you work, to critically think. He will label one or two juveniles on the plate and will describe what a juvenile looks like in the text, but it’s up to you to pick out the third, fourth, and fifth examples of juveniles on the plate. This guide really aims to teach.

One of my favorite features in this book is the use of many flight shots for so many species. It’s funny how quality flight illustrations can be so difficult to come by in many field guides. Many of Crossley’s songbird flight shots would be useful while learning to ID passerines during ‘morning flight.’ I’m sure many of the photos were taken by Richard himself from the dyke at Higbee’s in Cape May! Don’t get me wrong…many these aren’t razor-sharp images, but even the poorer ones are generally useful for understanding structure and color pattern.

The text descriptions are written in that same informal manner as earlier in the book. The general format for the text is: behavioral/misc notes, then voice description, then field marks and comparisons to similar species. Many species-specific tidbits are included. For Mute Swan, Crossley states, “Young are protected zealously; an adult, standing its ground, has hissed fear into many a human.” I can almost see the swan doing this in my mind…can you? For Spruce Grouse, he notes “Famously tame allowing close approach – a real experience!” It’s this type of information that sets Crossley’s text apart from your standard field guides. Lucky for us, he manages to pack a vast amount of knowledge into a rather small amount of text. Even facts about range expansion and vagrancy likelihood are included. Well done, and very refreshing to see information presented that is often left out of field guides.

Interestingly there is no consistency in how he refers to subspecies, as far as using Latin names versus regions. Sibley uses regions, while Nat Geo uses Latin names. Crossley mixes it up…sometimes one, sometimes the other, sometimes both! The type-A part of me would have liked more order here, but it works.

The range maps are your standard color-coded fare, but it’s worth noting that the scale of the map depends on the bird’s range. For instance, the map for Kirtland’s Warbler is zoomed into the Great Lakes region with Michigan at center, so one can better appreciate the limits of the bird’s range. Also, for migratory species, the species’ entire North American range is shown (including all the way to the west coast), rather than just the eastern part of it. That’s another small but significant feature I’m a big fan of.

I went through each plate and noted a few things I liked and a few things I thought were lacking. Here’s some of what jumped out at me.

Positives:

- It’s pretty cool that the Barnacle and Pink-footed Goose plates include photos of a single bird among a flock of Canadas, the way they’re generally found in the eastern US.

- I really like the Arctic Tern plate. For just a half-page plate you really get a feel for the structural and plumage differences from Common Tern, better than I think Sibley or Nat Geo portray.

- There are many shorebird plates to love. The AMGP versus BBPL plates are very nice, the Avocet plate is visually stunning, and the Baird’s versus White-rump differences are well-illustrated.

- The Harrier plate is beautiful, and the Ferruginous Hawk photos really do show how big, bulky, and pale this bird is.

- The Yellow-bellied Sapsucker plate is a fine example of what I would like to see more of in this guide. Photos evenly spaced out, a light background making the bird easy to see, multiple full-body shots, and very useful and high-quality flight shots. Definitely one of the best plates in this book.

- The Cave Swallow plate is very appropriate for an eastern guide. We have a coastal setting, with a lighthouse in the background and birds huddling under an overhang of some sort as if to roost on a November evening.

- For a fine example of the usefulness of this style, check the Eastern & Mountain Bluebird plates. Crossley’s photos really capture the Mountain Bluebird’s long, thin shape and often alert posture as compared to EABL.

Negatives:

- Lacking photos of breeding plumaged Dovekie, except for the distant flight shots.

- Fea’s and Bermuda Petrel plates do not compare in quality to illustrations in other field guides…this is not a big surprise given how difficult it can be to see, let along photograph, rare seabirds. This is an example of a shortcoming of photographic guides, especially a guide that depends on photos from a single birder. Nobody has great, instructive photos of every species. A similar example is the flight shot of “Scopoli’s” Shearwater, which very poorly shows the bird’s underwing. And the underwing is something you want to see when looking for Scopoli’s.

- Another seabird example: the photo of juv White-tailed Tropicbird is just awful! Almost no view of the bird’s upperparts and a dark shadow on the underparts! Adults are easy to ID but young birds can cause confusion. This is disappointing. If Sibley provided an equivalent illustration of a young WTTR he would be ripped for it!

- No adult breeding Little Gull except one little speck of a photo??

- I wouldn’t use this book to confidently separate a Common Gull (canus) from a Mew Gull (brachyrhynchus) – something that should be done for all reported “Mew” Gulls in the east.

- Some gull flight shots do not do a great job of depicting the birds’ primary patterns

- The Ruddy Turnstone plate is just too cluttered. There are large photos slightly overlapping one another. Just remove or shrink one of them and show me the whole bird! Sometimes less is more.

- Some photos are intentionally very dark or camouflaged. I see what he’s trying to do here, but a few plates, such as the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Woodcock, and Eastern Whip-poor-will actually suffer from it, I think.

- The only Black Rail photo is of a bird with its wings spread. The photo is quite nice, but not all that instructive as structure is concerned. Am I nitpicking here?

- No photo of lekking/displaying Greater Sage-Grouse. When a male is displaying, it looks like a completely different beast.

- There are no photos of a young light phase Short-tailed Hawk, which, in its range is probably the plumage most likely to be confused with other buteos.

- When I look at the Rock Pigeon plate I feel like I’m being attacked.

- Tropical Kingbird, common in its range and easy to photograph, has one of two photos with a large shadow across it

Summary & Recommendation:

I don’t want that list of negatives to cancel out all the good things I’ve already said. But this guide does have its flaws and I wanted to point them out. Ideally, each species account would be spread over a few pages as they are so perfectly done in “The Shorebird Guide.” That way the author could avoid clutter, not overwhelm the reader, and specifically caption every photo with teaching points for each plumage. But this is not possible when you’re dealing with so many species. Because of this, I think Crossley’s approach is probably better suited to the ‘specialty’ ID guides. In “The Crossley ID Guide” you really do get a feel for most of the presented birds, but when it comes down to apples-to-apples comparison between two similar species or the ability to display field marks in a consistent manner, it is difficult for a photographic guide to compare to true artwork. If I had to pick just one eastern bird ID guide to use as a reference, it wouldn’t be this one. However, it would be in my Top 3!

Once I came to terms with the fact that this is not your typical illustrated identification guide, I was less annoyed by what it lacked and began to really enjoy each species account. There is a lot to be learned thanks to Crossley’s style. The brief text is so rich with information that this alone might be worth the price of purchase. Add to that a quality collection of images and you have a resource very much worth owning. I think I’m really going to enjoy this one; I’ve been through the entire book once in detail yet I feel there’s still so much more to explore and find. I highly recommend “The Crossley ID Guide” to birders, both beginners and experienced alike.

- Nick