Robyn's Reading Room


Robyn’s Reading Room
This is the start of a new series of posts dedicated to good nature books. These will be field guides and other natural history books that I think are really great and will help you further explore and understand the natural world. Yes, many of them are ones I carry in the gift shop, but that’s because I want to make learning more about nature accessible! Chain book stores don’t have a huge selection and sometimes there are too many choices on the internet! No matter how you access these books – the library, our gift shop, or the internet – it just matters that you learned one more thing about nature! Happy Reading!

First up for this installment are two books. Both on the topic of birding! Bird watching is huge in this country. There are tons of books available, CD’s of bird calls, and apps for your smart phone. It can be bewildering when choosing products to enhance your bird watching experience. Let’s see if we can simplify things a bit.

Every birder, whether novice or advanced, needs to own a good field guide. Putting a name to the birds you see is the first step to learning more about them. It’s very important to get a guide that is for your area. That way you don’t ID a bird that really would only be in Colorado or something like that! Regional field guides help you find the bird you’re looking for by eliminating what doesn’t occur there. The one I recommend is A Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America from The Peterson Field Guide Series published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

One of the things that make this bird book a great field guide are the plates. With the majority of field guides, I prefer and recommend drawings not photographs. A photo of an animal is an image of one individual, in that lighting, at whatever place the image was taken. A good drawing or painting of the animal (and no one can say that Mr. Peterson doesn’t have good paintings!) is best for ID. It can show you all the important details while at the same time providing a general image. A good example is Red-tailed hawks. Some are darker than others and some have strong “necklaces” and others don’t. By learning the field marks, instead of remembering a photo, you will be able to ID all the Red-tails you see regardless of variation. The other thing that makes Peterson’s Birds a great field guide is the arrows pointing to important field marks on each bird. For example, if you had never seen a Cardinal before and was looking it up, you would be directed to notice the big triangular bill and pointed crest. This differs from the Summer Tanager on the previous page witch points out a pale colored bill and no crest. Further reading of the description talks about the bird’s coloration. More recent editions of this guide include thumbnails of the range map for each bird next to the description. This is extremely helpful when determining if the bird is around during the time of year you are looking at it. This came in handy for me a few weeks ago. A Phoebe was still hanging around and I thought that it was strange seeing one this late into the fall. Then I second guessed myself thinking it did not migrate. So off to the bird book! A quick look told me that it only summers here in Ohio, and it just hadn’t got a move on yet! Next to the thumbnail range maps are the species descriptions. Included in each description are mentions of any similar looking species, habitats frequented, how it sounds, range, and the bird’s relative status. This means is it common like a Cardinal or rare like a Kirtland’s Warbler.  Finally, if you are a beginning birder, the first part of the guide takes you through a series of questions you should ask yourself when looking at a new bird. Things like its size, the shape of the tail or bill, and behavior. Once these things become a habit when observing a bird, the process of identification will become much quicker.

I personally have other good bird field guides, but I always use my Peterson’s. Haven given you all the reasons that I like this book; you will have to find the field guide that works best for you. A field guide will do you no good if you don’t feel comfortable using it. However, this continues to be a popular guide because it does work for many people.

Our second book in this installment is not a field guide, but a natural history book. It too deals with birds, but delves into their behavior, anatomy, and conservation issues. The book is a Golden Guide from St. Martin’s Press, Bird Life. I call these guys “Little Golden Guides”. These are the small in size yet bursting with lots of good info books. Bird Life is a great companion to a field guide because you can investigate behaviors, check out how birds fly, or find out how exactly they know what songs to sing. Do you know what anting is? It’s when a bird spreads its wings and tail while sitting on top of an ant hill! The book goes on to say the exact reasons are unknown but the biting ants might help take care of parasites on the bird’s bodies. There is an amazing amount of information packed into this 160 page pocket sized book!

If either of these books sounds good to you, go get them! If you would like to purchase them from us, give us a call. Even though we are closed for the season we can hook you up!