Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan: A review

Roger Tory Peterson revolutionized birding in the 1930s with his innovative way of presenting images of birds in field guides. His drawings showed the birds in stylized poses that emphasized their most noticeable markings which helped to identify them. Arrows pointed to those marks, and texts named them to help even the most novice birders find identifying field marks and "name that bird." Peterson was godfather to generations of birders and was one of the prime movers in popularizing the hobby.

Since that time, most bird guides have followed in Peterson's footsteps, using some variation of his methods. It was time for a new revolution. Enter Richard Crossley.

Crossley's ID guides, not field guides because they are not really meant to be taken into the field, utilize a radically different method of looking at and identifying birds. Crossley uses photographs of the birds, doing what birds do - perching, flying, eating, preening, catching prey, and, in the case of water birds, occasionally swimming. He takes multiple pictures of a bird species in differing poses and places those pictures against a background of a naturalistic setting for the bird. The effect is that we see the bird as it would appear in real life in its natural habitat. It is a brilliant innovation in the depiction of birds for identification.

His first guide using this method was The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds, which I reviewed here.  Now he and his two co-authors add this new book which specifically deals with North American raptors.

The raptors, from the lowly vultures to the majestic eagles, are presented in all their beauty and uniqueness. In most instances, there are multiple pages of beautiful photographs of each species. The Red-tailed Hawk, for example, which has a daunting number of color phases and variations, has ten pages of photographs devoted to it.

Many raptors are maddeningly difficult to differentiate. Looking at them from the ground as they fly overhead, they can all appear to be big brown birds, or, sometimes, big brown blurs. Among the most difficult can be the Accipiters. The Sharp-shinned Hawk,Cooper's Hawk, and Northern Goshawk, where they appear together, can mostly be told apart on the wing by their size or the shape of the tail. But all things are relative. And confusing. In the case of these hawks, the authors have included pages of photographs of the birds side by side, again in naturalistic settings, so that the eye can more easily discern the differences. The same method is used for other similar and confusing species. Some such pages have tests for the reader to compare the pictures and try his/her eye at identifying the birds. Answers to the tests are presented in the back of the book

Though the emphasis is on the visual effect of the beautiful photographs in the book, the text is also comprehensive and extremely helpful, containing a wealth of information about each individual species, much more than one would find in a typical field guide. The range maps, as well, are clear and beautifully depicted, and must have been somewhat of a challenge with many species expanding their ranges in response to climate change. The Swallow-tailed Kite, for example, until recent years was very rarely seen in my area of Southeast Texas. Now it is fairly common in summer and has already appeared over my yard this spring. The range map in the book shows it just to the east of my area. The same could be said of the Harris's Hawkwhich appears increasingly here in summer and seems to be expanding its range from the west. The range map shows it just west and south of me.

This ID guide, like Crossley's earlier works, are ideal tools for the birder to use to familiarize him/herself with the shape and appearance of these fascinating raptors before going birding. Returning from a birding trip, they can be used again to review one's notes and confirm identifications. They are, in short, an essential addition to birding literature and may, in time, have the same kind of impact as the revered Peterson.

(A free advance copy of this soon-to-be published book was provided to me by the publisher for the purposes of this review. The opinions expressed are entirely my own.)

Cross-posted from Backyard Birder.

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