Tessa’s New Book Review

Categories: Blogs,Staff Reviews

New Birding Book: The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

warblerThe celebrated new book The Warbler Guide is getting well-deserved attention at Michigan’s renowned Tawas Point Birding Festival in May.  The authors, Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, will be attending and presenting on Friday evening, May 16th, as well as doing a workshop on Saturday, May 17th. For further information,visit Michigan Audubon. The book may be one you want to purchase, or it may be one to check out from the library.

As any experienced birder knows, the first aspect to consider is always the overall shape and size—and this readily observable aspect of the book reveals it is larger than most guides and its weight is well over that of most field guides. Even though it is labeled on the back cover as a field guide, no one is going to go backpacking or on long hikes with this book. Sit in the woods with it, maybe. The densely bound 550+ pages are very heavy. 

That said, this book is incredibly comprehensive. Having read or scanned dozens of other birding books, I can honestly say this is one of the top birding books out there for depth and thoroughness of coverage.  I would love to see the same effort given to other bird families. Extensive photos in each section make it easy to compare the appearance of your bird with a half-dozen or so similar species, to be absolutely sure of your id.  There are a dozen or even more photos of each species, including pictures from underneath, the usual view for the canopy dwellers which has been mostly overlooked by past guides.

The most valuable feature of the book is the small set of icons that runs the width of the page immediately under the species’ common and Latin names. I expect this set of icons to become standard in all future bird guides.  The first is a small silhouette of the bird, showing the body shape, tail length, etc. Next is a stylized bird divided into three main zones, showing the basic coloration of the bird.  Third is the undertail, which, again, is incredibly useful. Fourth is a small US range map, and, fifth, a tree and shrub diagram showing the bird’s usual habitat (ground, lower limbs, upper canopy, deciduous vs. evergreen, etc.). Certain species have additional diagrams showing behaviors (for example, the American Redstart hawking and cocking its tail). So much information packed into such a tiny space!

Also not to be overlooked are the pages devoted to aging and sexing, as well as those with vocalization diagrams.  Fairly standard methods of sound representation are used that some may find more complex than helpful.  Even with phonetics and music training, I admit that these can be a little much at times.  Don’t worry, you can skip them. 

The book can be partnered with a complete set of 1000 sound files available for download.  Unfortunately, this is an additional purchase, rather than the more usual accompanying cd or free website. There are a number of useful charts that would be great as tear-aways or downloadable pages for carrying. Overall, an innovative and incredible new resource.  JDL owns the book.  ~ Tessa Eger    April 2014     4.5 out of 5 stars

Author: Michael