Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Field Guide Review

A few weeks ago, I received a nice e-mail from Anne Staszalek, Marketing Coordinator for The Book Report Network. She was writing "on behalf of Collins to see if you would like to receive a copy of SMITHSONIAN FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF NORTH AMERICA to review on your website." Well, I don't mind telling you that I was a little flabbergasted at first and had all kinds of questions: what's this all about? Is there some sort of catch? Why does she think anything I have to say would be beneficial to this publisher? Would they just send me this really nice book and all I have to do to keep it is write a review? (you see......I'm such a skeptic!)

So I finally sent her a note back saying I would be willing to do this, but also asked how she came up with me as a reviewer and here's her response: "Basically the publisher and author asked if I could find people who might be interested in the book. I know asking people I do not know can be considered intrusive. I hate spam myself, so when I get a new title, I try to find active blogs where the author seems really into the topic they post about, and if I can find contact information, I send as short, yet descriptive an email as I can. I figure that if I was sent an email that offered me a book about something I like to read, it would annoy me a bit less. I really hope you didn’t mind getting the email, by the way."

Well, gosh, how nice is that? So I sent Anne my home address and a few days later this great book arrived in my mailbox and I've been using it here at home for several weeks in preparation for my review.

Now as the proud owner of at least 23 field guides (13 of them just for birds!), I definitely already have a good selection. So will the "Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America" become a useful field guide in my collection? You Bet! And here's why........

First of all, the picture of birds are photographs and I'm one of those people who just prefers photos over an artist's rendering. The Smithsonian Field Guide has excellent photographs of the birds with many of them showing both adult and juvenile plumage; also photos of hawks flying (as seen from below) and many other birds in flight.

There's a lot of good general information about birds in the "Introduction" section of this book including parts of the different birds, habitat, plumage (with seasonal & age differences), and even tips on identifying birds.

The birds are presented in a taxonomic order (as are many field guides) beginning with waterfowl and ending finally with finches.

Each bird listing gives you the length, weight and wingspan (even on songbirds--not just raptors). When there is a size difference between male and female, that's also noted. Each listing also includes information on molt & plumage differences plus variations in size of plumage related to its range. The general description of each bird also indicates the habitat where you would most likely find the bird, what kind of foods it prefers, nesting habitat, a seasonal range map and a description of the bird's call or vocalization.

The book also includes a DVD with downloadable bird songs for your MP3 player. I don't have an MP3 player, but the disk works just fine on my computer. These bird songs are nice because there are several different variations of bird sounds you might hear in addition to the typical calls (alarm calls, courtship calls, & woodpecker drumming sounds).

I like this book because it includes both eastern and western birds--that way if my brother calls from California needing help in a bird ID, I can grab this one field guide for reference and also find out if it's a bird I might be able to see here in the eastern region.

This field guide lists a price of $24.95 on the back cover. I think that's pretty reasonable for all the information contained inside plus the birdsong DVD.

For me, about the only disadvantage of this field guide is the size.Although it's not as large as my Sibley Guide to Birds, it's definitely larger and heavier than the Kaufman field guide I usually carry along on birding trips. However, I see this Smithsonian Field Guide as a good book to have out on my desk or dining room table for everyday use and I think it would be a really great book to take to work or any other gatherings where people might have questions for me about birds or bird calls they need help identifying.

One more note: Ted Floyd (the author of this field guide) and Lang Elliott (who recorded the bird songs on the DVD) are two of "North America's Top Birders" as I found it in the "Good Birders Don't Wear White" book I'm currently reading, so you know you're getting good information from the "experts!"

Thanks Anne for allowing me to review this book and I hope the information I've presented here will be helpful for other birders who are interested in adding another great field guide to their collection.......it's never too early to start dropping hints for Christmas!


Anonymous said...

Ruth we were out to Sam's Club today and would you believe I picked up that very book and was very impressed with the pics and info they printed. It was less then the listed price you gave, but I put it back. I wasn't sure if I could justify the price, now I'm sorry I didn't get it. Maybe we'll go to Sam's Club again soon, then I will get it. It is a beautiful book, but like you say you can't just drop it in your purse [it'll go to the floor for sure]. I hope you enjoy using it.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I saw this book at Borders this past week. I didn't study it but where I thumbed through I didn't like the photos that I saw. Your review has given me pause. I will definitely give it a good going over when I see it next. I might have a change of mind. Gosh if they had it at Sams Club it would probably be a little cheaper than the stated price. Hmmmmm Like you we have many field guides. I can't hardly resist a new one.

Ruth said...

I have been looking for a good CD of bird songs and this one looks quite extensive. I have bird guides with photos and with drawings and each have their own merits. Sometimes a drawing emphasizes a small detail that may be missed in a photo. It would be good to see pictures of juveniles.

Marsha said...

You make an excellent book reviewer! I'll have to check this book out.

nina said...

What a nice way to find a new book--I usually have to go looking, one seldom arrives on the doorstep!
Thanks for the review!

I had the privilege to select books for our library's collection of bird guides. What fun I had browsing and buying!
But I did not find this one--is it new?

KGMom said...

That is so cool that you got to review a bird guide.
From the looks of things, you are well qualified to do so!

Lynne said...

It's funny that I received the same email AFTER I bought the book! (same day) I got it at Costco for $16.95 and think it's definitely worth that. I think the CD is a little misleading though. Because they list multiple songs for each bird you don't get as many songs of different birds as I had expected. I liked the photographs too and especially like the color page edge indexes for the groups of birds. I plan to keep my copy in the car for on-the-go bird identification!!

Mary C said...

Thanks for the review, Ruthie. This sounds like a good guide I might consider adding to my collection.

Mary said...

Great review. I have the Sibley guide also and must admit I rarely open the book. I prefer photos and the first guide I refer to is the Stokes Field Guide to Birds (Eastern Region).

I'd like to take a look at your new guide. I'll look for it when I'm out and about.

Beth said...

Nice job, RuthieJ! If I hadn't already bought the book, I would be clicking on amazon dot come right now. I am enjoying the guide and am learning a lot through it--I hope you get the chance to review again.

Jayne said...

I have three different guides as well, and like something different about each of them. This one seems to add some things the others don't have, and that's nice. Definitely something to check out! Thanks for the good review Ruthie. :c)

Windyridge said...

You lucky duck...er bird.

Richard said...

My brother send me this bird when I was trying to start the birding club (still am) and I have found that I use it as much as the others that I have. Relly like the photos rather then drawings.

RuthieJ said...

Hi Mom,
You should hold off on purchasing this field guide because you have some gift-worthy occasions approaching in the near future.....

Hi Lisa,
If you need more convincing, check out this field guide at Amazon.com....they also provide customer reviews.

Hi Ruth,
The birdsong DVD is nice, although it is important to point out that there are only 138 bird species included; with variations of different types of calls & regional variations included for each bird. The information about plumage and molts is pretty comprehensive and certainly something I don't know much about, but this field guide will be very helpful.

Thanks Marsha. Check on Amazon.com....I think you'd enjoy this book too!

Hi Nina,
I think this book is fairly new (copyright 2008) and I was also totally unaware of it until I got the e-mail.
If you're still looking to purchase for the library, here's the ISBN: 978-0-06-112040-4.

Thanks Donna, like you, I love books and what a great opportunity this was to learn more about birds and also have the chance to share good news about a new book with other birders.

Hi Lynne,
I remember a while back you said you had just bought this book. I don't have a bird book in the car either and this one would be a good book to take along (thanks for the idea!)

Hi Mary C,
I don't think you'd be sorry--especially since you have so many good birds in California too!

Hi Mary,
I have a couple of Stokes field guides too (warblers and dragonflies). Their photos appear to be a little larger than the ones in this Smithsonian field guide, but still quite clear and good close-ups--especially for the smaller songbirds.

Thanks Beth, I'm glad you're already enjoying this field guide. At first the plumage and molt information didn't really appeal to me and then I realized it would be a good way for me to keep on learning more about the birds I'm watching!

Hi Jayne,
I wish I could take all the individual features I like from the different bird books I have and put them all into one big field guide, but then I'd probably have to get a luggage cart to haul it around!

Lucky for sure, Windyridge! Now I just have to figure out a way to get the yarn and knitting book companies to offer me yarn & pattern books for review....

Hi Richard,
You must have a very nice brother! I'm glad you're enjoying this field guide too.

Robin Wedewer said...

Well, there's HAVING the book and there's MEMORIZING the book. I need to do both...or at least be more familiar.

Thanks for your help with getting the correct identification on the Great Crested Flycatcher. I'm sad I don't have purple martins, but I'm glad I saw this fabulous bird.

Gardening Examiner

RuthieJ said...

Hey Robin, don't give up on the purple martins yet....they may decide to stop over and rest during fall migration and there's another chance for them to remember where your housing is for next spring.
And truly.....I don't think there's any birder who hasn't mis-identified a bird, it's just part of the learning curve and hey, this is a hobby, it's supposed to be fun, not for a "pass or fail grade" and you have had the privilege of seeing the Great Crested Flycatcher up close which is something I bet not a lot of other birders can say--I know I can't!

Debbie said...

Wow, Ruthie, how cool is that. Great review. I just ordered a few new field guides through our library. I like to look before I buy! I'll have to add this one to my list of books to check out.

Julie said...

Thank your mom for posting that its at Sams! We're always looking for a good bird book that contains WHAT THEY EAT! Its more difficult then you'd think to find one that does. I'll look for it next time I'm out!