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Favorite guides and how you carry them.


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#1 bmarsh4

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 02:51 PM

Let me preface this questions with a brief prologue about my experience birding so far. There are always the easy IDs; the birds that look nothing like anything else even remotely. And the ID's where the male and female are indistinguishable, those are nice when there is only the pic of a male in your guide. Then come the sparrows, with ever so minute differences to the untrained eye of the beginner, which is where I would fall. Then the raptors, some easy, some tricky, but I think I've got the common ones down pretty well. And lastly, my current challenge.

I just got back from a 'relaxing' weekend birding with my wife, binocs, camera, scope and my Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America. It just so happens that I went to some of the most active spots in Maryland and Delaware for shorebirds and gulls. I also happened to go amidst the plumage transition period for most shorebirds. As a young birder, this presented quite a challenge.

Now for the questions. Which guides do you recommend for the following categories:

1. Shorebirds
2. Seabirds
3. Gulls (feel free to forgo this one as it has been asked before and I saw many of your responses)
4. Warblers
5. General field guide
6. Detailed guide
7. Any other resources you recommend

I am not opposed to carrying multiple or large guides in the field but I'd also like to know how you carry yours for quick access to the guide and your binocs (especially when carrying a scope as well)

Please keep in mind, I live in the eastern US and will do most if not all of my birding there for the time being.

Thanks!

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#2 Clip

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 03:08 PM

I like Sibley's for a guide. And another birder recently made me a shoulder purse specifically desigened to carry a Sibley's Guide. It is large enough to carry a few other things in it as well. I will get a photo of it up if you can sew and are interested.

#3 TheBillyPilgrim

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 03:09 PM

Personally, I rarely carry a guide in the field. If I do, it's the small Sibley. I usually have the big Sibley in my car if I've driven somewhere, in case I want to reference something when I'm done. All the specialty guides stay on the bookshelf at home, unless it's an unusual case where I know I'm going to be sitting still for a while looking at a specific/difficult group of birds (migrating raptors, shorebirds, gulls, etc.)

For your "other" category, I'd highly recommend Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. Not a single photo or range map in the whole book, just very useful, detailed descriptions of many aspects of each species natural history.

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#4 bushwacker

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Posted 22 April 2013 - 03:19 PM

The Sibley Guide seems to be a favorite right now, there is both an east coast and North American edition.
I have been meaning to pick up the latest Richard Crossley Field guide. It is well regarded and different in that it provides the bird illustrations in what he calls birdscapes. these are the birds pictured in the context of the proper habitat and/or displaying a common behavior.

Ken Kauffman has Field guides to Advanced birding, which go into fine detail to distinguish hard to identify species and morphs.
I usually have one or two in the car. If I need to carry one along I might throw a NatGeo in the daypack or in a belt pouch, your Peterson might even fit in a back pocket

#5 cestma

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 05:52 AM

Personally, I rarely carry a guide in the field. If I do, it's the small Sibley. I usually have the big Sibley in my car if I've driven somewhere, in case I want to reference something when I'm done. All the specialty guides stay on the bookshelf at home, unless it's an unusual case where I know I'm going to be sitting still for a while looking at a specific/difficult group of birds (migrating raptors, shorebirds, gulls, etc.)

For your "other" category, I'd highly recommend Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. Not a single photo or range map in the whole book, just very useful, detailed descriptions of many aspects of each species natural history.


Wow. Convergent evolution, here. I do pretty nearly exactly what you do. Travel with the small Sibley, keep all the rest at home, most often go into the field with no guide whatsoever, just bins, cam, and tiny memo-pad-sized spiral bound notebook. And I have and value the Dunne volume, too.

As to guides, I like to use one with illustrations (Sibley, mostly) and one with photos (Stokes, mostly). I think the Crossley is a nice complement; don't use it as often but when I do need it it's most helpful.

I pretty much have every general guide around, and several specialized ones as well. Collecting them is as much a hobby as the actual birding is. And it's remarkable how often only one will have the particular view or bit of info that you need.
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#6 bmarsh4

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 06:52 PM

I like Sibley's for a guide. And another birder recently made me a shoulder purse specifically desigened to carry a Sibley's Guide. It is large enough to carry a few other things in it as well. I will get a photo of it up if you can sew and are interested.


I would be curious to see that. I have been known to cut a little [fabric] in my day. And "It is not a purse it's a satchel!" (two movie references for those of you who are familiar with them, anyone care to guess?)

Good tips from everyone! I will be checking out all of these guides. Would you be able to view them at say a book store like barnes and noble?

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Latest lifers: Bullock's Oriole, Ross's Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Yellow-Crowned Night Heron, Rufous Hummingbird, Brown Thrasher, Broad-winged Hawk, Purple Sandpiper, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Boat-tailed Grackle, Little Blue Heron, American Oyestercatcher, Royal Tern, Least Tern, Brant, Black Scoter, Northern Gannet, Ruddy Turnstone, Sanderling, Cattle Egret, Willet, White-crowned Sparrow, Black and White Warbler, Red-headed Woodpecker, Green Heron, Veery, Semipalmated Plover.

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#7 MarkBird

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 08:19 PM

My approach is similar to TheBillyPilgrim. I find that a smartphone app works okay as an in-the-field guide, and everything else can wait until I get back to the truck.

For warblers, you'll want A Field Guide to Warblers of North America (Peterson) for the undertail coverts plates alone. I'm not a subspecies ticker myself, but the subspecies range maps are also pretty useful to ID first year and tougher ones.

I have Seabirds of the World (Harrison), but just the small picture-laden (cheaper!) one. I'd say that it's not sufficient on its own, and a more adequate seabird guide would be a better choice.

For general field guides, Nat Geo 6th Edition is currently the most up-to-date. I have that, Sibley and Stokes. For my preferences, I use Sibley and Nat Geo equally, and Stokes gets used the least because it's lacking enough pictures or illustrations to cover the variations.

#8 Aveschapines

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Posted 23 April 2013 - 09:23 PM

I'm in a different region, but maybe this will help. I have Howell and Webb's Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America, universally considered the must-have for this region; and Sibley (all of North America version), universally considered must-have #2 for migrants. The local guides are generally intended for tourists, so they have little or no coverage of migrants who are also seen in the US. Sibley is the favorite here because you only need one volume (as opposed to Peterson, for example), and it is an excellent guide with illustrations of juvenile and non-breeding plumages; we usually see the non-breeding plumage of the migrants, obviously.

I never carry either of these in the field; they are way to big and bulky for that. In fact, I leave them home when I take a trip since they almost need a suitcase of their own. At the Guatemlan Christmas Bird Counts, anyone who arrives by car and can easily carry them brings their Howell and Webb and Sibley's and leaves them out for communal use. This was great for me, because I had the opportunity to use them before investing in my own copies. If I could only have two guides, it would be these two.

I also have a commented list of Guatemalan birds (small book), which I do take with me beacuse it provides excellent range and habitat information that has proved more reliable than the field guides; and the Peterson, Ber Van Perlo, and Ernest Preston Edwards guides to Mexico and Central America. I use all of these and if I take a guide into the field, it's one of them. I like Peterson for the illustrations, but it doesn't cover migrants (except to refer the reader to one of their North America guides). Van Perlo is the most complete, including the most common migrants, and has much better subspecies and range information than Peterson. Lately, Edwards has been my favorite, although some of the illustrations are confusing and/or wrong; for example, for some reason the Brown Jay is illustrated with a juvenile, which confused me the first time I saw them until I finally saw in the text that the illustration wasn't an adult.

Each guide has its strengths and weaknesses, and when struggling with a difficult ID I usually look at all of them. Over time, I've gotten used to how each illustrates and describes the birds. I remember an early lifer for me, Clay-Colored Robin, really confusing me because the illustrations in Peterson and Van Perlo looked like two completely different birds to me, and not exactly like the actual bird. I can now recognize them as representing the same species.

I have found that my needs in the field have changed as I gain more experience. I no longer feel that a guide is absolutely essential in the field. party because I recognize the most common birds and partly because I can at least identify the family and key field marks to be able to make an ID later. I read the guides often, even when I'm not trying to ID a particular bird, and it's very helpful for being able to recognize a bird in the field,even if it's a lifer.

Among other locals, Edwards seems to be a popular choice to carry in the field (I recently went birding with a group and six people brought along three copies of that guide LOL), and some cut the color plates out of Howell and Webb, have them laminated and bound, and carry just that in the field.

Good luck and have fun birding!

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