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IVORY-BILLS  LiVE???!  ...

=> THE blog devoted to news and commentary on the most iconic bird in American ornithology, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker (IBWO)... and... sometimes other schtuff.

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"....The truth is out there."

-- Dr. Jerome Jackson, 2002 (... & Agent Fox Mulder)

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

-- Hamlet

"All truth passes through 3 stages: First it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer

Sunday, February 13, 2011


-- Review of The Crossley ID Guide --


"The Crossley ID Guide"
by esteemed birder/photographer Richard Crossley is finally out..
. WOWZA!... and now for a longer review:

It's often the case that a heavily-touted, high expectation event or product simply can't live up to the buzz it creates....

With that said, I received a review copy of the new, much-anticipated "Crossley ID Guide," and will say for starters that every birder (of eastern N. America anyway) will likely want a copy of this luscious volume for their shelves... even though it may not be all that some had expected or imagined.

Every birder knows there is no such thing as a perfect bird guide --- each has different strengths and weaknesses (and much depends on personal preference). Over recent times we've witnessed a long string of new guides, each tweaking one thing or another, yet really not all that different from those preceding.
Personally, I never thought the highly-touted Sibley guide, with its minimalist artwork, to be much of an improvement over Peterson (but that's just me, and I did like Sibley's text). HELLO Richard Crossley!! Here, we really do have an innovative, almost startlingly different approach. The volume is a joy just to leaf through! Many things to note:

1) The artwork (which the author calls "the heart and soul of this book") is simply GORGEOUS, stunningly so,
and realistic (from 10,000 of the author's own photographs), especially relative to the stripped-down, plain views that have become standard for most bird field guides (which do serve a functional purpose, but still...). Showing birds as one might actually see them in the wild, is at one-and-the-same-time an obvious, yet unique, approach --- especially I think illustrative for beginning-to-intermediate birders. As Crossley writes in his "Introduction" (which is mandatory reading if you purchase this volume):
"This is the first guide that uses lifelike scenes. Take advantage of them to practice so you are better prepared to identify any bird you see in the field. Practice makes perfect.
A picture is worth 1000 words! And these plates contain many pictures. The amount of information in these plates is staggering. It is up to you to take advantage of this."
Still, the key field-mark identifying arrows of a Peterson (or other guides) are absent, and it will be interesting to see if everyone can indeed "take advantage" of this more gestalt-ish method. Richard, by the way, calls his approach "reality birding," to stress the representation of birds as we actually encounter them.

I suspect birders may debate these color plates for some time. Aesthetically, they are awesome, even exhilarating, but (as Crossley says) they carry a "staggering" amount of information. Whereas some field guides can be viewed in a slapdash manner and still be useful, this book really requires some focused effort and study to deal with the rich overload of these 'busy' and complex plates.

2) It's obvious now why all along this has been called "The Crossley ID Guide" and NOT the Crossley Field Guide. It is BIG; bigger than the original Sibley Guide, which took flack as not being a true field guide, because it wasn't convenient for carrying in the field. My own definition of a bird 'field guide' includes being able to easily hold it open in one hand while the other hand operates binoculars or focuses a bird scope --- this is NOT a field guide. It's a volume for the backseat of the car or the coffee table or reference-shelf at home, or yes, a backpack. Still, I have no doubt that for tough ID calls in the future this will now be my 2nd book of choice after whatever field guide I'm carrying.

3) The graphics are so massive and page-consuming (some songbirds are shown life-size) it leaves little room for the text, which is quite small, and possibly not as well-organized as in some other guides (but still very good and useful -- Addendum: the more I read through this volume, the MORE impressed I am with the text and descriptive portions!). Oddly too, the text is in Gill Sans font --- a non-serif font that, while fine on a computer screen, is very unusual (and I think rather unpleasing) in a book format. This is obviously a minor concern overall, but it is quite unconventional, as serif fonts are the norm.
On the positive side, the large depictions elegantly show multiple angles and multiple phases/plumages of most species. On the downside, this means that sometimes as few as only 2 species are being depicted on facing pages --- i.e., if you want to compare 3 or 4 similar species you have to flip back-and-forth between several pages, whereas they might be viewable altogether on a single color plate in another field guide (for example, comparing confusing fall warblers, or "little brown jobs," in this volume is somewhat challenging). For this and other reasons, I think birding novices, starting from scratch, may need to begin with a more basic volume, and this book will prove most beneficial to intermediate and above birders (but novices will still want to own it!).

4) The Guide organizes birds by "habitat and physical similarity" --- this makes tremendous sense to me, but to those totally accustomed to the "taxonomic" order employed by most field guides, it may be annoying and confusing.

5) The book extensively uses the official 4-letter short-hand banding codes for each species --- again, something that may annoy some people, but once more I think a positive and educative development, given how often these codes are now used in the digital age.

6) Even the Introduction to this book is great, especially the section "How To Be a Better Birder" --- if you purchase the volume be sure to read the entire Intro. Indeed, this is a book I want to sit down with and just pour over, slowly perusing each scrumptious page, one at a time, from beginning to end; savoring (unlike any previous guide).

I'll leave it to the more experienced, keen-eyed birders to review this volume for any technical flaws it may contain (usually a few creep in). For now, I'm too blown-away to worry about certain details.
Hats-off to Mr. Crossley and to Princeton University Press for this remarkable, bold effort (just when you think nothing new can come along in the form of a bird guide... KABOOM!). I just wish Roger Tory Peterson was around to witness what the revolution he started has wrought --- I imagine he'd be very pleased and amazed to see this (even though it's a very different approach from the one he introduced!).
...I also wish I was 10-years-old and this book was among my early introductions to birding... instead of being a tad older and probably making my last few bird guide purchases.

Ohh, and one last note, specifically for my loyal readers: no, the Ivory-billed Woodpecker is not included in the Guide (and I didn't expect it to be). Perhaps, just maybe... in a future edition.... ;-)

A few more links:

This story isn't related to the Crossley volume, but it's an illuminating story about an eagle who died tragically in Alaska that was known to be 25 years old from its band (yeah, I'm a sucker for predators).

You make some great points, especially: "Whereas some field guides can be viewed in a slapdash manner and still be useful, this book really requires some focused effort and study to deal with the rich overload of these 'busy' and complex plates"

Very true!
Thanks for the review. Can you ever really have too many bird ID books? I find that I'm partial to the Nat. Geo. Field Guide, but I'll probably need to add the Crossley to the collection.
Thanks. I am in need of a new bird ID book. I can only find one after my last move.
This is a great review of "The Crossley ID Guide." It makes me want to go buy it! I have seen some of the amazing illustrations and can understand how you could be blown away.
Great review of this book! I'm glad you pointed out the excellent introduction. I wrote more about Crossley ID in my blog, Gardening with Binoculars.
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