Bird Lovers' Paradise: Jackson!

     Birds in Jackson: a bird lovers' paradise--that's one of the unique assets of this area, according to the Greater Jackson Chamber of Commerce! Read the article from the  Wednesday, May 27, 2009, Jackson Citizen Patriot or visit the new webpage on the Jackson County Convention & Visitors Bureau. Then read this series of articles from the Jackson District Library.  You'll be all set to start promoting birds with your friends, neighbors and customers! After the series is completed, the information will be available from the library in a flyer with even more resources than can be covered in this space.
     This first article is about some of the great new bird identification guides. Brand new from Dorling Kindersley is Birds of North America by the American Museum of Natural History. Excellent but huge, this is not one to lug around in the car. After a short introduction, each page features one bird species, with a page of description for each group division, such as game birds, waterfowl, and so on. On the page are a half dozen full color photographs showing the bird in flight, different plumages, and juveniles. Distinguishing characteristics are pointed out, as are voice, nesting, feeding, and other particularities.  A map of the range is given along with other details including size, status, and lifespan. One small irritant is the range map colors--instead of using brown for migration, as most guides do, in this it is for summer and migration is yellow. What purpose the color change serves is unclear. Rare species and vagrants are relegated to sections at the back of the book where the rarities are covered four to a page and the vagrants are an eight-page list. A glossary and index are also included.  The index is alphabetical for both common and latin names.
     The Kaufman field guide to birds of North America is somewhat older, but it is one of only two guides to have photographs, though these photos have been digitally edited. The format is reminiscient of Peterson's guides (see below), so size information is included with the pictures and flight silhouettes or distinguishing marks are also placed on the page of photos. Some might find this more cluttered and confusing than those books which divide photos by entry, although this method allows for comparison.
     Three guides were released last year that would also work well as field or car guides.  The first, the Peterson field guide to birds of North America from Roger Peterson, is a long time well-known authority in the field.  However, the book continues with traditional forms, such as putting the range maps at the end of the book (though smaller maps are included with each species), and using drawings (albeit full-color) as opposed to photographs.  In these smaller guides, feeding detail is not included, except for general introductory information on families, and flight patterns are generally delineated on separate pages, where the species are arrayed together, for comparison. Many birders will continue to use this guide due to their familiarity with it.  A checklist/lifelist is included before the index.  One additional feature is the three silhouette charts, for shorebirds, roadsides, and flight. Status is noted on the line with the common and latin names, although threatened or endangered birds may be indicated as such either in the habitat note or the status. (For example, these different statuses were found: "uncommon, threatened;" "rare, local;" or "possibly extinct.")
     The next guides are the National Geographic field guide to the birds of eastern North America and National Geographic field guide to birds of western North America by Jon Dunn. The two guides are, naturally, similar, so this review covers the eastern North America volume. Along with Peterson, this guide uses drawings rather than photos.  Range maps are included with the species entries, but this map reverts to old methods of delineating migration, that of lines and arrows. Identifying particularities are sometimes covered in special sections at the bottom of pages. Status is covered in the range note--"very rare," "uncommon, local" and the like. Cover flaps feature a quick-find index and visual guides. 
     My personal choice for field guide is the Smithsonian field guide to birds of North America by Ted Floyd. This book features excellent full color photographs which include the background environment.  Most entries have at least two photos, sometimes three, which may include in-flight photos, or females and juveniles. They utilize a code to show the status of each species, and range maps are displayed with the entry.  There is little or no flight pattern information but many photos show birds in flight. This book is also accompanied by a dvd of 587 downloadable birdsongs and vocalizations, with a color image for every sound file--perfect for an MP3 player. 

     Be sure to visit the Jackson Audubon Society's web site for the latest birding information and events!