When I began birding I fully agreed with Roger Tory Peterson's description of fall-plumaged warblers as confusing. Spring warblers, too, not to mention flycatchers, gulls, terns, sparrows, sometimes confused me, yes, and female ducks. Eventually, I straightened most of it out.

There are lots of other creatures one can watch when birding. I’ve learned the names of some wild flowers, trees, small mammals, frogs, toads, turtles, and butterflies. Identification here is pretty straightforward.

Then we come to dragonflies and damselflies, fascinating all, and a challenge. Princeton University Press has published a beautiful, well-designed guide that would make the ID task if not easy then certainly less difficult. It is companion to a western-species guide published in 2009. The new guide is the first complete identification examination of eastern species.

Author Dennis Paulson covers 336 species of these insects in the book. Patience, close observation, and the ability to see all shades of color are what you need to tell one from another. Those, and this ID guide.

A friend in Duluth began adding dragonflies to his field observations a few years ago. I thought that a good idea. Then I learned that many distinguishing features on these creatures depend on color perception. Being able to separate reds from browns is essential.

I’m among the 10 percent of men of northern European descent who do not see well colors containing reds and greens. I have trouble with reds, greens, browns, some tans, and most pinks. That is not an all-inclusive list.

So, as much as I’d like to go out with the new Princeton guide in hand, not even its fine photography, excellent text, and helpful range maps can make it work for me. (I have read the natural history at the beginning of the book, however, and will now look at dragonflies and damselflies with more knowledge and respect than before, even if names evade me.)

"Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East" is a beauty, essential if dragonflies and damselflies are of special interest. It is similar to birding field guides in organization and content. It begins with a natural history of dragonfiies and damselfiies worth a read to become acquainted with often-seen but little-known creatures. There follows information on anatomy, colors, names, finding, migration, mating, eggs, photography, collecting, and conservation threats and more. The writing is clear and concise, the photography excellent. It's a worthy addition to a natural history library. 

Soft cover, 538 pages, photographs, drawings, index, glossary, $29.95.



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Goldfinches changing color