Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
In stores now is Richard Crossley's newest field guide to birds: The Crossley ID Guide -- Raptors. It's similar to his first field guide, but better. It deals with a family of birds well suited for his idea of setting many photos of a species against a large photo background.
His first book covered all of the bird species of eastern North America. This book deals solely with raptors. Crossly's initial effort, published in 2011, was called revolutionary for the way it presented its photos. Each species was presented on full pages with multiple photos, birds seen from every conceivable point of view. Crossley wanted to duplicate your field experiences.
The raptor book makes the most of this idea. Raptors are often, perhaps most often, seen flying. Crossley's photos of birds in the air -- birds soaring and gliding and swooping -- would be better only in video. The book's photos do match what you see in the field; they are very pertinent. There are raptors near and far, high and low, raptors perched, raptors overhead.
Raptors are special because it's possible to make accurate identifications at a distance, when plumage details are not easily seen. How are the bird's wings set? Is it bulky, or slender, large head or small? The physical attributes of the bird, perched as well as aloft, can spell its name. Crossley has captured this well. His idea really works with raptors.
Supporting the hundreds of fine photos is text on each species, the particulars similar to what you can find in other guides but more extensive. There are range maps. And if you want to hone you raptor ID skills, Crossley provides several pages of quiz photos. They show a mix of raptor species in various poses at various distances, what you might see in the field. This is a wonderful idea, a true test. He does provide answers, for which I was grateful. (I need raptor work.)
Crossley's had collaborators for this effort, well-known raptor experts Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan. All of the photos used were taken by these three men.
"The Crossley ID Guide -- Raptors" is soft cover, 285 pages, extensively illustrated with double-page photo spreads, glossary index, $29.95. The book is another in the fine series if bird guides published by Princeton University Press.
Below is one page of the two-page spread for Cooper's Hawk.
The Great Horned Owl chicks in the nest near our Orono home are growing up. They've lost the chick fuzz. I don't know the date of hatching, but from the looks of them they could begin climbing around their tree in a couple of weeks. They move in and out of the nest before they fly.
The Great Horned Owl chicks I've been watching are beginning to look like owls. This photo was taken Sunday morning.
There were crows and jays in the area, birds that would mob adult owls. The young birds are ignored. Perhaps they are recognized as non-threatening in this plumage.
Winter Wrens, on their way north and certainly appropriate for viewing today (Monday) were easy to find at Westwood Hills Nature Center this morning. Walking 200 yards east and west along the trail that circles the lake, beginning below the nature center building, I had nine sightings and two hearings in about 30 minutes. Some of the birds certainly were seen more than once. I'd guess six individuals were playing mouse in the scramble of fallen trees, limbs, leaves, and brush along the trail. The birds flushed from the thickest parts. That's were they landed, too, for the most part. Two of them stayed in the open long enough for good looks and photos. They really do remind me of mice: dark brown darters among the forest debris. Fiight is brief, airborne dashes from one hiding place to another. A diversion was turkey courtship. Two toms were displaying for half a dozen hens responding, if at all, in ways only a turkey would recognize. The turkeys were not hard to find: they were displaying on the pathway I walked for wrens. Moving quietly I easily got within 50 feet of the birds. Westwood Hills is a compact woods/prairie/marsh/lake complex just south of I-394. Exit at Louisiana, take the service road (Wayzata Blvd.) west to Texas, and follow the signs. The center is well-maintained, has feeders, nest boxes, benches, a lovely pond/waterfall/stream display, and plenty of wildlife. When the snow is gone and the birds are here, Westwood will make a particularly fine walk. Here are two of the turkeys, with a closeup of breeding adornments (snood, wattles, beard), and one of the wrens.
We are well into the season where birds are acquiring spring plumage, weather aside. The male American Goldfinches visiting our feeders show daily change. This molt begins in late January, triggered by light levels, and can continue into June for some birds. The bright yellow of summer appears one feather at a time, giving the birds a pied appearance. One of two of our feeder visitors have almost completed this molt. Others are way behind. Female goldfinches also molt at this time of year, acquiring a new set of feathers, but with subtle color changes. The molts occur as demonstrated – a few feathers at a time. A molt of all feathers simultaneously would render the bird easy prey and susceptible to weather. Below, two male American Goldfinches.
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