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.

Posts about Bird books

Sibley second edition coming in March

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 1, 2013 - 9:54 PM

A second edition of “The Sibley Guide to Birds” will be published in March. The first edition, hugely popular, came out more than a dozen years ago. Author and artist David Allen Sibley has completely revised his first book. There are larger illustrations, more illustrations, repainted illustrations, and expanded text. The reworked paintings will show more detail. Paintings of 85 rare species will be included. The expanded text will offer conservation status, habitat information, and tips on finding birds in the field. Maps have been updated. Release date for the hardcover volume is expected to be March 11. Amazon has the book listed at its discount price of $27.79.

Landscaping for backyard birding

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: November 5, 2013 - 11:48 PM

“Bird Homes and Habitats,” a new book about making your backyard bird-friendly, features a Duluth resident who has done so. Dudley Edmondson, an active Minnesota birder, and his wife Nancy describe their improvement project along with 14 other homeowners in this book, “Bird Home and Habitats.”

It’s one of the books in the Backyard Bird Guide series from the magazine “BirdWatcher’s Digest” and its editor, Bill Thompson III. It carries the Peterson Field Guide imprimatur.

Photos and text guide you from project beginning to end. There are lessons to learn about food, water, cover, and nesting opportunities, the latter focusing on bird boxes. Yards large and small are included.

One of the smallest, half of a California lot 60 by 120 feet (the house sits on the other half), is described by owner Alvaro Jaramillo as a “pretty lame backyard” when he and his wife purchased the home new.

Jaramillo and his wife changed the lot from lame to birdy with native and drought-resistant plants and shrubs placed to form a thicket for winter cover.

The Edmondsons needed to replace people-friendly landscaping with bird-friendly. They began with the soil, followed with native and bird-friendly trees and shrubs. The latter focused on fruit-bearing varieties. They used highbush cranberry, juneberry, chokecherry, and elderberry. The mountain ash trees that came with the house provide another bird-favorite fruit.

They have feeding stations and nest boxes. Edmondson wants to create additional shrubby and brushy areas for nesters.

The success stories fill the back of the book. The first half offers instructions on all the things you might want to do to make your yard a welcome habitat for birds. 

Biographies of Roberts and Wilson

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: October 31, 2013 - 1:35 PM

Biographies of men who had much influence on birding here and in North America recently have been published. One details the life of Thomas Sadler Roberts, founder of the Bell Museum of Natural History, the other the life of Alexander Wilson, a Scot recognized by many as the founder of American Ornithology.

Roberts, a medical doctor, was born in 1858, and came to the city as a boy. He was a boy interested in birds. His lifelong interest was recorded in journals that eventually became the basis for the two-volume set “Birds of Minnesota.” It was and remains an essential tool for understanding birds here.

Roberts was here when Passenger Pigeons roosted in city oak trees. He taught the University of Minnesota’s first ornithology class. He and his students rode by streetcar from campus to Lake Harriet for birding fieldwork.

The author of the Roberts book, Sue Leaf, skillfully recreates his time and place, his contributions to ornithology, his work as a physician, and as the force that created our Bell Museum.  

The book takes takes us on a unique history trip. It covers birds, medicine, and the development of Minneapolis as a city, with Roberts as our guide.

The book is titled “A Love Affair with Birds.” It’s the most readable biography/history book I’ve read in a long time. The University of Minnesota Press published the book.

Wilson is the man for whom Wilson’s Snipe, Wilson’s Phalarope, Wilson’s Plover, and Wilson’s Storm-petrel are named. Contrary to what many people believe, it was he, not John James Audubon, who earned recognition as father of ornithology in the U.S.

Wilson expressed his interest in and passion for birds through an extraordinary talent as an artist. The book contains reproductions of almost all of his work with North American birds. He was unusual for his time because he kept notes of his observations. The book quotes from these, offering a sharply focused look at a naturalist’s world more than 200 years ago.

Wilson arrived in Philadelphia in 1794. He traveled widely throughout the country as it existed then, sketching and painting as he went.

Audubon arrived in the country in 1803. He too traveled widely in search of birds to paint. His famous work, including 700 species of birds, was published in two volumes between 1827 and 1839. He did not include the knowledgeable text that made Wilson’s work so valuable. But Audubon’s books, showing paintings of birds life-size, has become perhaps the most valuable of all early work on North American birds.

Audubon sought subscriptions for his book, traveling to England with paintings to seek support. He was successful. Wilson also traveled to find subscribers who would finance printing of his work. He was less successful, but the first volume of “American Ornithology” was published in 1808, an issue of 250 copies.

Wilson and Audubon met in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1810. Audubon was working on his paintings, traveling to find birds. Wilson was seeking subscriptions for his work. He spent part of two days with Audubon, before leaving almost securing Audubon’s signature as a subscriber. Audubon’s business partner at that time discouraged Audubon from signing, and he did not.

That was the first edition of an intended eight. Wilson was working on the final volume at the time of his death in 1813. His work was the first scientific publication in this country.

The book is titled “Alexander Wilson, The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology.” It was written by Edward H. Burtt Jr., and William E. Davis Jr., published by Harvard University Press.

New book on 'seawatching'

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 25, 2013 - 9:50 AM

Three pelagic birding trips await me this fall, all from West Coast ports. If timing were different I might have the perfect companion in my bag. That would be the western edition of a new Peterson field guide. The one I'm looking at is the "Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight." I'm assuming that a western edition is in the works. I certainly hope so. The excellent eastern edition expands and improves waterbird information found in the basic Peterson bird ID books. Here are 600 pages of detail, a massive effort by authors Ken Behrens and Cameron Cox. The book covers 15 waterbird families: cormorants, anhinga, loons,grebes, alcids, shearwaters and petrels, storm-petrels, frigatebirds, gannets and boobies, pelicans, skuas and jaegers, gulls, black skimmer, and terns. 

The book is photo-rich. Birds are shown from many points of view, alone, in flocks, in the air, on the water. Text picks up where photos leave off. Each species is given several hundred words discussing size, structure, flight and flocking, appearance for each sex at key age points, and similar species. 

There is a list of favored places for seawatching. There are records of single-day counts by species. There are quiz questions and answers, a test of your work with the book. The book will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt under sponsorship of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute and the National Wildlife Federation. Publication date and price are not available at this time.

The Birdman of Lauderdale

Posted by: Jim Williams Updated: September 3, 2013 - 12:18 PM

 There’s likely a story to be told every time someone returns home from a birding trip, be it across the country or across the street. You just have to recognize it, then share it.

Clay Christensen, the self-styled birdman of Lauderdale, never misses a story.

In a new book, “The Birdman of Lauderdale,” Christensen tells entertaining and informative stories about his life as a birder. He’s a good writer, as well as a good birder and a good observer. He doesn’t miss much.

He begins his chapters with lines like, “The adventure began …., “While walking along ….,” “When I began birding ….”

And then he will capture in clean, personal prose the just-plain-interesting things he saw or heard or thought of. He also has a keen sense of humor.

The stories average about two pages in length. I was drawn through the book’s 213 pages by anticipation that the next chapter would be as much fun as the last. I wasn’t disappointed.

Reading the book is like going birding with Christensen, then closing the afternoon with a cup of coffee or a glass of beer. He’s good company. He tells sharply seen stories. His book is well done.

Publication will be in October. It would make a great holiday gift.

(In case you don’t know, Lauderdale is a seven-block square municipality near the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. In the book it becomes Bird Central.)

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