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An open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond

A very, very good field guide for birds

british birds


The best bird identification guide I have seen, ever, is sitting on my desk as I type. Unfortunately, it is a guide to British birds.


The full title is “British Birds, a Pocket Guide.” 


Like all guides it has illustrations (in this case photos), text, and maps. What makes this one worth mentioning is the excellent design. (There are other excellent features as well.)


Regardless of the quality of photos or text or maps, poor design can hinder the usefulness of an ID book. This British guide helps the identification effort beyond the usual. It enhances your efforts, makes the ID job easier.


What do I like, and which features might we wish for in the next North American guide? It would be a long list. Best of all I like the silhouettes of selected members of several bird families or groups: birds on water, standing birds, perched birds, small landbirds, birds in flight, in most cases separate sets for large and small examples. Seabird families are shown this way in addition to photos. And waders. Birds on the water, on the ground, in the air. The silhouettes are an important addition here.


I accidentally opened the book to pages for Herring Gull. There, flying across the top of facing pages was the gull in eight images, each showing a different phase of the gull’s advancing plumage, year by year, clearly labeled. Ditto other gull species. The information is presented in orderly, logical fashion. A great idea.


Males and females, juveniles and adults, all shown in excellent photos (a hallmark of this book). Photos throughout are on the smallish side (this truly is a book that will fit in an ordinary pocket, another point in its favor), smallish but well chosen.


And on and on. You have to see this book to understand just how much better it is than what we use for North American birds.


The design was done by Robert Still, sharing credit for the book with Rob Hume, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop, and David Tipling.  Still also is co-founder and publishing director of WILDGuides, the house from which this book came. This is the first time I have seen a designer given credit, and it’s well deserved because, again, the book could have been another ordinary effort but for his skill. Designers should always be listed by name. It might improve the quality of their work.


Publisher is Princeton Press. There are 1,600 photos, 248 maps, and 259 of the silhouettes I like so much. It’s called paperback, but has a sewn binding for long life, durable covers, 272 pages, index. Price is a surprising $12.99. The book is worth more than that.




There are many books in the WILDsGuides, Ltd., identification series. I also have their “Britain’s Mammals,” a larger book with more text, and, again, excellent photography. Here I liked most the beautiful photos of small mammals, the voles, mice, shrews, rats, and the dormouse. This part of this book is useful here, particularly the section on photographing and live trapping these animals. Again, Princeton Press, same binding, 328 pages, index, $29.95.

First comes the fire, then the flood

If you live along one of our coasts, an ocean in your front yard, you might find it hard to believe that the water is rising, and could soon flood you out.


Higher tides, bigger storm, yes, but water so high, storms so large, so often that we can’t live here anymore? Maybe not.


A recent article from Bloomberg News says people who believe climate change poses serious problems are no more likely to take action than non-believers.


All of them might want to read the book “A New Coast” by Jeffrey Peterson, published by Island Press.


The book has a great title, because that’s what we’re going to get.


Peterson makes two things clear. First, the water is rising, and it will continue to do so for a long time. We have already fueled the Earth’s climate mechanism for that.


Second, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, particularly when they bump against the federal government.


Local, county, and state officials in many cases recognize the problem. There are plans for efforts to mitigate the damage higher seas will bring. The book itself offers a list of things that can be done.


The problem, from the top down, is a federal government that refuses to acknowledge the obvious, according to what Peterson sees.


He points to the dilemma facing people who own those homes with an ocean in the front yard. Face the future and sell now while value is untouched? Move from the home and neighborhood you love? Wait until the high water impacts life, then sell an obvious problem for far less money? Just ride it out, make do?


Those are questions for people in this country, simple questions compared to what other parts of the world face. Island nations disappearing. Cities unlivable. Industries ruined. Eventually, people in the billions looking for a new place to live.


The picture Peterson paints of refugees, the huge number of people displaced by an uncaring climate, is frightening, a picture of the future my grandchildren and yours will face. The impact of so many people made homeless by rising seas will not be local. We’ll all be involved.


Peterson writes about the choices we will make — relocation, the social and psychological impacts, how businesses will respond, and the framework for the necessary national response.


He touches the problems wildlife will face. Birds will lose shoreline nesting and feeding opportunities. Birds that feed at sea will find new currents, new temperatures have changed that menu, perhaps erasing it. Migrants will find their genetic maps for safe havens along the route no longer applicable. 



This is a timely book joining the sudden increase in media coverage of acknowledgment of our reality. Peterson is at the front here, a long-time employee at the Environmental Protection Agency. He works on climate change policy. 


This book should be mandatory reading for all persons seeking election to high public office. Followed by a test, with posted grades.


The book will be released in November. It is soft-cover, 408 pages, illustrated, $45.