Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Book review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America

What. an. awesome. book! 
What else can I say about it?   Let's see, it's a must have for anyone wanting to study pelagic (that means sea-going!) birds!  The detail in the book is amazing and the photographs are even more so.
But enough of my describing, let's take a look inside the pages:

First of all, let's start with the layout. This is a typical field guide by Steve Howell. Lots of illustrative pictures with helpful accompanying text and plenty of highly detailed text in-between.

Take the first page of the introduction for example. Mr Howell starts with the basics: What are Tubenoses?  In the first page, he writes "Tubenoses are a well-defined group of seabirds that comprise the order Procellariiformes, and are so-named because their nostrils are encased in tube-like structures on the bill. Tubenoses are represented by up to five families worldwide: northern storm-petrels, southern storm-petrels, albatrosses, petrels (including shearwaters), and diving-petrels."

The author goes on in detail about tubenoses in the following pages, which I will save for you to read for yourself.

Elsewhere in the book, photos of seabirds abound, as is typical for a Howell guide.

This one above details a flock of Sooty Shearwaters. They are by far the most plentiful seabird seen during west coast pelagic trips.

The photos in the book are of superb quality. Here is one example:

Each species is accompanied with a range map. Here's a scan of the one for the pacific population of Sooty Shearwaters: 

At the start of each section (Petrels [including Shearwaters], Albatrosses and Storm-petrels), Howell also gives a short intro to the family and some tips on ID.

The sheer amount of information in this book is utterly astounding. Just the introduction has enough info in it to give you a thorough understanding of ocean habitats and how seabirds use them, not to mention the accompanying text with the species accounts (which often covers two pages and details status and distribution, similar species, habitat and behavior, detailed descriptions, molt patterns, etc)

From the press release:
"The book is the first of its kind, this guide features an introduction that explains ocean habitats and the latest developments in taxonomy. Detailed species accounts describe key ID features such as flight manner, plumage variation related to age and molt, seasonal occurrence patterns, and migration routes. Species accounts are arranged into groups helpful for field identification, and an overview of unique identification challenges is provided for each group. The guide also includes distribution maps for regularly occurring species as well as a bibliography, glossary, and appendixes."

Overall, it is a superb book and definitely worth purchasing if you wish to learn anything about seabirds.

About the author of the guide:
Steve N.G. Howell is an acclaimed field ornithologist and writer. He is an international bird tour leader with WINGS and a research associate at PRBO Conservation Science in California. His other books include the Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds, and Hummingbirds of North America. 

Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-petrels of North America: a Photographic Guide can be purchased at for a little less than $30. 

The book's page back at the Princeton Press website is here: 

I personally own every single one of Howell's field guides and can attest to their high quality and ease of use.  If you don't have a Howell guide in your birding library, you're missing some of the most valuable books you can own and I highly recommend purchasing them.

Til next time, Happy Birding!

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