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!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Biggest Week in American Birding!

Yep, the above would be me.  This year, I have been asked to be an official blogger and a field trip leader for the Biggest Week in American Birding! This relatively new birding festival takes place along the northwestern Ohio lakefront in the area of Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR.  With the help of Kenn and Kim Kaufman and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory, it is quickly becoming one of the biggest festivals in the country!

This year, the festival runs from May 3-13.  I will be in Ohio from May 1-12, blogging about the festival and leading field trips.

As of now, all of the pre-register field trips are full, but there's plenty of other bird walks, activities, etc to take part in. Of course, the area will be inundated with birders as well. Pretty much everyone who is anyone will be there. So come on down and join in the fun!

The best part about the Magee/Ottawa area is the awesome warblers! Warblers galore is the key selling point at this festival! Just like this one below.

See you in a little more than a week!

Cape May Warbler
Cape May Warbler

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

App Review: Birdseye Birdlog-USA

At last! We finally have an eBird data entry app for iPhone, iPod, and Android! 
It's called Birdseye Birdlog and just officially became available to the general public. This new app was created in conjunction with the eBird team at Cornell U and is now the quickest, easiest way to enter bird sightings to eBird directly from the field. 

I gave the app a test run today and was quite happy with the results. Entering data via the app takes no more time than it does if you did it via In some ways, it's actually faster since, if you're using an iPhone, the app will use the built-in GPS function to quickly determine your location. This also allows you to enter checklists quickly, directly from the field as you're birding. It doesn't replace the good old fashioned pencil and notebook, but it does remove several steps in between.

With this app, you can also access all past locations, any checklist you have entered via the app (under "my sightings", any hotspots in the area, etc.

What it does NOT do, is explore data. It is only designed for entering data. The original Birdseye app fills the exploring data part to some extent, but an official app for this purpose would be nice.

One of the nice things about this app is that it gives you the option to create a checklist offline, even if there is no Internet or cell coverage. You can then upload the checklist later on. 

If you're wondering about the date, time, effort part, that has remained fairly simple and in the same format as on the eBird site. The screenshot below details what it looks like: 

The app will work wonderfully for those who have a smartphone. Unfortunately, for iPod touch users such as myself, the only advantage I see is that you don't have to log in on your laptop any longer, so it makes it slightly more mobile. You just need to find the nearest WiFi before you can upload your checklist for the day.

You can check out the intro vid below for more on this awesome new app:

For those birders who like to travel abroad, there is also a world version available for entering bird sightings from countries outside of the ABA area. 

(note: this is a voluntary review and the app was purchased. Most of the review work I do is new field guides and only occasionally for new apps like this one.) 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Book review: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire

Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao, commonly known as the ABC Islands, are part of  the Lesser Antilles in a small chain known as the Leeward Antilles.  Discovered (purportedly) in 1499, they became the property of the Spanish empire. In 1634, the Dutch West India Company, after a spat with Spain, took control of the islands. After the company was dissolved, they became the property of the Netherlands.
In 1986, Aruba withdrew from Netherlands rule and became an autonomous country within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In 2010, Curacao gained similar status while Bonaire became a special municipality of the Netherlands proper.  Interestingly enough, Bonaire is the only one of the islands to use US currency. The other two have their own currency.

Bonaire is known for scuba diving, as is Curacao, and snorkeling in the crystal clear, caribbean water and the elaborate reef sheltering the island.  The birding on the islands doesn't compare in numbers to some other popular destinations, but over 200 species have been recorded on the islands, including a number of endemics.  

The new Princeton Field Guide: Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire does a nice job of covering ever single species ever recorded on the islands. In fact, it does so nice of a job, that even species that have been recorded only once are included.  This is ok in that it gives you a good idea of what species are likely to show up, but is slightly too much at the same time in that it can be somewhat confusing unless you read every text.

Due to the Islands' proximity to the South American mainland, many familiar species can be found there.  Species familiar to anyone who has visited central or south america, but also a few select species commonly found in the US.  This mix of species makes the ABC islands a nice starting point for anyone who will later be hopping the channel to Venezuela or Brazil.

If you open the front of the book, there is a small section detailing the history (both geologic and cultural) and biology of the islands. It is quite an interesting read and one I would recommend should you choose to purchase this book.

There are, of course, the usual mistakes here and there, as is to be expected in a first edition printing, but I'm sure they will be corrected in the next edition.

Unfortunately, I am not a fan of Mr Restall's handiwork. Not only is it, well, different (to put it lightly), but also, in many instances, inaccurate.  I do realize that there are island subspecies of certain species that may be different, but unfortunately, these are not the only species to have been unusually depicted.
Given the quality of artwork normally seen in a Princeton Press publication, Mr Restall's work isn't quite up to par, but is sufficient for the purpose it serves.

Listed at $28, the book is slightly on the pricy side, but still worth the investment should you wish to travel to the ABC Islands. It is simply a must-have since it is, to my knowledge, the only thoroughly complete field guide to the ABC Islands.

The Birds of Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire can be purchased here at the Princeton store: