US field guide

To: "Paul McDonald" <>
Subject: US field guide
From: "David Adams" <>
Date: Mon, 4 Aug 2008 09:12:06 +1000
On Mon, Aug 4, 2008 at 8:06 AM, Paul McDonald
<> wrote:

> I will be heading to the US for a couple of weeks shortly, and was wondering
> what the best field guide for the region would be? Something that covered
> Canada as well would be useful, as I'll probably end up there in the next
> couple of years as well. The US trip will be around the New York/Ithaca
> region this time.

There are a huge range of general field guides for North America but
the following two are what birders use most often:

"Nat Geo"
The National Geographic Field Guide to the BIrds of North America
A very competent and reliable guide.

The Sibley Guide to Birds"
An astonishingly good piece of work, you have to look pretty hard to
find a better bird field guide for any region on the planet. (Europe
has a better guide but I can't think of another.)

The Nat Geo was the standard guide amongst birders until Sibley was
published. From then on I think a lot of people started carrying both.
Well, Sibley gets left in the card more often as it is quite large
(roughly the size of Pizzey.) As you're going to be in the eastern
half of the continent exclusively you could also get the "Sibley Field
Guide to the Birds of Eastern North America". It's much smaller than
the full Sibley which is, people say, good and bad. Good because it's
easier to carry, bad because the details of the plates are harder to
see. I haven't used it so I can't say. Come to that, I probably should
get the east and west guides as I end up leaving Sibley here (where it
does no good) as the Nat Geo takes so much less space in the bag.

I don't know how much birding you've done in North America so I'll
offer a few general comments. Apologies in advance if they're too
basic! North America has a lot more hard to tell apart birds than we
do here. There's no harm in having multiple guides - and special topic
guides for bulls, warblers, etc., if you get interested. Both of the
guides I mentioned are widely available and affordable in the US and
you shouldn't have much trouble finding them in large book shops
(Borders, Barnes & Nobles, etc.). You'll also find a wide range of
other guides, including several photographic guides. If you find a
photographic guide that appeals, it might be worth picking up if
you're relatively new to North American birds. Few things are more
frustrating than a foreign field guide of plates that describes a bird
as "unmistakable" or "like a <<insert common bird you haven't a clue
about here>> only smaller and tends to cheat at cards". Even some of
the ducks are hard (they have a lot of ducks.) Image databases and
photographic guides can really help here, I've found.

If you have time, it would be worth finding out if there are any bird
club activities happening during your trip. In the context of a club
outing, US birders can be exceptionally helpful and tend to be excited
about overseas visitors. Canadians are always nice ;-)

I can't offer any suggestions specifically about upstate New York but
can say that the forests of the eastern North America are absolutely
gorgeous, and should be lovely (but possibly hot and humid) when you
go. If you're keen, it would be worth finding out if there are any
active beaver dams near where you're going. Beavers have a long
history of waxing and waning in North America based on human attitudes
and lately they've been waxing significantly. (When I was a kid, they
were virtually unheard of in a lot the east now they're becoming a
nuisance in some areas.) Even if you don't see a beaver, the dams and
their ponds are beyond impressive. (I never get get tired of visiting
beaver dams...but that might just be me.) The oak forests are also
typically teeming with squirrels, which is a treat.

Have a great trip!

 David Adams
 Wallaga Lake 2546 NSW

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