Thursday, November 20, 2014

The birder's Bible: A review of the Peterson Field Guide

A lot of birders (including me) are prone to obsess over a field guide that a lot of people will call "the birder's Bible." And I can see why birders would call it that: It's as close to modern field guide perfection as you can get.

"Wait," you proclaim suddenly, annoyingly interrupting my monologuing. "Who the heck is that Peter Tory Rogerson guy?" First of all, its Roger Tory Peterson. Second of all, if you know anything about birding history, you know that Peterson was the founder of the modern field guide - pretty important, when you think about it. I mean, without him, the bird guide's evolution would've happened a whole lot slower! But I'll monologue about that later, and in a different post. First and foremost, this post is here to tell you why I (and so many other birders) choose the Peterson.

Probably the most prominent thing you'll find when you open the book to any page is that almost all of the birds on that page, or plate, are in the exact same position. Why aren't they in their natural positions, you ask? It's because even though Peterson painted birds the way he saw them, he took those drawings and made them pose the same way so that you could compare the birds more easily! Isn't it hard when you look in a bird book and almost every page only has one or two species on it? That makes it really hard to compare species, especially warblers. Roger Peterson took a totally different approach. Instead of doing the above said, he put a lot of related species on the same page so comparing would be made much easier. And, since a lot of the fall warblers look the same, he even made a few pages that compare fall warblers! Wasn't that nice of him?

Another thing most people will agree with me on is that the page layout is awesome: On every page, it's descriptions on the left and paintings on the right. None of this hey-let's-fit-literally-everything-about-this-species-on-the-same-page stuff. I hate that. But the Peterson nails it (unsurprisingly).

The descriptions on the left page are pretty good,too. Not too long, but not too brief, either. The order goes like this: First, the most prominent feature of the bird, then a visual description. Maybe a short note about behavior. He describes the voice with unintentionally silly-sounding pronunciations, like the white-breasted nuthatch's call: "Song a rapid series of slow, nasal, whistled notes on one pitch: whi, whi, whi, whi, whi, whi or who, who, who, etc." Then he notes some similar species (if there are any) and the habitat which the bird if found in most often. It sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. It fits into a 7-10 short-sentenced paragraph.

One of the most useful features I find in it is the life list. Here's a tip for (birding) life: Always keep a life list. A life list is simply all the birds you've seen and/or heard in your life. The Peterson comes fully equipped with a list of birds in the book (and some not found in it, too) There's a space next to each species where you can put a check mark.

The only non-positive things I have to say about it are that the golden lettering on the cover seems to wear off easily, and if you're an avid birder like me, the cover starts to rip at the edges. Instead of letting that happen and ending up with a faceless, ugly field guide that looks like it's from the eighties or it was given to a baby, reenforce the binding with some tape. Not a lot, though. I used it on mine and it hasn't fallen apart yet.

So I have a challenge: If you can find a bird guide that's better in any way, comment (if you can even find one). 

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