Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide by Richard Crossley

The Red-bellied Woodpecker is badly named, Richard Crossley admits on page 295 in his new Crossley ID Guide. The red on its belly is "barely noticeable." Such an admission seems rare for a bird expert, but Crossley seems more realistic in his expectations of birders. He also seems willing to try something new to help them, which is apparent looking at his new guide. Right off the bat I noticed that the parade of birds does not start with the Common Loon. Crossley groups birds more by habitats and behaviors, and the loon does not appear until page 84.

The biggest and most obvious radical departure is the way Crossley illustrates the birds. Most bird guides have drawings or paintings of birds isolated from their natural surrounding or close photographs that eliminate most of the background. The birds in these pages are very easy to see, but birds in the wild are rarely so cooperative. To model what he has seen in the wild, Crossley has taken samples from his vast collection of photographs and combined them to create highly-populated illustrations that may have dozens of images of a species in a single picture. The guidebook user finds, for instance, over thirty Red-breasted Mergansers in the picture on page 77. There are a female and male clearly visible on the water in the foreground and others young and mature birds diminishing in perspective back on the water to the distant marsh grasses. There are also birds flying near and far. Some are hardly identifiable, but that's the point. They are how you will really see them.

I notice the word "bird" is not on the title page anywhere, but on the cover are the words "Eastern Birds." I also notice the Pinyon Jay and the Clark's Nutcracker on page 307, both very western birds. 640 species are included. Maybe there is an eastern tilt.

The Crossley ID Guide is flexible and opens easily, but it seems a bit large for carrying into the field. Casual birders may not be willing to lug the guide, but dedicated students will adapt by using a big-enough pack. Its size might also encourage staking out good birding spot and less hiking about. It might be nicely kept at a sheltered blind. Public libraries with local bird enthusiasts will want a copy.

Crossley, Richard. The Crossley ID Guide. Princeton University Press, 2011. ISBN 9780691147789.

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