A Q&A with Richard Crossley

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors is literally shipping today from our warehouse to retailers all over the world. It seems like an opportune time to get Richard Crossley’s thoughts on the response so far to the Crossley ID Guide series, the decision to publish a guide to raptors, and what’s next on the horizon for this popular series. Happily, Richard took a short break from his hefty travel schedule (he was in Seattle last week, Massachusetts Audubon this week to talk about the Crossley books) to answer a few questions:

 

RichardPUP: The Raptors guide is the second in the popular The Crossley ID Guide series. We published the Eastern Birds in 2011. What was the response like to the Eastern Birds guide? Did anything surprise you?

Crossley: The response has been everything I hoped for. No real surprises.

PUP: You’ve been traveling a lot to talk about The Crossley ID Guide. What has the response been from birders?

Crossley: Mixed. Most love it, but some are finding old habits die hard. The Peterson system was a game changer in its day and some people have spent their whole life looking at a sideways bird on a white piece of paper with an arrow pointing at one of the bird’s features. But I’ve always thought we can do better so I challenge readers with complex scenes with multiple birds at different angles, realistic backgrounds, and no arrows. To change a lifetime habit will take time, but my book is based on an understanding of how the mind works and how we learn. Using modern technology we can make images more lifelike, complete, and understandable. For the expert who already has a wealth of knowledge, some of these things are not as vital as for the beginner, but my system is designed around how we learn everything else and it will work for almost everyone.

combo coversPUP: Why did you decide to publish the Raptors guide next?

Crossley: Because it only covers North American raptors it offers a nice contrast to The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. Because there are fewer species to cover, we can include lots of panoramic double page spreads and each species gets several pages of coverage. While both books have the same in-focus scenes, the additional space really demonstrates the flexibility of this style of imagery and how lifelike scenes are more engaging and informative. Plus we can include lots questions and other thought-provoking things to interest the viewer. The Eastern Birds book introduced the Crossley ID Guides to the world, and the Raptors guide really shows how powerful and beautiful this system of learning can be.

PUP: The plates in the Raptors guide are phenomenal. Do you have a personal favorite? Which raptor was the most difficult to photograph?

Crossley: Thank you. There are lots of plates I really like—you would hope so since I designed them! The one I get the most feedback on is the double page American Kestrel plate—it catches the eye for most people. As a ‘designer’ it is always interesting to try and work out why something is so popular.

1 - kestrel

As for the most difficult to photograph, my stock answer is the one I wasn’t able to get. Thankfully Jerry and Brian have fantastic collections of images that made ‘Raptors’ a relatively easy project.

PUP: That brings up another question. The Eastern Birds was a single authored project. For the Raptors guide you are collaborating with co-authors Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan. What was that like?

Crossley: Jerry and Brian are two of the best. Jerry has published several highly acclaimed Raptor books and Brian is a well-known photographer and project manager for eBird. I have known both since the 1980’s—scary how time flies—so there were not a lot of surprises. They handled nearly all the writing and Crossley Books handled the visual side of things. They did a great job. They were asked “to be the bird” for the introductory section of the species accounts and these accounts may well be the highlight of the book. They really give you a fantastic sense of each species’ personality and lifestyle.

PUP: You shot the majority of the photos in the book and they are beautiful. Do you have any special tips or tricks to photograph raptors?

Crossley: Shooting Raptors is the same as for other birds. I am a big fan of travelling light and I always have my camera ready so that when the moment comes it is as simple as point and shoot. The moment often comes when you are not expecting it. The question is, “are you ready for that moment,” because you will never have it again.

PUP: Fans of the Shorebird guide will be pleasantly surprised to find you’ve included mystery plates in the Raptors guide. What was behind that decision?

Crossley: The Crossley ID Guides will always be about inspiring people to understand and relate to nature. Giving people a quick-fix answer is not the goal. The more we look, the more we learn! Questions are the key to understanding because they make us look, see, and ultimately, understand. This is how we learn. People love working out puzzles because they are fun and because they help us improve at whatever we do. The sense of accomplishment and understanding that come from figuring out the answer for ourselves is a powerful aphrodisiac for nature.

PUP: Many of the plates show birds from odd angles—above, below, behind—or in less than ideal lighting situations. Why did you choose to include these plates?

011-early-morning-light-mystery

Crossley: Nature occurs at odd angles and in varying light. The goal of The Crossley ID Guide is to make the images so lifelike that when you see a bird in the field, it matches what you have seen before in the book.

Research shows us that the mind is very good at working things out. The problem comes when we don’t tell the whole story. It is important to show everyone—particularly beginners—the complete picture so they can work it out and understand what they are seeing. If you’ve only seen one image of a bird standing still, looking to the right, and painted in full color, how will this help you identify a bird flying overhead at dusk? The same goes for plumages. So-called “beginner books” often show birds in their brightest breeding plumage and the dullest nonbreeding plumage without showing them in transition between. This is a great way to confuse the reader.

PUP: Speaking of “beginners”, you’ve recently co-founded a new initiative, Pledge to Fledge. Can you tell us a bit about that and where The Crossley ID Guide and books like it fit in?

Crossley: The goal with everything I do these days is to popularize nature, the outdoors and a healthier lifestyle. Ultimately, getting more people involved in birding and nature will result in positive impacts for conservation. Pledge to Fledge is a global birding initiative for birdwatchers to introduce a friend, family member, an associate, or anyone they know to birding. Organisations are encouraged to do it on a larger scale, too. By fledging a birder, taking the ‘pledge’ on the Pledge to Fledge web site (www.pledgetofledge.org), and sharing your stories globally through social media, birdwatchers around the world can help grow birding. We invite everyone to take part in April and August. Pledge to Fledge is an organization for us all to come together and make a difference.

The Crossley ID Guide series is part of this popularization because the books make birds and nature accessible, too. With the publication of The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland, we’re taking this message to a global audience, and while we don’t have additional plans for international guides at this time, the opportunities for places such as China are very exciting.

PUP: You’ve mentioned the Britain and Ireland guide, so that brings me to the million dollar question. What else is coming down the pike and will you publish other books on specific groups of birds?

Crossley: There are a number of books in The Crossley ID Guide series that are close to completion. A complete guide for Britain and Ireland will come out this November. That will be closely followed by a guide to Waterfowl and then a major guide to Western Birds of North America. We hope to have both of those books out in 2014 and have additional projects planned after that. Fun times but some sleep would be nice!

PUP: Last question, I promise. Who is the audience for the Raptors guide? How do you hope people will use it?

Crossley: Given the previous answers, I hope everyone will recognize it is for you. It is for people who love the beautiful outdoors. And, of course, it is for people who enjoy birds; who want to know their personalities and how they feed and behave; and who want to connect in a way that is different to other published Raptor guides. If you want to identify, age and sex birds, we believe it is the best. The mystery photos are suitable for beginners and intermediate birders. There is something for everyone.

Birding for me is a voyage of discovery that is exciting. I always wish discovery to be at the heart our books. Hopefully, this will prove to be a book that everyone enjoys for some reason, even if they didn’t expect to. Well, that is my dream…..

PUP: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.

 

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