Bird Fact Friday – 50 Shades of Grouse

From page 9 of The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife:

For many species of grouse during courtship rituals, the male will act aggressively towards the female and treat her as a rival before responding to the female’s attempts to gradually encourage a more benign approach by behaving in a way that defuses the male’s attack response.

 
The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife
Christopher W. Leahy
Illustrations by Gordon Morrison

LeahyThe quintessential A-Z guide, this is a book that anyone interested in birds will want to have close at hand. First published more than twenty years ago, this highly respected reference volume has been fully revised and updated. It captures the fundamental details as well as the immense fascination of North American bird life in a style that is authoritative, yet fresh, witty, and eminently readable.

Both a practical handbook for amateurs and a handy reference for seasoned birders, it provides accounts of the basic elements of birdlife, as well as a wealth of easy-to-access information on such subjects as bird physiology and anatomy, terms and jargon, name definitions and etymology, and ornithological groupings.

Readers will discover everything from the color of a dipper’s eggs (glossy, white, and unmarked) to the number of species of woodpeckers in the world (216). They will also find more than one hundred of the best-known and most colorful colloquial names for birds, alphabetized and briefly defined. Collective nouns relating to birdlife–for example, “an exaltation of larks”–are included in the “Nouns of Assemblage” section. Biographical sketches of persons responsible for describing or naming a significant number of North American species are also included, as well as handsome and accurate illustrations by Gordon Morrison. And for those who want to go beyond reading about their favorite birds and take to the great outdoors, the book offers still more useful information: descriptive entries on a selection of the best-known birdwatching spots of North America.

Congratulations to Sean B. Carroll on an outstanding achievement

Carroll

Sean B. Carroll has earned The Rockefeller University’s Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science. He joins the ranks of such esteemed authors as Atul Gawande, E.O. Wilson, and many others. The much-deserved award honors him for an impressive body of work, including Brave Genius: A Scientist, A Philosopher and their Daring Adventures from the French Resistance to the Nobel Prize and Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo. We are proud to be publishing his next book, The Serengeti Rules: The Quest to Discover How Life Works and Why It Matters. Read on for a snippet from the book.

If you travel through the Serengeti, you’ll notice something odd. As you zip along in a dusty old Land Rover, your guide helpfully pointing out key elements of the surrounding flora and fauna, you’ll see vast herds of wildebeests existing in peaceful abundance. There’s nothing so very strange about that, but what is peculiar is that spotting a buffalo is a much rarer occurrence. Indeed, there are about 1,000,000 wildebeest populating the Serengeti, and only 60,000 buffalo. Why should that be?, you might wonder. At 450 kg, the buffalo is much less vulnerable to predation than the 170 kg wildebeest, after all. The answer can be found in The Serengeti Rules.

Wildebeest

Serengeti Rule 6
Migration increases animal numbers

Migration increases animal numbers by increasing access to food (reducing bottom-up regulation) and decreasing susceptibility to predation (reducing top-down regulation).

Why are there about 50 wildebeest for every 3 buffalo in the Serengeti? Because wildebeests are constantly on the move and the buffalo stays put.

The two major ways to regulate population are predation and food limitation. The wildebeest is on a constant 600-mile path moving during the wet season toward the green, nutritious, short-grass plains and then, as the plains dry out, toward the tall-grass savanna and woodlands, which receive more rainfall than the open plains. This is how they feed themselves. How the effects of predation are mitigated is a bit more complicated. There are actually two types of wildebeest in the Serengeti. These include the vast migratory herds and the smaller pockets of “resident” populations. The hyenas and lions that prey on wildebeests cannot follow the herds because they are restricted to their territories as they raise their young. They find their food mostly in the smaller sedentary populations of wildebeests while the active ones roam free. The buffalo, meanwhile, are restricted by their sedentary lifestyle in procuring enough food to flourish quite as spectacularly as the smaller wildebeest.

Migration, then, is … [an] ecological rule, or more aptly a rule-breaker, a way of exceeding the limits imposed by density-dependent regulation.

For the first five Serengeti Rules and much more information on their ramifications both large and small, pick up a copy of The Serengeti Rules by Sean B. Carroll, coming in March 2016.

Bird Fact Friday – City Birds

From page 132 of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors:

The Taiga Merlin, the most common type of Merlin, generally makes its home in the boreal forest out of earshot of the Bald Eagle. Recently, like a number of other raptors, it has begun adapting to humans and making its home in urban areas.

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors
Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, Brian Sullivan
Introduction

RaptorsPart of the revolutionary Crossley ID Guide series, this is the first raptor guide with lifelike scenes composed from multiple photographs—scenes that allow you to identify raptors just as the experts do. Experienced birders use the most easily observed and consistent characteristics—size, shape, behavior, probability, and general color patterns. The book’s 101 scenes—including thirty-five double-page layouts—provide a complete picture of how these features are all related. Even the effects of lighting and other real-world conditions are illustrated and explained. Detailed and succinct accounts from two of North America’s foremost raptor experts, Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan, stress the key identification features. This complete picture allows everyone from beginner to expert to understand and enjoy what he or she sees in the field. The mystique of bird identification is eliminated, allowing even novice birders to identify raptors quickly and simply.

Comprehensive and authoritative, the book covers all thirty-four of North America’s diurnal raptor species (all species except owls). Each species is featured in stunning color plates that show males and females, in a full spectrum of ages and color variants, depicted near and far, in flight and at rest, and from multiple angles, all caught in their typical habitats. There are also comparative, multispecies scenes and mystery photographs that allow readers to test their identification skills, along with answers and full explanations in the back of the book. In addition, the book features an introduction, and thirty-four color maps accompany the plates.

Whether you are a novice or an expert, this one-of-a-kind guide will show you an entirely new way to look at these spectacular birds.

Bird Fact Friday – Identifying males and females

From page 21 of Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia:

In family groups of geese and swans, you can easily differentiate between the father and mother. The father will stand slightly apart, staying alert for potential threats. The young stay close to the mother, frequently following her. When occasional conflicts break out, the males are more aggressive.

Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia
Sébastien Reeber

waterfowlThis is the ultimate guide for anyone who wants to identify the ducks, geese, and swans of North America, Europe, and Asia. With 72 stunning color plates (that include more than 920 drawings), over 650 superb photos, and in-depth descriptions, this book brings together the most current information on 84 species of Eurasian and North American waterfowl, and on more than 100 hybrids. The guide delves into taxonomy, identification features, determination of age and sex, geographic variations, measurements, voice, molt, and hybridization. In addition, the status of each species is treated with up-to-date details on distribution, population size, habitats, and life cycle. Color plates and photos are accompanied by informative captions and 85 distribution maps are also provided. Taken together, this is an unrivaled, must-have reference for any birder with an interest in the world’s waterfowl.

Bird Fact Friday – New Species

From page 197 of Birds of South America: Passerines:

Since November 2011, there have been six new species described by several authors that had not yet been accepted as valid by the South American Checklist Committee (SACC) by the publication of this book:

Roosevelt Stipple-Throated Antwren
Inambari Woodcreeper
Chico’s Tyrannulet
Sucunduri Yellow-Margined Flycatcher
Inambari Gnatcatcher
Campina Jay

As of January 10, the Inambari Woodcreeper is the only species of these six that has been accepted by the SACC.

Birds of South America: Passerines
Ber van Perlo

vanPerloThis comprehensive field guide to the birds of South America covers all 1,952 passerine species to be found south of Panama, including offshore islands such as Trinidad, the Galapagos, and the Falklands, and the islands of the Scotia Arc leading to the Antarctic mainland. It features 197 stunning color plates and detailed species accounts that describe key identification features, habitat, songs, and calls. All plumages for each species are illustrated, including males, females, and juveniles. This easy-to-use guide is the essential travel companion for experienced birdwatchers and novice birders alike.

Bird Fact Friday – Evolution

From page 14 of Better Birding:

Birds, like all animals, have evolved to take the best advantage of their environment. For example, the Northern Harrier glide and swoops low over fields and marshes, periodically flapping and hovering because that enables it to see the small rodents it preys on. Birds like wrens and rails are dark in plumage because they are most often found in dense habitats, the better to blend in with shadows. Species that make their home in the desert are often paler. The intuitive birder keeps these things in mind when looking for a specific species of bird out in the field.

Better Birding: Tips, Tools & Concepts for the Field
George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan
Introduction

Better BirdingBetter Birding reveals the techniques expert birders use to identify a wide array of bird species in the field—quickly and easily. Featuring hundreds of stunning photos and composite plates throughout, this book simplifies identification by organizing the birds you see into groupings and offering strategies specifically tailored to each group. Skill building focuses not just on traditional elements such as plumage, but also on creating a context around each bird, including habitat, behavior, and taxonomy—parts so integral to every bird’s identity but often glossed over by typical field guides. Critical background information is provided for each group, enabling you to approach bird identification with a wide-angle view, using your eyes, brain, and binoculars more strategically, resulting in a more organized approach to learning birds.

Stunning Species in Better Birding

Need a last minute gift for the budding birder on your list? Detailing tips and unveiling critical techniques, Better Birding: Tips, Tools, and Concepts for the Field by George L. Armistead and Brian L. Sullivan helps the novice bird watcher to transition into a sophisticated and well-informed birder. With hundreds of impressive photos and composite plates, Better Birding allows readers to efficiently organize and memorize various bird species that aid the identification and watching process. By learning the bird’s behaviors, taxonomy, and habitat, recognition is quicker and easier. This slideshow of stunning photos is simply a limited selection from this remarkable field guide.

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Juvenile Long-billed Curlew, UT, Jul (JL). Long-billed Curlew is big, long billed, and buffy cinnamon below, and it lacks crown stripes. Adults are similar year-round, and juveniles become adultlike over the first fall/winter. Age determination can be difficult and is best accomplished by focusing on the wing coverts: juveniles have dark-centered coverts with broad pale fringes, and adults have dark-barred coverts with a narrow central streak. Juveniles often tend to be whiter faced and shorter billed than adults.

Tundra Swans with White-fronted Geese, OR, Feb (BLS). Swans as a group are easily identified by their large size, white plumage, and long, graceful necks, but determining the species of swan can be a lot harder!

Male “Eastern” Purple Finch, CT, Oct (MS). Note extensively reddish coloration extending to underparts, flanks, back, and rump, and peaked crown. Note browner ear coverts with pinkish-red supercilium, and larger bill than on House Finch. Underparts have blurry streaks. Pacific males average browner below and have shorter primary projection, though individual birds out of range should be identified to subspecies with care: pay attention to songs and calls!

Juvenile Double-crested Cormorants, NJ, Oct (GLA). Juvenile cormorants are brownish, lacking the glossy iridescence and bright bare parts of adults; eyes are brownish, changing to blue green over the first two years. Juveniles of all species have uniformly fresh plumage, especially the upperwing coverts and flight feathers. Double-crested shows remarkable juvenile plumage variation, ranging from buffy to dark brown below, and from pale fringed to more adultlike above.

Eurasian Jackdaw, United Kingdom, Mar (AC). Eurasian Jackdaw is known from the ABA Area mainly from the 1980s, when several birds were scattered around the Northeast and the species actually bred in Pennsylvania. Since then there have been no records, and given how distinctive this species is, it seems unlikely to have gone overlooked.

Brown-morph Eastern Screech-Owl, FL, Jan (JG).

Tropical Kingbird, PA, Jun (GLA). Tropical Kingbirds are fairly common vagrants along the West Coast from midfall through winter, but on the Atlantic Coast they are much rarer, with only a few records, some from fall and a few from spring/summer. Note the large bill, short rounded wings, and long brown tail of the bird at left. The June bird can be safely aged as an adult male based on its notched outer primaries.

Nonbreeding Kittlitz’s Murrelet, AK, May (AJ). Breeding Kittlitz’s Murrelets vary in general appearance but usually lack the rusty tones of Marbled. Some are grayer, such as this bird, while some are spangled golden above. Nonbreeding birds are similar to Marbled though usually grayer above. Note the bold white face and very broad collar. Kittlitz’s can always be distinguished from Marbled based on its very short, thick bill, which appears to be stuck onto its fluffy white face.

Male Antillean Nighthawk, FL, Jul (LM). Antillean Nighthawk is sometimes very difficult if not impossible to distinguish from perched Common Nighthawk. In general, Antillean has a buffy belly and a contrastingly whiter breast, usually whitish scapulars, and pale gray tertials. Identification should be confirmed with voice.

Nighthawks all have very small bills and very big mouths. In contrast to other nightjars, nighthawks lack long rictal bristles (whiskers) around the bill, and this helps quickly distinguish a perched nighthawk from other nightjars

Flammulated Owl, AZ, May (BS) Like the screech-owls, Flammulated nests in tree cavities, and it readily takes to nest boxes. Unlike the screech-owls, Flammulated Owl is migratory, so vagrants do occur. The bird at right was at a migrant trap, and Flammulated has reached the Gulf Coast, Florida, and Texas on occasion.

Adult Trumpeter Swan and adult Tundra Swan. When both species occur together, size can be obvious, with Trumpeter being much larger.In addition to size, note the thicker, longer neck on Trumpeter, and facial skin details. Adults of both species, WA, Nov (BLS).

(right half of photo) Spectacled (left, SNGH) and Steller’s eiders (right, CLW) are true Alaska specialties. Structurally, Common Eider is larger and more heavily built, with a bigger head that is distinctly sloped. King Eider is more compact and likely to be brushed off as a scoter. The distant fl ock on this page shows a typical view of migrating Common Eiders, with adult males sticking out like a sore thumb among the females and immatures (BLS). (left half of photo) Birders typically see these species on breeding grounds, but at a few places, such as Gambell, these eiders can be seen on migration. Spectacled is large and robust,like Common Eider. Males are unmistakable, while females usually show enough of the “spectacle” pattern to be obvious.Steller’s Eider is smaller and more compact. Males are striking, but females are more likely to be confused. Look for the overall dark coloration, and the bold white borders on the speculum. The Surf Scoter fl ock above the horizon is meant to provide acomparison between the eiders and a species more familiar to most birders (BLS). (left half of photo) Eiders in flight. Common (left, CLW) and King eiders (right, GLA) are the two species most frequently encountered by birders, and they are often seen in flight at migration points.

Adult male Lapland Longspur, AK, June (GV). Male longspurs are striking, with flashy plumage and amazing breeding displays. They are easy to identify so this chapter focuses more on nonbreeding males, females, and immatures, which are drabber overall, clad in buff, brown, black, and white, and make for a real identification challenge. In addition to plumage details, shape and voice provide helpful identification clues.

George L. Armistead is events coordinator at the American Birding Association and a research associate in the Ornithology Department at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He has led birding tours on all seven continents. Brian L. Sullivan is eBird program codirector and photographic editor for Birds of North America Online at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is the author of numerous papers on bird identification and the coauthor of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors and Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast (both Princeton).

Bird Fact Friday – The migratory habits of the Peregrine Falcon

From page 85 of Hawks from Every Angle:

Peregrine Falcons often travel great distances on migration. Their name originates from the word peregrinate, which means “to wander.” Individual peregrines have been tracked from Alaska to South America and across the Atlantic from the Florida Keys.

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight
Jerry Liguori

LiguoriIdentifying hawks in flight is a tricky business. Across North America, tens of thousands of people gather every spring and fall at more than one thousand known hawk migration sites—from New Jersey’s Cape May to California’s Golden Gate. Yet, as many discover, a standard field guide, with its emphasis on plumage, is often of little help in identifying those raptors soaring, gliding, or flapping far, far away.

Hawks from Every Angle takes hawk identification to new heights. It offers a fresh approach that literally looks at the birds from every angle, compares and contrasts deceptively similar species, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field. Jerry Liguori pinpoints innovative, field-tested identification traits for each species from the various angles that they are seen.

Featuring 339 striking color photos on 68 color plates and 32 black & white photos, Hawks from Every Angle is unique in presenting a host of meticulously crafted pictures for each of the 19 species it covers in detail—the species most common to migration sites throughout the United States and Canada. All aspects of raptor identification are discussed, including plumage, shape, and flight style traits.

For all birders who follow hawk migration and have found themselves wondering if the raptor in the sky matches the one in the guide, Hawks from Every Angle—distilling an expert’s years of experience for the first time into a comprehensive array of truly useful photos and other pointers for each species—is quite simply a must.

Bird Fact Friday – Bergmann’s Rule

From page 51 of The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife:

A nineteenth-century German zoologist observed that overall body size tends to be greater in representatives of bird and mammal species living permanently in cooler climates than in those living in warmer climates because large bodies retain heat more effectively than smaller ones.

The Birdwatcher’s Companion to North American Birdlife
Christopher W. Leahy

LeahyThe quintessential A-Z guide, this is a book that anyone interested in birds will want to have close at hand. First published more than twenty years ago, this highly respected reference volume has been fully revised and updated. It captures the fundamental details as well as the immense fascination of North American bird life in a style that is authoritative, yet fresh, witty, and eminently readable.

Both a practical handbook for amateurs and a handy reference for seasoned birders, it provides accounts of the basic elements of birdlife, as well as a wealth of easy-to-access information on such subjects as bird physiology and anatomy, terms and jargon, name definitions and etymology, and ornithological groupings.

Readers will discover everything from the color of a dipper’s eggs (glossy, white, and unmarked) to the number of species of woodpeckers in the world (216). They will also find more than one hundred of the best-known and most colorful colloquial names for birds, alphabetized and briefly defined. Collective nouns relating to birdlife–for example, “an exaltation of larks”–are included in the “Nouns of Assemblage” section. Biographical sketches of persons responsible for describing or naming a significant number of North American species are also included, as well as handsome and accurate illustrations by Gordon Morrison. And for those who want to go beyond reading about their favorite birds and take to the great outdoors, the book offers still more useful information: descriptive entries on a selection of the best-known birdwatching spots of North America.

Conversations on Climate: How geoengineering has been used in the past

PlanetIn The Planet Remade, Oliver Morton argues that geoengineering, the process by which Earth’s systems are manipulated, can be used in a positive way to address the problems caused by man-made climate change. Geoengineering is nothing new. Chapter 7 of The Planet Remade describes how it was used in the twentieth century to feed a growing population. A summary:

At the end of the nineteenth century it became apparent that the yield of wheat would soon fall short of the demand. Sir William Crookes, one of the leading chemists of the time, gave a speech in 1898 on the subject. The number of people who wanted to eat wheat was increasing, but by that point there was no more land on which to grow it. The solution? Increasing the amount of nitrogen in the soil to increase the amount of wheat that a given parcel of land could yield. If this wasn’t done, Crookes warned, the world would face starvation.

Nitrogen was fixed on as the key to a solution because it is a necessary component of photosynthesis. It exists in the air we breathe in the inert form of two identical atoms attached to one another. In order to aid in sustaining life, it must be detached and fixed to some other element. This happens when bacteria in plants twist nitrogen molecules and insert hydrogen molecules into the resulting spaces, turning the nitrogen into ammonia. Later, the nitrogen is returned to its inert form. The process by which nitrogen is fixed and then unfixed makes up the nitrogen cycle. As this process has proceeded uninterrupted by humans for billions of years, it has been one component in supporting increasingly more complex life forms on Earth.

Crookes was hopeful that the problem could be solved. He called on scientists to figure out a way to fix nitrogen industrially. Fritz Haber, a professor at the University of Freiburg, rose to the challenge. He and his laboratory technicians created a process by which fixed nitrogen was created by passing a continuous stream of nitrogen and hydrogen over a hot catalyst at very high pressure. His colleague Carl Bosch scaled the process up so that it could be used on an industrial scale. The process was quickly adopted globally to produce more food. By the end of the 1960s, the amount of nitrogen fixed by the Haber-Bosch process exceeded that fixed by all the microbes in the world’s soil. Both men won the Nobel Prize for their efforts. Their discoveries have had profound implications beyond the world of agriculture.

The problem identified by Crookes had been solved, but at a cost. One cost can be seen in the Gulf of Mexico every summer. Between the 1960s and 1990s, the flow of nitrogen out of America’s heartland, through the Mississippi and into the Gulf has doubled. This abundant supply of nitrogen makes ideal food for photosynthetic algae to flourish, resulting in colossal algal blooms. As they decompose, they consume all the oxygen in the water, leaving none to support other life forms. As a result, large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico become dead zones every summer.

Does this episode in history prove that humans can’t be trusted with geoengineering? Or can it be used more responsibly in the future to address the challenge of climate change? To answer that question, check out The Planet Remade here.

Armistead and Sullivan on the unique joy of (better) birding

Better Birding jacketThe more one knows about birding, the more enjoyable it becomes, say Better Birding authors George L. Armistead of the American Birding Association and Brian L. Sullivan of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  Armistead and Sullivan simplify identification strategies, and provide techniques and tips to make the birding experience as comprehensive—and enamoring—as possible.

For many, birding can grow into an emotional and even spiritual endeavor. Birding is also like a puzzle, according to Armistead and Sullivan, because it takes consideration and knowledge of several working elements that ultimately link to one another. In this interview, Armistead and Sullivan explore the joy, fulfillment, and practices involved in better birding.

How is that someone ends up becoming a birder? How is it that you both ended up as bird-watchers, or “birders”, if you prefer?

GA: I come by it honestly. My father is a lifelong birder, and though he never met either of his grandfathers, both of them had a keen interest in nature and birds. Seems hard-wired in our family. I think most birders have a natural inclination to being outside, and are curious people with a thirst to know more. Often it seems through a hunger to discover more about the world around you, you stumble across someone else that mentors you, catapulting you forward in your quest to learn, and it’s a positive feedback loop. It’s kind of addictive. The more you know, the more you want to know. It’s fun, thrilling, yet relaxing too.

BS: I had a passion for birds as a child, and my parents really nurtured that by taking me to places such as Hawk Mountain and Cape May, where I fell in love with hawk migration. Being outside at these places really opened my eyes to the world around me. Once I realized what was possible, I was hooked. The idea of all these birds moving across the landscape twice a year fascinated me, and all I wanted to do was get outside and see what had arrived each day. For a kid, it was like living in a perpetual Christmas morning. I still feel that way every time I go birding.

What exactly is Better Birding? How is this book meant to help readers get more out of their time spent looking at birds? And why is that important?

GA & BS: More than anything, birding is supposed to be fun. Why it’s important to anyone in particular is personal, as there are so many different ways to enjoy observing birds. We’d refer readers to the section in the introduction titled “Why Birding is Cool” to try and understand what birders get out of the experience. We’ve taken a good hard look at the practices and the techniques involved in active birding in this book, and we’ve tried to distill those processes into digestible bits wrapped around the fun aspects of learning how to identify certain groups of birds. While that may sound “serious”, what we really hope to do is provide folks a deeper understanding of what they are seeing when they are in the field, and hopefully provide avenues for exploration. Most of us start out trying to snag sightings of life birds (birds we’ve never seen before), and as we discuss listing as a deeply ingrained part of birding. But after a while most of us find a desire cropping up to understand not just what birds looks like, but also how they evolved, how they are related, and why they do what they do. And the cool thing is that as you learn these things, suddenly bird identification becomes a lot easier.

In Better Birding you discuss a “wide angle approach” to birding. Explain to us what you mean by that?

GA & BS: Routinely, new birders are presented with a single bird that intrigues or puzzles them. What usually happens next is that they focus in on what the bird looks like. Naturally, they zoom in as far as possible to try and see as much of the bird as they can, in excruciating detail, and so often we are drawn to color and plumage. And this approach makes sense—it underpins the oldest approaches to bird identification going back to the original Peterson Guide. But often if we zoom out just a little bit we see a lot more. We see the bird’s surroundings, and the habitat it has chosen. We see how it moves and feeds. We see that its lurking in the shadows, or prominently perched in the sun, or always in the air, and this is useful information. If we can see and understand what a bird is doing, that can often be more instructive than how it appears. Zooming out further, we look at the date and the season, which are also really helpful things to consider when trying to determine the likelihood of a particular species’ occurrence in a place. A bird’s appearance is the starting point, but many times it’s other factors that solidify an identification. Mostly due to space constraints, typical field guides don’t provide this context.

Do either of you have a favorite bird?

GA: Yes, this is the question that all birders are asked. Some folks have a ready answer, but I’ve never been able to settle upon one. It’s like picking a favorite song, or a favorite beer; there are so many great ones to choose from! Like Brian, I’m very fond of seabirds. They are so dynamic in the air, with sharp, streamlined shapes. I remember being stranded at a dock in Mexico once for several hours and I was never bored watching the Magnificent Frigatebirds kiting around. Birds like Black-capped Petrel, Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel, Northern Fulmar and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross are extremely gratifying to watch. Seabirds aside, one of the most beautiful moments I have ever witnessed was watching a male Spruce Grouse courting a female outside of Churchill, Manitoba. It was simply incredible, deeply moving, and affected me in an almost spiritual way. And this from the bird often known as the “fool hen”; arguably the dumbest bird in North America.

BS: For me it’s always been raptors, with seabirds a close second. My fascination with both groups stems from a love of bird migration. Watching raptors move south down a windswept ridge in fall for me is a ‘religious experience’—it’s what I do to get recharged, to become filled with a sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world that can somehow get lost with too many days spent behind a computer. It’s a primal connection that I can’t quite describe. In terms of particular species, I’ve come to appreciate most the Red-tailed Hawk. Although widespread and common, it has a bewildering array of plumages, a fascinating range of geographic variation, and an unbending wildness about it. I like that anyone can go out and see one on any given day just about anywhere around North America, and if they so choose, they can ask themselves more questions about it. What age is it? What subspecies is it? What color morph is it? Asking oneself questions like this is a perfect example of the process of thinking about birds at a higher level—and Red-tailed Hawk is a perfect subject for it.

What qualities make for a good birder?

BS: I think in a nutshell, the single best thing that a good birder learns is the process of extracting what they are actually seeing from what they’d like to see. The power of suggestion is high in birding, and emotions can run deep around the idea of seeing new birds. The best birders not only rapidly assess what they are seeing and put it into a broader context (the tools you’ll learn in this book), but they also take an extra moment to step back, extract themselves from the emotional side of the moment, and then objectively evaluate what they are actually seeing (the process we hope you learn from this book!). Taking this extra step often reveals that what was originally suspected of being a rare bird, is actually just a common bird in an unusual pose, behavior, or plumage.

GA: Patience, dedication and the ability to embrace uncertainty. One of the fun things about birding is that it is a puzzle. Identification is gratifying in that we get to look at something confusing or uncertain, makes sense of it, and give it a name. The more you are able to do this, the more fun it becomes. People do get overzealous about it at times, and knowing how and when to say, “I’m not sure”, is important. Good birders know when to let stuff go. They understand the limits imposed on them by their surroundings (such as light, visibility, wind, etc.) and also understand the limits of their field skills. Really, it’s all about awareness which is why good birders tend to be pretty interesting people. They are alert and attuned to what’s going.

George L. Armistead is events coordinator at the American Birding Association and a research associate in the Ornithology Department at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University. He has led birding tours on all seven continents. Brian L. Sullivan is eBird program codirector and photographic editor for Birds of North America Online at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. He is the author of numerous papers on bird identification and the coauthor of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors and Offshore Sea Life ID Guide: West Coast (both Princeton).

United Nations Conference on Climate Change: Reading Roundup #COP21

For the next two weeks, representatives from countries around the world will be meeting in Paris to discuss nothing less than the future of our planet at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Climate change is one of the most important issues facing the world today, and it behooves all of us to educate ourselves. PUP publishes a number of titles that have the information you need to understand the repercussions of climate change, and make informed choices that will promote sustainability. Browse many of them below, and be sure to take advantage of the free chapters and/or introductions that we have posted on our website. For the next two weeks, check back here to follow our Conversations on Climate blog series, including posts from Victor Olgyay and Gernot Wagner.

Morris Foragers, Farmers, and Fossil Fuels
Ian Morris
Chapter 1
Climate Climate Shock
Gernot Wagner & Martin L. Weitzman
Chapter 1
 Life Life on a Young Planet
Andrew H. Knoll
Chapter 1
 Medea The Medea Hypothesis
Peter Ward
Chapter 1
 Sun The Sun’s Influence On Climate
Joanna D. Haigh & Peter Cargill
Chapter 1
 Worst The Worst of Times
Paul B. Wignall
Chapter 1
 Extinction Extinction
Douglas H. Erwin
Chapter 1
Tambora Tambora
Gillen D’Arcy Wood
Introduction
 Design Design With Climate
Victor Olgyay
Chapter 1
 Planet The Planet Remade
Oliver Morton
Introduction
 Ocean The Great Ocean Conveyor
Wally Broecker
Chapter 1
 Rules The Serengeti Rules
Sean B. Carroll