The making of a field guide in Ecuador: an interview with Nick Athanas and Paul Greenfield

birds of western ecuador athanas jacketIn Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide, Nick Athanas and Paul Greenfield provide a practical field guide for birders wanting to explore the region. Filled with bright and beautiful photographs, their extensively researched and photographed volume is a striking guide for the area’s birds, with nearly every species in Western Ecuador included. Recently, both authors agreed to answer some questions about their personal passions for the project.

Why did you want to write Birds of Western Ecuador?

NA: I had been photographing birds in South America for about ten years, and had built up a sizable collection of nice images. I wanted to do something useful with them. Since I am also a birder and a birding tour guide based in Ecuador, a field guide to the region was an obvious project to think about. Iain Campbell, longtime friend and business partner, was working on a photographic guide for Australia, and encouraged us to do it; he put us in contact with Robert Kirk at Princeton University Press.

PG: Ecuador is a huge country in terms of bird species diversity, and with the advent of digital photography, actually capturing nice images of much of its avifauna made doing such a project a viable possibility. When the project was first presented to me by Nick and Iain, I hesitated a bit, only because I had already spent over 20 years working on the painted illustrations of the Birds of Ecuador, but after looking over some of the proposed shots, the idea of presenting a photographic testimonial to the Ecuador’s rich birdlife instantly became very attractive.

What is your target audience?

NA & PG: Our book targets English-speaking birders visiting western Ecuador, either on their own or on an organized tour. We assumed no previous birding experience in the Neotropics. However, the guide will be useful and inspiring for anyone with an interest in the birds of the region, even those with a lot of experience birding the Neotropicals. We excluded photos of some species that are very rare visitors to the region in order make the book smaller and more user-friendly, but it will have everything most visiting birders will see on a typical trip to western Ecuador. The excluded species are also usually mentioned in the text so that readers are aware of them. While not specifically designed for it, the guide also covers the vast majority of birds occurring in southwestern Colombia and northwestern Peru.

So this is a real field guide, and not just a collection of pretty bird photos?

NA & PG: Absolutely, this is a field guide. It was designed to help identify birds. The photos were chosen to show the relevant field marks, the text is extensive and helps to distinguish between similar species, and the range maps are completely new and based on up to date sighting information. Text, species accounts, and maps are all laid out side-by-side and everything is indexed.

Do you believe photographs can be as effective as paintings in a field guide?

NA: With good photos and clear text, I really do believe that. It would have been impossible even just five years ago. With the amazing recent technological advances in digital cameras, it is now possible to get great shots of shy rainforest species in natural light that were impossible before. The better gear also has led to an explosion in interest in wildlife photography, so there are a lot more people out there shooting bird photos. There are now good images available of the vast majority of the world’s bird species. A clear, sharp photo can show a bird’s important field marks at least as well as a good painting, and can even reveal features that other field guides might overlook.

PG: Having experience with both bird photography and painting, I believe that each presents effective, but slightly different strengths for illustrating field guides. Bird painting, with its respective pros and cons, can be quite effective—through hardly noticeable distortions—in presenting field marks from above and below a bird at the same time, as well as creating a sense of wondrous anticipation in the viewer. Bird photography presents the ‘real’ image of the actual species—it brings in the element of reality with ‘real-time’ accuracy when it comes to field-marks, ‘attitude’ and expression.

Were you able to get all the photos you needed?

NA & PG: All but a few. There were two species that we could not find any photos which were of high enough quality to publish: Berlepsh’s Tinamou and Colombian Crake. There were a few species where we could not find photos of one of the sexes. There are also a few of marginal quality, but in general we are extremely happy with the selection of photos. About half the photos are Nick’s, but we also invested a huge amount of time looking for other photos and contacting dozens of talented photographers. In the end, over 70 photographers contributed shots to Birds of Western Ecuador. It includes images of nearly 950 species. To put that in perspective, that’s more bird species than are found in all of the continental US.

This guide only covers half of Ecuador. Why?

NA & PG: We did not think we had the photos to do the entire country, nor did I we think we would be able to get them in the few years we had to write this book. Eastern Ecuador has significantly more species, and many of them are rainforest birds that are extremely hard to find and see, never mind photograph. Western Ecuador was a manageable starting place, and even still it was a far larger project than we anticipated.

Will you write a companion volume?

NA & PG: If this book is well-received, and if PUP is interested, we’d like to write another volume. It could be for eastern Ecuador, or possibly for the whole country. Most of Ecuador’s birds are in the East, so including everything won’t make the book proportionally that much larger. I think that in the years that have passed since we started Birds of Western Ecuador, many more species have been photographed, so that we should be able to obtain nice shots of almost all of Ecuador’s birds by the time a companion volume is finished.

Some people may see all these photos of amazingly colorful birds and be inspired to visit. When is the best time of year?

NA & PG: Come any time! We go out birding any month of the year and always find great birds. June-September are usually the driest months, and January to May are usually the wettest months. A lot of people like to visit the Northwest in the intermediate months of October-November since some rain is good for activity but it usually isn’t too much. January in the Southwest is usually great because the rains are just starting, the birds are singing, but the trees still haven’t leafed out much so the birds are easier to spot and enjoy. But really, if you can only come at a certain time, by all means do so.

Do you have a favorite bird?

NA: I have many! Hard to pick favorites when there are so many amazing choices. One of them, however, is definitely the Velvet-purple Coronet that went on the cover. It’s such a uniquely-colored hummer and its shimmering hues change depending on the angle and the lighting conditions.

PG: I have always said that my favorite bird is the one I am looking at ‘right now’, and I believe that’s really true. I especially get a kick out of remembering the circumstances when I first saw a species, each time I see it again; but how can you not go nuts with tanagers, hummingbirds, trogons, cotingas, antbirds, toucans… well all of them!

Nick Athanas is cofounder of the tour company Tropical Birding. He leads bird tours throughout the Neotropics and has photographed more than 2,500 bird species. Paul J. Greenfield is a longtime resident of Ecuador, where he leads bird tours and is active in bird conservation. He is the coauthor and illustrator of The Birds of Ecuador. Together they have written Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide.

Bird Fact Friday – Is the Mute Swan silent?

From page 284 of Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia:

The Mute Swan is not mute at all. Its most frequent call is a wee-rrrr or wiingrr-iew with a high-pitched second syllable. It will also make an in-rrr sound accompanied with strong hissing in aggression. In flight, the wings produce a whistling sound, typical of the species.

Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia: An Identification Guide 
Sébastien Reeber

ReeberThis 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 – Southern Africa: A Birder’s Paradise

From page 10 of Birds of Southern Africa:

Southern Africa encompasses Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, and southern and central Mozambique, as well as oceanic waters within 200 nautical miles of the coast. In total it covers a land area of approximately 3.5 million square kilometers and has incredible diversity in its bird life. More birds breed in Southern Africa than in the United States and Canada combined. Currently, there are 951 known species, 144 of which are endemic or near-endemic. One of the reasons for this high bird diversity is the region’s climatic and topographical diversity. The climate ranges from cool-temperate in the southwest to hot and tropical in the north.

Birds of Southern Africa Fourth Edition 
Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, Warwick Tarboton & Peter Ryan
Africa

 

Birds of Southern Africa continues to be the best and most authoritative guide to the bird species of this remarkable region. This fully revised edition covers all birds found in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and southern Mozambique. The 213 dazzling color plates depict more than 950 species and are accompanied by more than 950 color maps and detailed facing text.

This edition includes new identification information on behavior and habitat, updated taxonomy, additional artwork, improved raptor and wader plates with flight images for each species, up-to-date distribution maps reflecting resident and migrant species, and calendar bars indicating occurrence throughout the year and breeding months.

Bird Fact Friday – Why do birds hybridize?

From page 26-27 of Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia:

Birds mate with other birds of different species in the wild for several reasons. Usually there is genetic closeness, since if the parent genomes’ are too distant offspring will be sterile or unviable. Birds with different courtship rituals, breeding times, or habitats usually won’t mate, unless geographic restrictions are lifted (such as in captivity) when it becomes more common. Sometimes hybridization occurs because of interspecific parasitism, which leads some species of ducks to lay a portion of their eggs in the nests of other species. This can produce an imprinting phenomenon in the female of the host species, affecting the choice of sexual partners later in life. Other causes of hybridization are described in Waterfowl of North America, Europe & Asia.

Waterfowl of North America, Europe, and Asia
An Identification Guide
Sébastien Reeber

ReeberThis 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 – Birds of the Galápagos

From page 21 of Wildlife of the Galápagos:

Darwin’s finches have become a distinguishing characteristic of the Galápagos Islands, and it’s no wonder! There are only about 60 resident species of birds on the Galápagos Islands, and 13 of them are finches. This makes identification a fun challenge for the amateur birder.

Wildlife of the Galápagos
Second Edition
Julian Fitter, Daniel Fitter, and David Hosking
Introduction

GalapagosSince its first publication more than a decade ago, Wildlife of the Galápagos has become the definitive, classic field guide to the natural splendors of this amazing part of the world. Now fully updated, this essential and comprehensive guide has been expanded to include the more than 400 commonly seen birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and plants, and other coastal and marine life of this wondrous archipelago. Over 650 stunning color photographs, maps, and drawings are accompanied by accessible, descriptive text. This new edition includes information about all the common fish of the region and Spanish names are featured for the first time. There is also a revised section that discusses the islands’ history, climate, geology, and conservation, with the most current details on visitor sites.

This is the perfect portable companion for all nature enthusiasts interested in the astounding Galápagos.

• Covers 400+ commonly seen species, including birds, mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and plants, and other coastal and marine life
• Illustrated with over 650 color photographs, maps, and drawings
• Includes maps of visitor sites
• Written by wildlife experts with extensive knowledge of the area
• Includes information on the history, climate, geology, and conservation of the islands

Bird Fact Friday – All for one and one for all

From page 102 of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors:

Harris Hawks, distinctive raptors of the arid Southwest, are the only type of hawk to hunt cooperatively. In fact, the hunting tactics of the Harris Hawk are among the most complex and unique of any bird. Groups usually consist of a pair of dominant adults assisted by several immature or adult birds, often offspring but occasionally other nesting pairs.

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

The Crossley ID GuidePart 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 – 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.

Bird Fact Friday – Birds protected by religious tradition in India

From page 20 of Birds of India:

The enlightened and benevolent attitudes of Hinduism and Buddhism towards wildlife have helped to conserve the rich natural heritage of the Indian subcontinent. India has a tradition of protection of all forms of animals dating back at least 3,000 years when the Rig Veda mentioned the right of animals to live. Sacred groves, village tanks, and temples where the hunting and killing of all forms of life is prohibited can be found throughout India.

Birds of India: Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives
Second edition
Richard Grimmett, Carol Inskipp & Tim Inskipp

IndiaThe best field guide to the birds of the Indian subcontinent is now even better. Thoroughly revised, with 73 new plates and many others updated or repainted, the second edition of Birds of India now features all maps and text opposite the plates for quicker and easier reference. Newly identified species have been added, the text has been extensively revised, and all the maps are new. Comprehensive and definitive, this is the indispensable guide for anyone birding in this part of the world.

Bird Fact Friday – Sneaky Little Birds

From page 7 of Birds of the West Indies:

In some cases, bird species that we once concluded were extinct have in fact only eluded human detection. For example, the Puerto Rican Nightjar was collected in 1888, but then not seen again for 73 years before it was rediscovered in 1961. Stories like this remind us of how fragile animal species can be, spurring us to greater awareness and conservation efforts.

Birds of the West Indies
Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, & Janis Raffaele

Interview with Herb Raffaele
BirdsFully illustrated, easy to use, and completely up-to-date, Birds of the West Indies is the only field guide that covers all of the bird species known to occur in the region–including migrants and infrequently occurring forms. Each species is represented by a full description that includes identification field marks, status and range, habitat, and voice. A map showing the bird’s distribution accompanies many species accounts, and plumages of all species are depicted in ninety-three beautifully rendered color plates.

Bird lovers, vacationing tourists, local residents, and “armchair travelers” will all want to own this definitive field guide to the birds of the West Indies.

• Includes all species recorded in the region
• Features ninety-three color plates with concise text on facing pages for quick reference and easy identification
• Species accounts cover identification, voice, status and habitat, and range
• Color distribution maps

Bird Fact Friday – Falcons’ need for speed

From page 85 of Hawks from Every Angle:

While in direct pursuit of small birds, their main prey, falcons may reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. The Peregrine Falcon can exceed 200 miles per hour in a steep dive!

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight
Jerry Liguori
Foreword by David A. Sibley

FalconIdentifying 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.

Key Features:

• The essential new approach to identifying hawks in flight
• Innovative, accurate, and field-tested identification traits for each species
• 339 color photos on 68 color plates, 32 black & white photos
• Compares and contrasts species easily confused with one another, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field
• Covers in detail 19 species common to migration sites throughout the North America
• Discusses light conditions, how molt can alter the shape of a bird, aberrant plumages, and migration seasons and sites
• User-friendly format

Bird Fact Friday – Passenger Pigeons

From the appendix of The Passenger Pigeon:

The Passenger Pigeon had a typical high-speed wing, a feature shared with other fast-flying birds such as the Peregrine Falcon, in which the wings are long and narrow. The Passenger Pigeon was one of the fastest-flying birds.

The Passenger Pigeon
Errol Fuller
Introduction

k10337At the start of the nineteenth century, Passenger Pigeons were perhaps the most abundant birds on the planet, numbering literally in the billions. The flocks were so large and so dense that they blackened the skies, even blotting out the sun for days at a stretch. Yet by the end of the century, the most common bird in North America had vanished from the wild. In 1914, the last known representative of her species, Martha, died in a cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.

This stunningly illustrated book tells the astonishing story of North America’s Passenger Pigeon, a bird species that—like the Tyrannosaur, the Mammoth, and the Dodo—has become one of the great icons of extinction. Errol Fuller describes how these fast, agile, and handsomely plumaged birds were immortalized by the ornithologist and painter John James Audubon, and captured the imagination of writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Henry David Thoreau, and Mark Twain. He shows how widespread deforestation, the demand for cheap and plentiful pigeon meat, and the indiscriminate killing of Passenger Pigeons for sport led to their catastrophic decline. Fuller provides an evocative memorial to a bird species that was once so important to the ecology of North America, and reminds us of just how fragile the natural world can be.

Published in the centennial year of Martha’s death, The Passenger Pigeon features rare archival images as well as haunting photos of live birds.

Bird Fact Friday – Penguins!

Dear Readers,
You may have noticed our Friday feature has changed from ‘Book Fact Friday’ to ‘Bird Fact Friday.’ We’ve seen how engaged people are with our Birds and Natural History list, and so we wanted to bring you more nature-related content! Going forward, we’ll have weekly bird posts focusing on everything ornithological. Check this space Friday mornings and don’t forget to tweet your nature pictures to @PrincetonNature!

Princeton University Press

From part 3 of Penguins: The Ultimate Guide:

Unlike many other diving birds, penguins swim with their wings while steering with their feet. Rotating shoulder sockets allow enough twist to generate thrust with both up and down wing strokes, a trait shared only with hummingbirds.

Penguins swimming

© Penguins: The Ultimate Guide, pg. 173

 

Penguins: The Ultimate Guide
Tui De Roy, Mark Jones & Julie Cornthwaite

k10335Penguins are perhaps the most beloved birds. On land, their behavior appears so humorous and expressive that we can be excused for attributing to them moods and foibles similar to our own. Few realize how complex and mysterious their private lives truly are, as most of their existence takes place far from our prying eyes, hidden beneath the ocean waves. This stunningly illustrated book provides a unique look at these extraordinary creatures and the cutting-edge science that is helping us to better understand them. Featuring more than 400 breathtaking photos, this is the ultimate guide to all 18 species of penguins, including those with retiring personalities or nocturnal habits that tend to be overlooked and rarely photographed.
A book that no bird enthusiast or armchair naturalist should do without, Penguins includes discussions of penguin conservation, informative species profiles, fascinating penguin facts, and tips on where to see penguins in the wild.