Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Now (Back) on Flickr!

    Several months ago I joined Flickr so that others could view my best bird photos; however, I wanted a "fresh" start, so just recently I deleted the old account and made a new one. Originally it was to be used specifically for documenting rarities, but I couldn't stand looking at all the trashy photos! So...I invite you to click the link below and check it out! (Disclaimer: Many photos are arranged in a random order right now since I'm updating.) 


Monday, May 25, 2015

Book Review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide

    If you know me, then you know that my favorite type of birding is by boat. I've done eight pelagics (including two winter trips) off Hatteras, North Carolina, and I'm (impatiently) counting down the days until I can go again! Last year, for the 2015 ABA Young Birder of the Year Contest, I wrote this book review on one of my favorite books, Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide written by Steve N. G. Howell. If you have never looked at this book, continue reading this post...

Great Shearwater: Not my best photo, but one that I don't share often. Off Hatteras, NC.

Book Review: Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide by Steve N.G. Howell

Princeton University Press 2012 l 512 pages l $45.00 l ISBN 978-0-691-14211-1
          I first heard about the book Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America through Chris Sloan, who was giving a presentation on pelagic birds at one of our ornithological society's annual fall meetings. This was in 2012, and on my thirteenth birthday in 2013, I received my own copy. I browsed through it a little before my first pelagic trip off Hatteras, North Carolina on July 19th, 2013. Then, after my next few pelagic trips on May 21st, 23rd, and 24th, 2014, I looked at it all the time. I’ve found this book to be quite helpful to me in the sense that it provides the correct approach to identifying tubenoses.

Before I dive into the core of this review, let me start off by copying what is actually included in this book's front cover:

 "Petrels, albatrosses, and storm-petrels are among the most beautiful yet least known of all the world's birds, living their lives at sea far from the sight of most people. Largely colored in shades of gray, black, and white, these enigmatic and fast-flying seabirds can be hard to differentiate, particularly from a moving boat. Useful worldwide, not just in North America, this photographic guide is based on unrivaled field experience and combines insightful text and hundreds of full-color images to help you identify these remarkable birds. "

That one short paragraph pretty much summarizes it. Tubenoses are notoriously recognized for their often nearly identical plumage, uncooperative behavior, and so on. What's more, to get the best looks at them, you have to make the rough trek out to sea, surrendering yourself to sometimes choppy waves and unpredictable weather. But thank goodness for Steve Howell's book Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America. While the author can't calm the seas or magically whisk away squalls, he can and did provide a detailed approach to identifying what is considered by many to be the most complex family of birds in the world.    

Howell's book starts off with a fifty-page introduction. While many of us, and, admittedly, myself included, tend to skip introductions and dismiss them as boring, quite the opposite is true with this one. The introduction begins with rather fascinating information about things I never knew. For example, on page two under the section titled "What are Tubenoses?", it states that some species of tubenoses will even skip a year of breeding to complete their molt cycle! Other engaging information includes discussions on ocean habitats, flight manner, environmental factors, and much more.

The remainder of this book is grouped into families, starting with family Procellariidae (shearwaters, petrels, and other petrels), continuing through Diomedeidae (albatrosses), and ending with families Oceanitidae and Hydrobatidae (storm-petrels). These chapters are broken up even further. Storm-petrels, for example, are divided into three groups: white-rumped, dark-rumped, and distinctive. I really admire Howell's decision to further divide these families into groups (like the storm-petrels). For me, it makes it easier to focus on studying just the white-rumped look-a-likes rather than looking in, let's say, Sibley's field guide, where the white-rumped, dark-rumped, and distinctive storm-petrels are staggered because of taxonomy.

In each species profile is precise, detailed information, such as status and distribution, similar species, habitat and behavior, and wing molt. While someone unfamiliar with pelagic birding may look at the species profiles and think the content a little overkill, it is perfect, covering the basics and pin-pointing key ID field marks.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the superb photos in this book. After all, this has been dubbed a "Photographic Guide." Although not every photograph is perfectly sharp, that's just what makes it useful in identifying birds when out in the field (or rather, out at sea). I've often been frustrated over the crystal-clear, full-frame bird photos that are included in a photographic field guide. This is because, as a birder myself, I know that most of the time the birds will be far away – not up close like field guides show them. This isn't an issue with Howell's book. Actually, it looks like this has become the new norm, with books like The Shorebird Guide by Michael Obrien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson, and the Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching: Eastern Waterbirds in Flight by Cameron Cox and Ken Behrens also providing photos from the in-the-field perspective. In short, the photos in Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America show groups of tubenoses or single birds as you would typically see them in the field - under cloudy skies, in bright sun glare, or even in dense fog. These “in-the-field” photos combined with unparalleled species accounts make this a wonderfully practical book.

         This book has likely already been considered a must for all birders, but I see it also as being the foundation in increased interest in pelagic birds. Hopefully, as more and more birders read this book and glimpse the beautiful diversity of tubenoses, this will cultivate an interest in the reader to want to study and conserve these birds. So, whether you’re considering going on a pelagic trip or just want to learn about tubenoses for your enjoyment, this book is for you! Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America is easily one of my all-time favorite books, and I honestly can't wait to see what other books Howell comes out with in the future.