New guide sure to benefit beginning birders

The illustrations in early field guides were printed in black and white. Some had a few color plates, but that was rare. Color was king as more and more guides were printed. The more color, the more desirable the guide. It was a major selling point. “All color” was what everyone sought. A review copy of the newest guide even came with a large sticker on the front cover. “Finished book will be in full color.”

The illustrations in the copy I received are in black and white. While thumbing through the pages something occurred to me. Excellent black and white photographs really let you “see” what you are looking at. Details jump out at you because there is no color to distract you.

“Birding by Impression” by Kevin T. Karlson and Dale Rosselet is the latest book to be added to the Peterson Field Guide Series. Books in this collection include field guides ranging from birdwatching to star gazing. This latest birding field guide reminds me of an expression I first heard in England. Birders referred to a bird’s “jizz.” Once you know a bird’s jizz, chances of you misidentifying it are almost nonexistent.

This new guide delves into this subject wholeheartedly. The preface describes it for the reader. “Welcome to an exciting and different approach to knowing and identifying birds. Traditional identification approaches concentrate mostly on feather details to identify birds. Birding by Impression begins with an assessment of a bird’s unchanging features, including size, body shape, structural features, and behavior.”

The “Peterson System of Bird Identification” focused on the same elements that are promoted in the “Birding by Impression” approach to bird identification. Peterson’s guides explained his system by listing identification features to focus on when identifying a bird. These were in addition to the arrangement of color on the feathers.

When seeing a bird you haven’t identified before ask these questions: “What is the bird’s size?” Comparing it with a familiar bird’s size works well. “What is its shape?” “What shape is its wings, its bill, its tail?” “How does it behave?” “Does it climb trees or forage on the ground?”

His guides contain other similar questions, all of which are designed to make you really aware of what the bird looks like in addition to the color on its feathers.

“Birding by Impression” takes this concept to a whole new level because the entire book is devoted to helping beginner and/or expert birders fine tune their identification skills. It’s exciting because it is designed to help birders really “see” the birds and to become more familiar with them, to get to know them and not just observe them. Many of us already do this without thinking about it, but taking your skills into the field to observe unfamiliar birds is a major focus of this book.

When a robin flashes past you in your yard, you instinctively recognize it. You’re familiar with the robin. You’ve learned its identification characteristics. You know its “jizz.” Take the above questions and apply them to a robin, a Steller’s jay or a flicker. Shape of wings, bill, tail and other physical characteristics are well known. You also recognize how it flies and how it hunts for worms. Even its stance in a tree while it scolds an intruder says “robin” to you.

This new guide illustrates the birds in full color and does an excellent job of comparing birds that resemble one another. This comparison is a great tool in making the reader really know the birds and how they differ from one another.

Considering how helpful and informative it is in black and white, I have to think it will be great in color but I am still going try it out in black and white.

“Birding by Impression” is worth looking at if you want to sharpen your birding skills.