The most comprehensive guide to the warblers of North America,
This review is from: The Warbler Guide (Flexibound)
At first glance this volume can be quite overwhelming. This is packed with information and if you can't find the right ID you'll struggle to find all the information like you find here elsewhere in such a complete tome. Every angle, literally, is covered in the fantastic book. With so much modern technology available nowadays so much can now be incorporated into the modern reference and this guide has it all; photographs, range maps, illustrations, sonograms, the lot. Where this guide differs from others is its arrangement. An alphabetical layout as opposed to a taxonomic layout is used. This makes it easier for you to follow considering all the latest DNA work that has moved quite a bit of warblers around from genus to genus and depending on who you follow that can get confusing so having the species accounts alphabetized makes for quick reference. The exception here is the irregular warblers from Mexico which follow after the regular occurring species accounts which are not incorporated alphabetically into the main body of the species accounts.
To begin with the cover is a durable flexibound style which will be helpful if you're using this in the field. Inside the cover is a helpful abbreviation guide for range maps, sonograms and plumages. The beginning of the book follows a classic, albeit comprehensive, line of; contents, how to use this book, icons and key terms, how to use the maps, bird topography; five sections of very comprehensive notes on "what to notice on a warbler", then ageing and sexing, understanding sonograms, how to listen to warbler songs and flight and chip calls, so far this section of the book alone covers 93 pages. After this is a quick finding section covering, tight images of the faces, 45 degree views, under view, east spring, east fall and west, of all the warblers covered in this book. There is then a section on under tail views for east and west with some comparison with nonwarbler species. This is followed by 21 pages of warbler song ID's with attached sonograms. You're probably thinking this is overkill at this point of the book but considering this one group of birds can be the most confusing and most often IDed group of birds it pays to have a book of this caliber to be able to identify any feature you come across.
The species accounts begin after the exhaustingly thorough 138 page introduction. Each species is shown in several positions pointing out key features with "distinctive views" of what to look for and "additional photos" showing other angles with helpful pointers. There are also photographs of "comparison species" and a section on aging and sexing plus range maps showing migration directions as well as breeding, migratory and wintering ranges including subspecies ranges and intergrade zones where necessary. There is also a section for vocalizations and comparison with similar sounding species. For each of the species there is a section for breeding males, females, drab birds or all seasons respectively so each of species' plumages has its own section where applicable.
Following the regular occurring North American species is a section of irregular occurring species from Mexico which get the same treatment as the above. After the main species plates is a section on nonwarbler species one might confuse with them as well as a section on hybrid warblers, even a section on "quiz and review", as if you hadn't studied enough, plus warblers in flight. Then comes North American warbler taxonomy which is shown in a tree format, then measurements, silhouettes, and brief descriptions on habitat and behavior for each species and a glossary and index. Phew!
Overall this is one of the most comprehensive books on the subject of North American warblers and at times is seems daunting when sifting through the breadth of information but if there is a scrap of information you have and need to compare it to something to find an ID, this is where you'll find it. The book isn't light either but it will be helpful in the field if you can keep it to hand somewhere during spring and fall migration when it will probably be needed the most. The photographs are excellent with a few blurry exceptions showing a particular feature not often available in a nice, composed shot and let's face it when are warblers nice and composed? Discerning the information you are looking for may take some time and it's nice to see more being done with vocal sonograms, which is often one of the few ways to ID a warbler when it's at the top of a thick deciduous tree or buried in a mesh of brambles. This will stand for a long time as the key reference guide to these species but there are a few cons. I would have liked to have seen warblers from Central and South America covered as they are in the same family. This guide is geared towards North Americans, so for anyone living from Mexico southwards this guide will only be relevant for Neotropical migrants in their respective neck of the woods and this also applies to anyone who travels south of the U.S. border. Including these species though would have made this book either much taller or thicker which would then make it a truly reference only guide, as it is now on the heavy side for field use the weight of anymore pages would make it basically non-portable in the field.
Also for the layman or casual bird watcher this will probably be too much, but this has to be weighed against the difficulty of the subject. Warblers require careful identification and confusing songs and plumage combined with the fact that there are 50+ species that breed and migrate through the U.S., the more information you have available to Id them the better. That is where this book excels.