Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Sneak Peek - Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

I couldn’t resist more than a peek at the new Crossley, and the chance to tell Another Bird Blog readers about this exciting book, plus share my initial impressions of it, even though the regional blogathon isn’t until November. 

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & ireland

This new work follows the same format as the previous two published for the North American market, volumes which received an enthusiastic welcome for their innovative, almost revolutionary style. The Crossley ID guides use photographic techniques to display a species as it looks in the field and in a typical environment, rather than the more usual artistic but ”flat” portrayal found in traditional field guides. 

The first thing to note is that this new Crossley is aimed mainly at a UK market of “beginner and intermediate birders, yet suitable for all levels”. This qualifying note explains why some 300 species are covered rather than the 598 or so species on The British List, the number that might be encountered in half a lifetime of determined birding rather than the 300 or so which the average birder might see in a series of normal years. Because of the stated target audience this would seem an eminently logical and sensible way of selecting the species featured. 300 species alone is quite challenging to a novice birder and the only issue I have found with the species featured is the authors potentially confusing treatment of the redpolls. 

Species are displayed by “proportional representation” i.e. the more common a species is the more space it takes up, typically a full page for very common birds, half a page for scarce species and a quarter page for rarer species. 

The next thing to note is that the book doesn’t use a traditional taxonomic sequence, which as the authors (Richard Crossley and Dominc Couzens) point out, does not always makes sense in the field. Instead the book splits species into just seven groups based on habitat and physical similarities so that they can be more easily compared. Again, the authors make the point that a bird’s appearance is largely influenced by its environment and therefore the taxonomic order is not necessarily broken too often. 

So the species accounts use two simple main headings of Waterbirds or Landbirds. Sub-headings break these down into Swimming Waterbirds, Flying Waterbirds, Walking Waterbirds, Upland Gamebirds, Raptors, Miscellaneous Larger & Aerial Landbirds and finally, Songbirds. This proves a simple but effective innovation, helped by a corresponding opening section where all the species are displayed at their relative size. These pages are a handy quick reference for a novice birder struggling with for instance, a beach full of waders or a freshwater packed with wildfowl. 

I picked out just a couple of double page plates from Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland to whet readers’ appetite. The first one, Flying Waterbirds, is taken from the opening sequence of pages which show birds at their relative size, structure and shape, that element of “jizz” so vital to the “mystery” of bird identification. 

Flying Waterbirds - The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & ireland

The second shows Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers in absolutely typical, accurate and realistic scenes. Those Goosanders could well be on Conder Pool, and the Red-breasted Mergansers look for all the world to be ensconced on  Fleetwood  Marine Lake.

Goosander and Red-breasted Merganser - The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & ireland

The third plate shows Purple Sandpipers with Turnstones, a characteristic situation which will help new birders to find and identify Purple Sandpipers in their strictly coastal environment. Ruffs are shown in many of their distinctive changes of both size and appearance, a wader designed to trap the unwary or inexperienced. With this page in front of them I would hazard a guess that many “beginner and intermediate birders, yet suitable for all levels” birders would quite happily put a name to the strange looking bird in front of them. 
Purple Sandpiper and Ruff -  The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & ireland

I just realised, I didn’t mention the textual description and explanation which accompanies each species. The accounts are accurate, concise and more than adequate to aid identification, especially since on turning to a species the text is relegated to second place as the eye and the brain automatically focus on the birds. It’s reality birding where visual learning is the norm and seeing is believing. 

I wish I had time and space to feature many more plates from Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland as many of them are quite superb, especially the wildfowl and waders. Maybe the best way to experience and enjoy them is to beg, steal or borrow this book for yourself as soon as it is available; however I’m sure that Princeton University Press would prefer that you buy it. To help you decide they have published a selection of plates of common garden birds to download at Princeton University Press.

Princeton's timing of release for this book is either fortuitous or a master stroke because the book will make a superb Christmas gift for a youngster, a kid of a certain age showing an early interest in the real world rather than the electronic domain. Also I can see this book being a huge hit with folk of an older generation, maybe those who leave work with newly found time on their hands but with a desire to learn about birds. This book is an ideal companion with which to both absorb and enjoy their new found love. 

There’s more about Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland in early November. Meanwhile I’m putting my copy in the car, then if I get stuck in a downpour at least I can carry on birding by browsing the pages of this splendid book.


Carole M. said...

a very well thought out review Phil; I admire how much you put into it. This guide is obviously going to be a big hit for bird enthusiasts of all ages

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

Hi Phil That was a very comprehensive analysis of this new book. I think you must have shares in it!!! Ha Ha! I must llok out for it when it is published.

Wally Jones said...

This a very nice review, Phil.

Having used the Crossley ID Guide, Eastern Birds (North America) for over a year, I can say it has been a very nice addition to the desk reference collection.

As you point out, the guide does not follow taxonomic order, but I haven't found that to be off-putting, especially as I'm not using the guide in the field.

The approach of using many photographic images of a species at different perspectives has been quite helpful.

When one actually reads the associated text, it is quite accurate and contains valuable identification tips, some not found in other references.

It would make a very nice item for any birder's library!

Mary Howell Cromer said...

Wow Phil you certainly give this high ratings across the board...are you sure you did not have a hand in writing this book ;) I think that at any rate, you deserve credit for shouting out the goodness of this book. It does look like it is well thought out, planned and written and the image plates look great. I think I shall write a book and allow you to critique it for me~

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Older generation raising her hand right here. I'm off to look the US version up as soon as I send this to you. Sounds pefect for this amateur who wants to get better.

Thanks for the review.

PS: Re. your comment on my blog: the neighbors who don't like eer are gardeners. Deer eat their roses.

Kay L. Davies said...

Excellent review, Phil, and it does look to be well-prepared book. I'm pretty sure I've seen the same layout before, so it's likely I've browsed through the volume for western North America at one time or another.
Your enthusiasm while waiting for the book to arrive was infectious, so I'm very happy you have received it and also that you've enjoyed it. Nothing worse than looking forward to something, then being disappointed by it.

Lou Mary said...

I love reading your reviews! You always give pros and cons and generally a well balanced overview!

Rick Wright said...

Haven't had a copy yet, but the label "Flying Waterbirds" on the first opening you show strikes me as a bit odd, given that half the birds are actually swimming or perched. Are there other design slipups like this?

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