Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland - Looking North West

This is it folks, and if you reached here today via Princeton University Press Blog or Birding Frontiers you will know what this is all about. For regular readers of Another Bird Blog today’s post is a little different in the form of a whistle-stop on a tour of UK birding blogs which features Richard Crossley’s new book The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland. Also today, blog readers can enter a free draw at the bottom of this page to win a signed copy of the book.

Following on from a sneak peek from Another Bird Blog in October, it’s time for another look at The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland, this time featuring waders and wildfowl, the staple diet of North West birders. 

For readers who don’t know, Another Bird Blog is based geographically just a mile or two from arguably the two most important wetland sites of the whole of the UK & Ireland, Morecambe Bay and the Ribble/Alt estuary complex. Both are Special Protection Areas, Special Area of Conservation, and Ramsar sites which support high densities of waterbirds including swans, ducks, geese and waders. In this region of England waders and wildfowl form a backdrop to daily lives, where a simple road journey or an unassuming walk inevitably leads to encounters with wild and wonderful birds. 

However, not everyone who lives in these parts knows their birds, and in recent years it has become something of a mission of my life that more people should appreciate the wildlife that surrounds them. Hence my interest in discovering if this latest Crossley can appeal to not only those already hooked on birding, but to anyone with barely a casual or passing curiosity about birds.

I am reminded of a morning at Knott End-On Sea when I overheard two people discussing the black and white "penguins" walking ahead of the fastly approaching tide. Should I stop and explain about Morecambe Bay and its importance to Oystercatchers, then show them a picture of an Oystercatcher in my traditional field guide with drawings of 600 species, in the hope it might inspire them to learn about the birds literally on their doorstep? More likely the complexity of the book with its numbers of birds in seemingly identical pages would simply overwhelm them, so to my shame I did nothing. 

The new Crossley claims to be directed at novice and intermediate birders. Perhaps if at the time I had carried a copy of this book I could have used it to good advantage in winning over converts? Here are those Oystercatchers at Knott End-On-Sea again, this time in a scene from The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland. Well it’s not really Knott End but a near perfect match for it with the Wyre Estuary in the background, the sand-lined shingle and mussel beds, the tidal pools, and on the shore the ever present Oystercatchers. 

Now wouldn’t sharing that page be a near perfect way to explain about Oystercatchers and encourage Jill and Joe Public to think about the birds they had just seen? 

To continue this theme, I selected more plates from the latest Crossley with a view to seeing how they stack up as an ID guide and/or as a way to help people learn about British and Irish birds and how to identify them.

This new book covers more than 300 species by way of a user friendly approach based upon habitat and physical similarities rather than the more usual taxonomic approach of a traditional field guide. For instance a couple of plates which face each other in the book are Sanderling and Dunlin, placed side by side as the two most common and widespread small shore birds of the UK and Ireland, two species which novices may struggle to separate. Look closely and not only are the birds true to life but the backdrops to both images are entirely realistic. This look and learn technique helps to reinforce the similarities and differences in the reader’s mind of the two species behaviour and environment. 

At Page 114 are a number of Grey Plovers in various stages of black, white and grey, feeding in the shallow water of an estuary situation, the ones in flight showing their diagnostic white rumps and black armpits. It’s a highly accurate scene and one which is repeated on a daily basis here in Lancashire and also in the many estuaries of the UK and Ireland. 

Facing the Grey Plovers at Page 115 are some first-rate Golden Plovers. The picture shows the species at different stages of their sparkly gold and brown plumage, some birds with a hint or two of black, others much blacker, just as they occur in springtime. The distant ones are still recognisable as Golden Plovers, as are the ones just taking off. There’s a Lapwing or two in the field with the goldies as well as a couple of Starlings and cattle. Spot on Mr Crossley. 

For a novice birder faced with IDing a dumpy plover, and apart from the obvious colour differences, studying the side-by-side pages gives an immediate pictorial distinction by way of the different habitats the two species use. Here lies the strength of the Crossley guides, the look and learn, the visual experience whereby the mental image stays in the mind to be retrieved later and where habitat is often the key to clinching the final ID. 

The wader pages of The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland are admirable, space limitations meaning it’s not possible to show here many of the other excellent and full page spreads given to the likes of godwits, sandpipers, shanks and stints. Uncommon birds like Pectoral Sandpiper, Buff-breasted Sandpiper and White-rumped Sandpiper make it into the 300 species, even though limited to one third of a page each. 

Major rarities of the wader family do not qualify for an appearance in the book, but then after all this is a volume aimed at beginner and intermediate birders, not those likely to hop on a plane to Ireland or the Northern Isles to see a one-off disorientated stray. 

I know that novice birders struggle with wildfowl, “brown” ducks in particular which for many people are a bit of a turn off. Along their migration routes and in the winter months ducks are so subject to the constant attention of human beings with guns that their sheer wildness makes them a difficult subject to study at close quarters. So I explored the ducks in The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland so as to find a couple of common species to examine, species which upon closer inspection might also reward a yet to be convinced novice birder of the value of learning our beautiful wildfowl. 

I found the Wigeon at Page 51 to be the sort of true representation I was looking for. A mass of Wigeon on the far bank of the water, a multi-coloured mowing machine moving across the sward, and in the middle distance the orange foreheads of the males with their entourage of “nondescript” females. It’s the classic advice for an experienced, intermediate or novice birder in how to identify a brown duck - take note of the male it accompanies. One thing missing from this scene are the pure and haunting whistles of Wigeon, unmistakeable sounds which alert birders to the presence of the species. Now there would be a truly interactive innovation for a future Crossley or any other guide - press a button on the page to hear the species call or sing. 

I next studied Teal at page 53, to the uninitiated another “brown job.” There they are at my local patch of Rawcliffe Moss, the farm buildings behind, the flooded field, the tight flock of tiny, wader-like duck already twisting and turning off at my approach. Equally, the scene is almost any winter wetland or flooded salt marsh anywhere in the UK or Ireland not just here in the North West. It’s another truthful and winning scene and one guaranteed to make someone study and absorb the finer detail.

The multi-image scenes of wildfowl in The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland are especially praiseworthy and I would pick out the pages for Pintail, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Scaup, Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Goldeneye for special mention. 

There really are very many exceptional pages in this whole book, especially so in the pages of wildfowl and waders discussed here. While it would be easy to nit-pick through a few pages of the passerines I have nothing but overall praise for the book and its authors Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens and the way that their product does exactly what it says on the packaging. I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for an introductory guide and learning tool to British and Irish birds, and at £16.95 or less, it’s a steal.

Read about the rest of the UK and Ireland blog tour  at Princeton's blog tour schedule, but next on the tour is Friday's visit to The Biggest Twitch in North Wales and a look at some of that region's speciality birds as portrayed in The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland. 

Finally, I saved the best for last. Publishers Princeton University Press are offering five signed copies of The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland in a free to enter draw at the bottom of this page. There's  also a live Internet video chat presentation at Shindig on Thursday 21st November at 19.00-20.00 hours  GMT where all are invited as Richard & Dominic discuss the book and take questions from the audience.

I also have a spare copy of this splendid book for a blog reader to win in a draw in the next week or so, actual day yet to be decided. Keep logging in to Another Bird Blog for details. 
a Rafflecopter giveaway


Sonja said...

I've seen some sample pages from an American guide and thought what a great way to do it, especially for beginners. It seems the British one follows in the same way. I do hope it is successful and that you can use it to encourage the locals to learn a little more about the birds in the area!

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

HI Phil Well you have really researched through this book very well to let us know how good it is particularly for beginners and intermittiae birders. I have a bird class adn I think it would be a great adition to our bird library for their use. I have entered the draw adn how know, I may be fortunate. Thanks for sharing.

Kay L. Davies said...

Well, I tried to enter the draw for the book. At first I thought I wouldn't, but then I realized how wonderful it would be to have it when/if we finally manage to get to Britain.
I've been to Morecambe, and have seen Morecambe Bay. We had a family friend who lived on the Isle of Man, and another friend on the east coast, so they both met me, my parents, brothers and sisters-in-law in Morecambe and we went out for a pub lunch. Great fun.

Carole M. said...

your review of this guide is well written Phil, just as every other blog post is. If I were a U.K. resident I'd definately be interested in going in the draw, or purchasing this book too. Cheers from east coast, Australia

Christian Perrin said...

Oh dear, I would have felt so disheartened to hear those Oystercatchers referred to as "Penguins"!

Thanks for sharing these plates - this field guide looks like it's attempting some features I've never seen before, which is great. I love the idea of showing the birds at varying distances, because that is realistic to you they are often seen. The 'cut and paste' collage look of the artwork is unusual too - I disliked it at first out of respect for tradition, then warmed to it a lot!

Ana Mínguez Corella said...

Interesting guide.. Thanks for sharing

Wally Jones said...

That's a very nice review, Phil!

For any of your readers who may be "on the edge" about whether to obtain this guide due to its non-traditional format, I've used the North American version for two years and highly recommend it as an addition to any birder's library!

Since I was the BIG WINNER of your drawing for Crossley's ID Guide, Raptors, (thank you very much!), I shall graciously refrain from entering the current draw as I might accidentally win again and subject you to charges of blatant favoritism.

Lou Mary said...

A very informative post! I have entered the prize draw - if maybe a bit late. If I'm not lucky I will certainly ask for it for Christmas! You have given it only praise and therefore it must be an asset!

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