|Singing Wings - Singing Wings|
I've been waiting for this book for years - ever since wanting to take my recreational bird watching to a new level by picking up a copy Robert Janssen's Birds of Minnesota (1987. The University of Minnesota Press), I enjoyed the depth of information on each species in that book, yet longed for a Minnesota-specific book that included color photos or illustrations of all of Minnesota's regular occurring birds. That book is now here. Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin highlights 322 species in a well-designed, easy to use format that efficiently summarizes important species details of using full page profiles with color illustrations and range maps.
Though we are told to not judge a book by its cover, this one certainly leaves a great first impression. The book is housed in a protective, water-resistant cover, and the front cover catches the eye immediately with its colorful, attractive illustration of the Great Northern Diver (a.k.a. Common Loon). Also catching the eye is the useful back cover that displays a well designed system using color coding and small illustrations to quickly guide readers to the first page of each family of species included in the book. The choice of these illustrations speaks to how well-thought this book design is; using common representatives for each bird family. To expand on this quick find system; 11 pages in the front of the book go into greater detail by providing small illustrations of the birds contained in this book.
Inside, the significant thought put into this book is evident from the first pages. The introduction empowers, encourages, and educates bird watching enthusiasts of all skill levels to enjoy, appreciate, and learn from avian life, and to continue to become more knowledgeable about birds - not only about how to distinguish one from another, but to learn about why they choose certain habitats, what their behaviors are, and what threats to their existence are present in our states.
Following the introduction is a very helpful overview of the top 10 birding sites in the each state; which provides the less experienced birder with a good snapshot of where to go in either state for the most productive birding. For those who suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar territory, the pages following the top 10 site descriptions contain a map of each state with dots indicating an additional 50 suggested birding locations; including some from every region of each state. Again, for those that do not have a more complete birding guide to either state, these useful pages are an asset to getting started covering new ground.
In the main section of the book 322 of the more regular occurring species in the two states are profiled; each one on a single page. Each page contains a striking full color illustration - often with the most common or distinct plumage of the bird as seen in the two states - and a personal overview of the species. After reading several of the profile overviews I felt as if I had been formally introduced to each bird for the first time; the choice of text used in each description seeking to connect the reader to the bird itself - eliciting a greater appreciation for each species.
Below each illustration and overview - in an abbreviated format - are several specific categories used to assist the reader to better locate and identify each species. Excellent identification tips are presented - including a description the bird's vocalizations - with specific attention to identification distinctions of similar species. The current status of occurrence, abundance, and distribution is given for each state with suggestions for the more likely places to find the species in that state, as well as useful information about nesting and feeding preferences and behaviors.
Each profile page also includes a range map that uses commonplace color shading strategies to help the reader to be aware of generally where and when this species is likely to be observed. The range maps - based on excellent information compiled by both states over the years - are shown with the states adjoining, and usually display congruent distribution data. In only a very few cases does the interpretation of collected distribution data leave a significant gap. For example, at first glance at the Western Sandpiper map one might have the impression this species can regularly be seen throughout Wisconsin during migration, but not in Minnesota. Whether the reason for such representations is due to flawed interpretation of data, or the lack of suitable data resources from which the map makers could draw from does not in any way detract from the overwhelming quality contained in this book, as the far majority of maps presented appear harmonious between the states. Furthermore, brief explanations in the summary text often augment map discrepancies.
One will most certainly take note of the difference in artistic style of the illustrations. With two primary artists there are noticeable differences in appearance. Some of the illustrations look as crisp and clean as those in other major field guides. Others have a more artistic flair - as if attempting to illustrate how the bird will look to the viewer at close range in the field. Both types of representation offer accurate field characteristics, and the variation of the artist's styles is distinct enough to offer good variety to the reader. Although some of the artwork may look a bit too "wild" for some users - such as the Black-capped Chickadee that appears to have just taken a bath - such illustrations may be thought of as refreshing for those who desire a more natural-seeming, artistic representation of a bird. The vast majority of illustrations appear every bit as accurate as in other mainstream field guides with very few exceptions. The female Northern Harrier illustration, for example, looks a bit dark, and the Savannah Sparrow that appears to be wingless. Yet those are two of the very few potential discrepancies. However, such discrepancies are not prevalent enough to prompt a potential buyer to set this book back on the shelf.
Following the 322 profiled species is a shorter section of 34 species that are not seen with regularity in either state. Illustrations are not included for each of these birds, but a paragraph describing the appearance and potential occurrence in either state is included for each species.
Though Birds of Minnesota and Wisconsin will most likely not fit in your jeans pocket, the size of this guide seems suitable for taking in the field if you have a coat or vest with wide pockets - as it is about 2" wider than the Peterson guides of old. However, with only 376 pages to deal with, the weight is comfortable, and the simplicity of use in the field will cause most Minnesota and Wisconsin birders to bring it along; leaving bulkier, more exhaustive guides in the car. Even if taking this book into the field is not the birder's desire, this book will serve as an exceptional resource for trip planning, or for learning more about the birds of our states.
A final feature - unique to the book I received - is an inscription from Mr. Janssen which reads, Watch Minnesota Birds. An appropriate inscription from a man who has previously stated that birding always seems more enjoyable after crossing the state line back into Minnesota. I, for one, am thrilled to have a field guide focusing solely on Minnesota [and Wisconsin] with full color maps and illustrations of all the regularly occurring species. This book is as much artistry as it is science - a blend that many will appreciate and enjoy. Those familiar with Janssen's Birds of Minnesota will note that the amount of information for each species is lessened (e.g. migration dates, etc.). However, the summarization of that type of information appearing on each species profile page seems to be complete enough to satisfy more experienced birders, while the overall presentation of each species is not overwhelming for the novice bird watcher.
It is my belief that this well designed, informative, and appealing field guide will please a wide range of bird watching enthusiasts of varying skill levels. Its ease of use, thoughtful text, colorful illustrations and excellent summaries of information make this book a must-have for Minnesota [and Wisconsin] birders.
|Watch the Bird, Not the Book|
|When you spot a bird, don't immediately try to flip through the pages of a field guide to identify it. Every moment of viewing time is precious, so take notes while you can.|