Sunday, March 20, 2011
raptor identification taken to the next level
Possibly the best-ever raptor identification guide in print, Jerry Liguori's new Hawks At a Distance (Princeton University Press, 2011) is now available. If you are serious about identifying birds of prey, whether at a hawk-watch site, or during your everyday birding, the advances made by the author with this book can assist you in achieving that goal in ways few books have done previously. In the forward to this volume, Pete Dunne (whom some might say is a very accomplished raptor watcher) describes the historical leaps forward in the publication of raptor ID books. That includes the groundbreaking book Pete himself coauthored with Dave Sibley and Clay Sutton, Hawks in Flight - which has been the standard to which I compare other raptor books for twenty-plus years. Pete suggests that Jerry Liguori has made yet another leap forward with this book, and I am inclined to agree completely.
One of Jerry's conceptual advancements is showing highly detailed photos of the birds as they are actually seen in the field. Although there are occasions when we see a raptor at relatively close range, most of the time they are at a distance, and even high-quality binoculars and telescopes still only provide a view that reveals shape and relative features, dark and light patterns - but not the "portrait" view shown in many field guides. Hawks At a Distance does this task in a way books have rarely done in the past: great details, but images matching what we often really see - not just what we wish we saw. The postures adopted by birds of prey when in flight often confuse the intermediate or beginning birder - raptors don't always appear as seen in the single illustration many field guides use to portray them, and individuals can easily look like "some other species".
Jerry's book also displays the other plumages or color morphs seen in some species. Written descriptions accompany the many fine images, drawn from years of raptor photography by Jerry and his wife Sherry, along with those of 14 other expert raptor photographers.
This is an easy book to take in the field - and that's what I'll do with mine. Highly recommended.