[Tweeters] First Bird Book

Dennis Paulson dennispaulson at comcast.net
Mon Sep 18 13:37:04 PDT 2006

Hello, all.

I just read Mark Eggers' report of his first bird book, the big  
coffee-table Birds of North America, edited by T. Gilbert Pearson and  
full of Louis Agassiz Fuertes plates. My mother gave that to me on my  
12th birthday, right after a divorce that had us moving from Chicago  
to Miami, and I immediately went outside to see what I could see. By  
thumbing through the book and looking at plate after plate (thank  
goodness the bird was patient with me), I identified a Blue-gray  
Gnatcatcher. I found a little notebook and wrote down #1, the birds'  
name, and the locality and date. I thought it would be fun to start a  
list of the birds I had seen. Little did I know where it would lead.  
That notebook went through numerous iterations, and all that info now  
of course is on the computer.

As Mark said, the plates are gorgeous, really giving you more of a  
feel for the birds than field-guide paintings do, and the text is  
full of interesting natural history. It was the perfect book for me  
too. Sadly (from this vantage point), I gave it to another birder at  
one move, considering it too cumbersome to carry with me. I haven't  
looked at a copy in years, and It would be interesting to see if it  
would make the same impression today.

My second bird book was Ralph Hoffmann's Birds of the Pacific States,  
which I acquired after I moved from Miami to Austin to Los Angeles to  
Spokane, shuffled back and forth between peripatetic parents. I loved  
that book too but exchanged it with a Spokane birder for Peterson's  
eastern guide when I then moved back to Miami. Even more than the  
Pearson book, I recommend the Hoffmann book, and if you ever see one  
in a used book store, snap it up. The prose is absolutely delightful,  
as it describes the birds as you would encounter them on a field  
trip, and the illustrations, by Allan Brooks, are terrific. To carry  
on Mark's predator theme, there's a wonderful plate showing a bunch  
of little passerines mobbing a pygmy-owl.

I have copies of pretty much all the important books on birds, and  
it's hard to say which would be my favorite. The field for North  
American field guides is still wide open, as far as I'm concerned,  
until someone comes up with a guide of the quality of Birds of Europe  
by Mullarney, Svensson, Zetterström, and Grant. That is a great book!  
But you'd still have to have a second book with the natural history  
of all the species, something like a combination of The Sibley Guide  
to Bird Life and Behavior and Kenn Kaufman's Lives of North American  
Birds. Probably the best set of bird books ever published are the  
Lynx Edicions' Handbook of the Birds of the World, now at 10 volumes  
and far from finished. If you can afford them, you should have them.  
At the very least, please peruse a volume or two in a book store or  
Dennis Paulson
1724 NE 98 St.
Seattle, WA 98115
dennispaulson at comcast.net

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