19 January 2014


Here we are again, this time reviewing another Crossley book.  "The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors", by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan, was published in 2013 by Princeton University Press.  It is 286 pages long and costs $29.95.

I'm glad I don't have to beat around the bush for very long to start this out.  In fact, the very first 9 words in the preface of this book are "The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors is for beginning birders...".  So there you have it.  I don't really consider myself a beginner anymore which will explain why I generally find The Crossley Guides a waste of my time.  If you want a review from a beginner who thinks this is a glowing gift from heaven, look elsewhere.  Granted, I will try my best to find some saving grace of this book but after that, it's going on the shelf.

Generally speaking, the first 173 pages are photos of our North American raptors whereas the remaining pages are all text, range maps, etc.  You're probably aware by now of how these photographs are laid out; they're edited and superimposed on a natural background.  You can expect to see some of the birds up close whereas others are distant, some perched and some flying.  And for this, "The Crossley ID Guide... has turned the traditional field guide on its ear", or so says The Wall Street Journal.  I just don't buy it.

So for example, the Bald Eagle images begin on page 26 whereas the species account begins on page 183.  And yeah, don't get me wrong, the background photos are great, stunning, sure.  But the beginning birder deserves more, in my opinion.  Here's the first spread included for Bald Eagle:

Because the emphasis appears to be on the photos, you'll see how all the text is crammed in at the bottom.  I'm not a huge fan of this but then again, I'm not sure how one can have any text if your emphasis is on the photos.  Here's the spread for ZONE-TAILED HAWK:

Here's another spread, this time of SWAINSON'S HAWKS:

 Things get a tad bit more interesting when the authors start giving you spreads of quiz birds:

Generally speaking, I AM a fan of the text in the back of the book.  I think it's here that the author that knows most about hawks, Jerry Liguori, flexes his muscles and saves the book's butt.  Liguori, who has authored books such as "Hawks at a Distance" and "Hawks at Every Angle", knows his stuff and you can rest assured that his contribution is solid.  Each species account gets a color range map and 2-6 pages of text which include headers such as:

Flight Style
Size and shape
Geographic Variation
Similar Species
Status and Distribution

And for all the quick and critical talk, I will say that birders could learn a good bit of information if they scour the material in the back and give all the quizzes a try.  That's an honest answer.

However, I wouldn't have imagined that authors intent on claiming this book as "innovative" would include text such as this:
It's been a good summer.  Easy living... just relaxing in the nest while Mom and Dad brought squirrels, woodpeckers, jays, and anything else they could find to keep me from begging.  But now I'm an outcast, first pushed out of the nest, and now out of their territory.  
I certainly don't find this tidbit from the Northern Goshawk species account innovative.  I'll move on.

This book does manage to do some new things though.  For example, they include entire spreads of quiz birds that are "Going Away" or "Into the sun" or "Sunrise on the East Coast" or "Black and white" or "Topsides" or.. well, you get the idea.  I'd say that's a good thing for a beginner to look at once or twice because, yes, lighting can change everything.  Kudos to them for including those scenarios that many field guides don't.

On the inside flap it says this book is "the first raptor guide using Richard Crossley's acclaimed, innovate composite images that show birds as they actually appear in the field."  I'm not sure about you but when I see birds as they actually appear in the field... they're moving.  Sounds silly, sure, but I think instead of spending your days inside combing over the quizzes, you should get outside and see how hawks behave, how they move.  After all, it's experience that makes you.. well... experienced.

If I boiled down all my thoughts about this book and put them into a short list, it would go like this:

1) There's no denying that the photos are great.  I'm jealous of his camera gear, whatever it is.
2) The saving grace of this book is the text in the back by Liguori.
3) The quizzes are interesting and potentially helpful; thanks, guys, for putting those in.
4) The sections on "raptors going away", "backlit raptors",  etc make for new field guide material.

So although I find myself being quite critical of this style of guide (at least for my purposes), at least I can comfort myself in knowing that I don't have any other Crossley books to review just qu.... oh wait... I have another one right here!  On the plus side, this next one I have seems more interesting so that's a start!
I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.