09 December 2013


It's been a loooong time since I've done any book reviews here on SYAS but I need to work on catching up.   Maybe you'll disagree after this post!  Like it or not, Princeton University Press has graciously provided me with various books just as long as I review them here on See You at Sunrise.

So today I'm putting some thoughts down regarding "How to Be a Better Birder", written by Derek Lovitch, and published by Princeton University Press in 2012.  It is 192 pages long and costs $19.95.

You'll notice one thing already, it was published in 2012.  Yes, there is a reason I haven't gotten around to reviewing this book for almost 2 years... but we'll get to that in the last paragraph.  Or if you'd rather, just skip to the last paragraph at the sound of the beep.    -BEEEEP-

This book, although not physically hefty, isn't a light, story-telling kind of journey.  In fact, I don't find much of a journey at all; it feels more like I'm sitting in high school being preached down to.  That may seem harsh BUT that might be a result of the audience in this circumstance; I wouldn't say this is a book for somebody who has spent their entire life birding.  Although some might disagree with me on that... well, that's fine, you do that.  But seriously, I imagine the folks that will enjoy this book the most are birders who are just getting on their own two feet about "Ok, that's a House Sparrow".  They still need to hear stories about how geography can play a role in birding, or that fallouts happen, or that weather does in fact change migration.  If these are new concepts to you and you're looking for a guide to what better birders already know, you've just hit a serious jackpot!

Here are the chapter titles:

Chapter 1 - Advanced Field Identification
Chapter 2 - Birding by Habitat
Chapter 3 - Birding with Geography
Chapter 4 - Birding and Weather
Chapter 5 - Birding at Night
Chapter 6 - Birding with a Purpose
Chapter 7 - Vagrants
Chapter 8 - A New Jersey Case Study
Chapter 9 - Patch Listing

Ok, let's dig around for something I can truly say was interesting... umm..... ok, the author talks a bit about birding at night in Chapter 5, or more importantly, using NEXRAD doppler radar.  This is a topic that has been in the spotlight for many years but it's not one you find in your average bird book.  I fully agree with the author that more people should be familiar with it... and that's that.

There are a few photos here and there through the book with captions like "Exhausted and hungry, this Blackburnian Warbler found shelter under a birder on Monhegan Island, Maine, during a fallout.  A Merlin is unlikely to hunt under people!"  I won't lie, even though what was said is true, captions like this make me cringe on the inside.  (Side note: ever notice how a lot of birders like pictures of themselves with their binoculars up to their face, seemingly wanting the reader to be amazed at the top-of-the-line bins they're lucky to be holding?  Personally, I've noticed more and more of this phenomenon and sure enough, page 115 has the author doing just that.  I won't spend too much time judging but I would like to encourage birders to be more creative, don't fall for the ploy that you have to be wearing a tan vest and have to pose with your bins just to be taken seriously.  Although it's true that there ARE pictures of me out there with bins to my face, I was never aware they were being taken!  Ok ok, it sounds like I have another blog topic brewing).

There is a delicate balance, I think, between trying to convince yourself (and others) that "hey, this is a great book" and straight-up admitting to yourself that "I don't like this thing".  Maybe I can bypass it completely and simply say that I won't be recommending this book to friends.  To be fair, I DO think this book could be tremendously helpful to some birdwatchers, perhaps beginners or some intermediates who are looking for a high-school-like lecture... but that's not me.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.