Wednesday, October 23, 2013

the Crossley Hawk Guide

The initial Crossley ID guide promised a new approach to bird identification.  It was a cool book, but I think the new Crossley Raptors book comes closer to this.  It builds on the format that the main guide does though the more limited scope allows it much more freedom.  There are 160 pages of plates which will appear familiar in format to those who have viewed the initial book.  With only 34 species to cover though, each gets at minimum 2 full pages.

Following the initial 2 pages, most species then have plates dedicated to aging and plates that compare similar species.  These are presented as unknowns with the images numbered with the answers in the back.  I think that is the biggest innovation of this book.  It functions more as a workbook than a Field Guide allowing for much more active learning than simply passive review of pics.  I took a couple of the quizzes, I was right on the species of 2 of the accipiter plates about 90% of the time (I didn't try to age them).  I'm not sure what to make of this, I have more difficulty ID'ing some of my own pics of accipiters in flight.  I think this implies that Crossley hasn't just slapped in any photo that's sharp no matter the pose, rather I suspect he's chosen birds in poses that are fairly typical of the mental image of what these birds look like in flight.

The crispness of the photos are excellent.  I estimate there are about 1000 images in this book, the overwhelming majority of which are original.  I compared a couple of the common species accounts with the original Crossley East and didn't note any duplicates.  With rarer species there are some more prominent duplicate images (one of the Gyrfalcons, a Caracara, the main Hook-billed Kite, one of the Bald Eagles).  There are a couple situations where an image from the same series of shutter exposures of the same individual are used (at least one of the Goshawks and one of the Golden Eagle).  That being said, there was much less replication of images than I had expected there to be.

The last 90 pages of the book are text descriptions at about the level of the Howell and Dunn Gulls book.  They're not as technical as the Olsen and Larsson Gulls of North America, Europe, and Asia book or the Wheeler Raptors book.  Each account begins with few paragraphs vaguely channeling a Pete Dunne essay that introduce the species, some are told first person from the bird's perspective, some are told in the 3rd person about the bird, and some are from the birder's perspective.  Personally I would have kept the voice more constant but it's a minor point.  There is an excellent prose description of the bird's flight style.  I don't know that any book is going to be able to approach the venerable Dunne Sibley and Sutton Hawks in Flight in that regard, but these are very readable.

The other criticism I have of the book is that it includes only the regularly occurring species.  While I know the line has to be drawn somewhere (there's little reason to include some of the relatively random single North American Red-footed Falcon or Collared (?) Forest-falcon records), but I would have included semi-regular birds like the 2 rare sea eagles or Hobby Falcon.  Having been lucky enough to recently see the Lesser Sand-plover I was grateful that this species (as well as Greater) was included in the Obrien Crossley and Karlson Shorebird guide (which incidentally is the only other book on my shelf that presents a good number of birds as unknowns).

I would recommend this book.  I don't know that I would use it as a field guide, there's not a lot of easy direct comparisons species to species, but it will help a person get a better feel for the birds so that if studied, you will need it a book in the field a lot less.

I think I'm going to start buying lottery tickets, it'd be a ton of fun to create the neo-tropical counterparts to these books.

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