Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

New Stoke Field Guide Sets New Standard
November 06, 2010
By Steve Grinley

     I wrote a column many years ago about my first field guide, The Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds. Roger Tory Peterson revolutionized the field guide concept back in the 1930s. His accurate paintings would show similar birds on a page with arrows pointing at field marks to make it easier to distinguish species. Subsequent editions added more paintings and more information and it was the “Birder’s Bible” back when I started birding in the 1960’s.

     As birding became more popular and more sophisticated, more field guides appeared on the scene. As subspecies became more important to birders, the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America became the hard-core birder’s favorite. Then, at the turn of the 21st century, David Allen Sibley came out with the Sibley Guide to Birds which quickly became the new “Birder’s Bible.” His paintings of more plumages, subspecies, and every bird in flight makes it a favorite today.

     Photographic guides took a back seat to those done by artists. One of the drawbacks was that a photograph represents one bird at one point in time, whereas drawings could incorporate the shapes, colors and features that were typical for any given species. One of the first photographic guides was the National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Birds and it was pretty awful. It often only pictured the male of the species, so if you saw the female, you wouldn’t have a clue as to what you were looking at. When they did picture the female, it was often on another page. Immature birds were nonexistent as far as that guide was concerned.

     Then along came the Stokes Field Guide to Birds. Don and Lillian Stokes pictured males, females and immatures on one page. They had excellent text, color coded the families for easy reference, and added notations of birds that would come to feeders or nest in bird houses. It was an easy recommendation over the traditional National Audubon Guide for those who preferred photographs.

     With the onset of digital photography, more photographic guides evolved. Ken Kaufman’s Field Guide to Birds uses digitally enhanced photographs to emphasize certain field marks. It has been warmly received by birders. More family specific guides on raptors, gulls and shorebirds, with multiple photos of various plumages, or comparison shots with similar species, have provided excellent references for birders today. These works have become a must for the serious birder to supplement their daily field guide.

     Now a new bar has been set on photographic field guides. Don and Lillian Stokes have just released their new work, the Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. It contains 3400 photographs of some 854 species of birds that occur in North America, Though not exactly a “pocket guide” at 792 pages, it is compact, and it has detailed and complete identification aids with an emphasis on shape, giving multiple angles of view. Species photos include male, female, summer, winter, immature, and notable subspecies. There are accurate range maps for each species and it includes a CD that contains some 600 bird songs. Quite a bargain at under $25.00!

     If you want a closer look at this field guide, and would like to meet Don and Lillian Stokes, they will be at the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center this Saturday, November 6. They will give a free presentation on their newest work, The Stokes Field Guide To The Birds Of North America, at 1:30 PM, entitled You, The Birds, And Birding.

     Don and Lillian will tell how they designed their new guide for you, the bird watcher of today. Six years in the making, this is the most comprehensive, national photographic field guide ever published. In their presentation, Don and Lillian will take you behind the scenes into what’s involved in producing a work of this magnitude, teach you how to fast-forward your bird identification skills, give bird photography tips, and show favorite photos from the book, including some of Massachusetts’ birds. Seating is limited for the talk, but you can reserve a seat by calling ahead to 978-463-0103. A book signing will follow (at approximately 2:30 PM) and is open to all.

     Hope to see you there!

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
Like us on Facebook! www.facebook.com/birdwatcherssupply