By Joe Sebastiani, Seasonal Program Team Leader
Here at The Nature of Delaware, we have never reviewed a book, but that was before The Warbler Guide was published. The book is so good, I just had to tell you about this groundbreaking field guide. The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, published by Princeton University Press, raises the bar by several notches above just about every field guide on the market. Just like in the Tractor Supply & Co. commercial, I like warblers too, and most other birders seem to put them near the top of the list of favorite birds as well. For me, The Warbler Guide really hits the spot, thoroughly and beautifully covering the identification of every warbler north of Mexico, and then some.
The Warbler Guide is not your photo…range map…short description formula field guide. This book will stretch your understanding of warblers in many ways, and if you want, will force you to take on new skills like learning sonograms. In all, this book is going to make you a better birder. Sections in this book include migration maps, topography of a warbler that is easy to use, 28 pages of what to notice on a warbler and full of photographs, aging and sexing warblers, how to read a sonogram, and a visual quick-finder to all the species from all angles of the bird. Species descriptions have bullet points for easy identification tips, distinctive views photographs, comparison species, information and photos on the age and sex plumage variations within a species, migration timing charts, and more sonograms than you can imagine. The book comes with a downloadable audio file that you can use to learn songs and goes along with the sonograms in the book.
There is a lot to digest in The Warbler Guide. Sometimes there is too much information, but that is why I keep going back to it. The only part that is going to be foreign to most birders will be the sonogram sections. The authors do a good job teaching you how to read the sonograms, but for me, there is still a disconnect when I look at a sonogram, trying convert it into a sound in my head. The audio files that go with the book are a necessity for understanding the sonograms fully, and I encourage you to download them if you get the book.
To get the impression from someone new to birding, I asked our environmental education interns to look at the book. They said that the birds “look adorable” but seem “super confusing”. Their quick book review was that it is big and bulky, but they liked the quick-find photos, the colorful topography pages showing what the parts of a bird are, the multitude of photographs, and that you could look at one bird in different ways including sonograms, descriptions, and a variety of photos per species.
The Warbler Guide is the kind of book that you can sit down and study before warbler season, and to check back with when you have seen something in the field to reinforce your learning. The book is good for all kinds of learners. If you like symbols, they are there. If you like photographs, there are loads. For instance, the Black-throated Green Warbler section has 40 of them. If you learn with text, it is there too. The end of the book is really cool. There are sections on warbler-like, non-warbler species, as well as hybrid warblers, quiz pages, photos of warblers in flight, a current chart of North American warbler taxonomy (that I need to study up on), measurements of warblers, and more.
If you already have the Peterson Field Guide to the Warblers of North America, The Warbler Guide is not a duplicate, but an extension, and a different presentation. I love both guides and both are worth having in your reference collection. The Warbler Guide is more about learning identification through a variety of means and tools, and the Peterson Guide has more information on range, habitat, more accurate maps, and more text for each species that is fun to read. True to form with Princeton University Press, they have explored new ground with this guide, filling a niche that was void and in demand… a good way to do business. Enjoy the book!
If you would like to find warblers with us, the Delaware Nature Society offers a wide range of birding field trips. Freebies include Sunday and Monday bird walks at Bucktoe Creek Preserve near Kennett Square, PA; Tuesday walks at Middle Run Natural Area (Click here for the Middle Run Birding Trail Brochure 2013 ) near Newark; and Thursday walks at Coverdale Farm near Hockessin and Abbott’s Mill Nature Center near Milford. All start at 8am with no registration required. Do you want to go further afield? Take a look at the Delaware Nature Society’s fall brochure for a complete selection of birding programs. The birding program of the fall is our annual trip to Kiptopeke at the southern tip of Delmarva, led by myself and Judy Montgomery during October 3rd to 5th. There’s still room, so sign up now!