Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Love of Field Guides - Part 1

For many years, I have been a bird watcher.  I have kept it at the casual hobby level.  I don't get all hard core about it.  I have never actually gone to a place to see a specific bird.  I will take my binoculars with me on most outings.  I keep a small pair of binoculars in the car and I have a host of bird books in the house. 

I have kept a life list of birds I have seen.  The life list needs to be revisited at some point and add a few birds in there.  I know that the bee eaters I saw in Egypt aren't in there.  I have a small stack of bird books from my years in the US.  When I moved to the UK, one of the first things I did was get some field guides to birds in Great Britain.  Almost every bird in the UK was different to the birds in Iowa.  There are some that are the same, sparrows, starlings, morning doves, Canada geese  and a smattering of other ones.  There were birds that looked very similar to US birds but were just a bit different.  For example, coal tits look very similar to chickadees.  

There are some that I really miss.  It was weird that I would miss redwinged black birds.  I miss those and Great horned owls.  Great horned owls have the best hoot of all owls in the world.  We have Loons over here, but they are called Divers.  I don't get to hear the lonesome cry of Loons on a summer night though. They breed north of us.  Loons are good.

One of the things I really miss is the way I could identify birds by the song or call in the US.  I can't do that as well here in the UK.   I can recognise a few birds by the song, but not the vast bulk of them as I can back in Iowa.

My favourite bird book was the Rodger Tory Peterson Field Guides Eastern Birds.  My folks had an earlier edition and I got one for myself in the 1980s.  The first book was left on a picnic table  over night while camping and got rained on.  The pages stuck together and I had to buy a new book.  In the front of this book is a tick list of all the birds in the book and you could tick them off as you identified them.  I transferred my ticks from the old book into the newer edition and carried on. 

I'm looking at the old list now and I'm smiling. There are so few seabirds ticked on that list.  Iowa is just about as far as you can get from the sea in the US.  It is the geographical centre of the continent and I was 19 before I ever saw an ocean.  It isn't surprising that I can be found in the sea most weekends.

I'm sure that if I grew up near the sea, all these gulls with their confusing feathers would make more sense.  Gulls have winter plumage, breeding plumage,  the 1st year juveniles and then older juveniles . . . .and not all gulls have all these phases.  Forget it!  I'll take the occasional photo and nail the bird identification that way.  It usually ends up being some form of a herring gull.  :-)

When ever I see a bird, I like to know what it is.  I like to know what it is that I am looking at.  After asking a local person, a good field guide is the next place to go.  I have a couple of guides for the UK and Europe (note to self: add in storks to the list from your visit to Hungary a couple of years ago).  These guides covered enough of Europe to be of some practical use when we went on family holidays to France and later on Greece. 

They were not good enough when we went to Tunisia and barely any use at all for Egypt.  I could identify egrets and the bee eaters but I could not identify one of the hawks that few over the hotel complex in the morning.  I need another book.

I was in South Africa about 10 years ago. I bought a bird book when I went there.  That was an exciting trip.  Not only was Africa a new continent, I was in the southern hemisphere for the first time.  I was there in February. I said hello to all the swallows that would eventually make their way back north to Europe to breed.  The thing that struck me about seeing the swallows there, was that they were so quiet.  Up here they make a whole lot of chattering, friendly noises as they breed and raise their families.

Sun birds, sugar birds and ostrich!!  All the birds down there were so exotic to me!  A malachite kingfisher was a flying jewel and the oystercatchers on the beach were completely black except for their tell-tale orange beaks and legs.

The bird book I am hunting for at the moment is one that covers Egypt.  We've been there four times now and I'd like to have a better bird book for it.  I've got the fish of that country covered . . . .

1 comment:

Sarah said...

You must read Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson. A short, sweet little novel about unrequited love and bird watching.