Thursday, 21 November 2013

Everything you didn't know about North American Warblers....and a whole lot more

This book is definitely one for the Christmas wish list. Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle's exhaustive study of this prettiest of the bird families in the Americas is eye watering. The detail that these lads go into is astounding!
 Being based in the UK means that I don't come into contact with too many of these gorgeous creatures in my normal birding life. Of course, they do turn up on our shores in tiny numbers of a small variety of species that are much loved by the rarity hunters amongst us. Perhaps the most famous Wood Warbler, to give them the name that I knew them best as, was the Kent Golden-winged Warbler of the late 90's that I failed to connect with on the then biggest twitch of all time. Of course, these birds are not true Warblers as we in the Old World would know, but indeed thin-billed buntings that have filled the niche that the Sedge Warblers, Chiffchaffs and all our other warblers would have taken. In fact, I think that the official term for the American family is New World Warblers.

The Warbler Guide does not dwell on such trivial matters as to what the family name should be but just steams straight into how to identify the 56 species of New World Warblers to be encountered in Canada and the US. The text is straight to the point; straight down to the business of identification.
 During the breeding season many of the species are pretty distinctive with the males of most species looking like feathered jewels. The book takes you though a tour of the topography of the birds before fleshing out the statement: what to notice on a warbler. This covers everything from hoods to wingbars to crown patterns, facial patterns, general colorations, size, habits, habitats - the list goes on. Plus there are photographs of everything.
 There is a thorough section of the book devoted to listening to warbler songs. Elements of the songs are broken down through sonograms covering every concievable variation of call/song known. Reading this alone should make you an overnight expert in the vocalisations, that much I know. Before the species accounts, conveniently ordered alphabetically and not taxonomically, are a series of useful plates providing at a glance of practically all the species clocked at different angles as you would see them in the wild. Most useful, I thought, was the underview spread that dipicted images of individual species as if viewed from below.

The species accounts included many pictures of each species in a variety of poses, plumages and zoomed in detail. The text covers brief notes on the main identifying features alongside a distribution map. Additionally, there are also pictures of comparision species with text explaining why those species differed from the one being discussed.

Rarites are dealt with at the end of the species accounts and are each given a double page spread that follows the same format as the main species accounts. Helpfully, there is another section of the book that discusses similar non-warbler species like tits (or Chickadees, if you are North American!) a couple sparrow species and Kinglets. Interestingly, Yellow-breasted Chat and Olive Warbler, two species that I thought of as warblers, are included in this section. Clearly, I have some reading up to do.

As if this was not enough, the vexed subject of hybrids is tackled. Fortunately, according to the author, hybrid warblers are rare. Even so, a few are featured to help the unwary. And there's a quiz right at the end. I love quizzes!

This book is certainly worthy of a place on anyone's heaving book shelf. It is refreshing, stunningly illustrated and importantly, educational. If you want to get to grips with North America's Warblers, you will need to tightly grip The Warbler Guide!

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