Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Art of Bird Identification by Pete Dunne

The Art of Bird Identification: A Straightforward Approach to Putting a Name to the Bird, Pete Dunne. Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpole Books, 2012. e-book, 108 pps.

     I had a couple of friends who weren't druggies when I finally decided to change my lifestyle. They were birders. I knew that people watched birds but I never really thought about it. It was wintertime and we'd decided to hike up a small mountain one day.
I showed up in an old pair of canvas sneakers. "I always hike in these," I told the two astonished people as we were standing around in their kitchen. They insisted that I put plastic baggies over the sneakers and lent me a set of ski poles to aid in the walk up. 

     Yeah, there was some snow. The trail and the mountain itself was snow-covered. Maybe six or eight inches of the stuff, maybe a foot. We arrived at the top of the mountain. Something was drumming against a tree somewheres. "Pileated," one friend said and the other nodded. "Huh?" I asked. They explained their avocation. "We're birders." Then they had to explain that.

     I was fortunate that the first two birders I knew [and the ones who got me into birding] used sound identification as well as field marks. By time the three of us got to a bird sanctuary that summer, I could recognize some birds by their calls and songs. From these two I learned also about the importance of habitat and even trees in identifying the feathered avians among us.

     I had over a hundred birds on my life list when I decided to throw out the list and just concentrate on studying birds and their actual behaviors. I understand that some percentage of birders can keep a life list and also study the behavior of birds. I don't regret my decision because that was when I learned how to pull together the shapes, sounds, and behaviors of birds into families and individual identifications.

     Such is the stuff of Pete Dunne and his books. The Art of Bird Identification is not a field guide as such. It is rather a heap of information about how to take one's bird identification skills to a more advanced level. Examining birds-- which usually will not pose to our satisfaction in order to present us with precise field marks-- and then comparing their colors to a photograph in a bird book is not where birding is at. It never was.

     The first birders had a solution for those pesky birds who would not stand still. They shot them and killed them and had them stuffed. The next generation of birders now have fancy apps and gadgets on their too-smart phones and other fancy devices that they carry on birding trips with them. Oh, and a fancy camera too. But I don't belong to either generation. I think that is just fine.

     Someday, bird field guides will be obsolete relics, just as typewriters are now. The folks coming up after me may not recognize the greatness of a Pete Dunne or ever attend an Audubon Society meeting. That is their loss. I am happy to be the birder that I am. Pete Dunne inspires a bit of pride in those of us who observe birds.

sapphoq reviews says: Pete Dunne is outstanding in what he does. He knows birds. He knows the answers to questions like: What sounds does a particular species of bird makes when taking off, on flight, landing? Does it hop or walk or both? What trees does it use for nesting? What does the alarm call of a particular species of bird sound like? What is the shape of a bird in flight? What environment is the bird typically found in? The Art of Bird Identification points out correctly that true birding is a synthesis of senses and environmental clues. Highly recommended to all birders who are yearning to improve their observation skills in the field.

No comments: