Wildlife: New guide makes warbler ID easier

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Set to be published July 24, "The Warbler Guide" (Princeton University Press) by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle is so much more than just another field guide. It includes all 56 species of North American warblers and uses more than 1,000 color photos, dozens of sonograms and every bit of minutia needed to identify even the most confusing species. It is perhaps the most thorough bird identification guide ever published.

The first quarter of the book could stand alone as an independent introduction to warbler identification. In a section titled "What to Notice on a Warbler," contrasting markings, wing bars, facial patterns and diagnostic colors are superbly illustrated. Another section highlights warbler faces -- masks, check patches, eye rings, eye lines, lores and supercillia are clearly defined so even beginning birders won't be confused by jargon.

Songs, calls, chips, flight calls and other vocalizations are handled graphically and with word descriptions. Sonograms help distinguish among clear, buzzy and complex sounds.

The final section of the introduction is a series of "quick finder" facing pages. The "Face Quick Finder" shows side views of the heads of each species.

The "Under View Quick Finder" will be invaluable because warblers often perch high in the tree tops. These images will help identify warblers when only the belly and tail are visible.

Finally, the 56 detailed species accounts require 373 pages. The yellow warbler account, for example, spans 10 pages and includes sonograms and 33 color photos of yellow warblers -- both sexes at various ages and in spring and fall. For comparison, nine more photos illustrate similar species.

Then, to minimize confusion, come accounts of "Similar Non-warbler Species" such as kinglets and vireos. And, if you start feeling confident, you can turn to "Quiz and Review" for a dose of reality.

There's never been an identification guide quite like this one. It's as if the publisher told the authors to produce a book on warbler identification that includes everything a birder might ever need.

But don't be misled by my enthusiasm for "The Warbler Guide." It will not make identifying warblers easy -- it will just make it possible. It's still up to every birder to find, see and hear the birds before turning to this remarkable identification guide.


Biologist, author and broadcaster Scott Shalaway can be heard 9-11 a.m. Saturdays on 1370 WVLY-AM (Wheeling) and noon-2 p.m. Sundays on 1360 WMNY-AM (Pittsburgh). He can be reached at http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com and 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


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