Guide to the Birds of Alaska Paperback – Apr 1 2008
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But, if you are a beginning birder, or new to the Northwest you might need a different field guide. Animals are illustrated with one, two, or three photographs. Unfortunately photographic guides are often deceiving in the field. I recommend you take another good field guide with you.
Each species has 90 to 100 words to cover field marks, similar species, voice and habitat. In some cases like the Black-Backed Woodpecker, only 56 words are used. The writing is great, but the scope of the book does not allow in-depth coverage of each species.
Range finding is limited to a chart with six rows for regions and four rows for seasons. In Alaska, six regions are equal to six average states in the lower forty eight and saying Common, Uncommon or Rare in a region doesn't help pinpoint the species much. A map would do better to give an idea of locations (at least pointing out a species as coastal, or centered on mountain ranges in a given area etc.)
I wouldn't talk anyone out of getting this book, it is beautiful and well written, but if you are planning a birding trip and need to find locations - try West's A Birders Guide to Alaska, and if you are unsure of your ability to indentify birds in Alaska, at least augment this book with the Sibley or National Geographic Guides. If you going to one of the shorebird festivals, definitely get a specialized guide like Paulson's Shorebird Guide.
***** Update *******
There is now a new edition of this book since this review was written, for the most part, the strengths and weaknesses are the same. However, the one thing that has changed strikingly is that many if not most of the photos were replaced and are even better than those from the last edition. A beautiful book just got more beautiful.
From sooty shearwaters and bald eagles to horned and tufted puffins, one can find all sorts of sea and birds of prey here, as well as wood and grassland birds.
A wonderful source to carry along and help identify species one has previously never seen.
That being said, when I planned a birding trip to Alaska I decided on the Guide to the Birds of Alaska for several reasons. First, Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of Western North America contains birds that I have no chance on seeing on my trip, making it a little harder to use (no Roadrunners in Alaska). Second, since I have never birded Alaska I wanted a book focused on that state only so that I could study it before the trip. Lastly, I like looking at the photos. The quality of the photography is very, very good for a field guide. A few of them (the Black Oystercatcher on a nest with a snowcapped mountain behind it and the shot of a Cassin's Auklet skimming across the water) are beautiful photos in their own right.
One thing that it took me a little time to get used to was the Distribution Chart. Most field guides have small maps on each page and are color coded for where and when a bird might be found. This guide uses a chart and codes instead. However, once I got used to it I actually liked this feature. Another thing; the order of the families seemed unusual and does not follow the established ornithological precedent of listing the oldest species first, then graduating to more recently evolved birds. Still, it was close enough that it didn't throw me off too badly.
All it all I would recommend this guide to anyone heading to Alaska and is interested in wild birds. However, I have to confess that I also brought my Sibley's (just as a back up!).
The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America
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