Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Crossley ID Guide - A Review! - 28 May 2011

The Crossley ID Guide:
Eastern Birds -
Richard Crossley

Cloth Flexibound | 2011 | $35.00 / £24.95
544 pp. | 7-1/2 x 10 | 10,000 color images.

When Princeton University Press approached me to review Richard Crossley's brand new field guide I jumped at the opportunity.  I'd been wanting to get my hands on this revolutionary new approach to identifying birds in the field.  And, once in hand found that I couldn't put it down until I had flipped every page. I love this book!  Congratulations, Mr. Crossley, you have a winner, and a new entry in a long line of classic bird identification guides.

But a question arises?  Is it it a bird guide? Or, is it a reference guide?  Well, it's both.
It's a bird guide, but one that's simply too heavy to carry in the field.  At almost 3 lbs. it is large and bulky, but is packed cover-to-cover w/ 10,000 photos arranged in 640 scenes (or plates) created by the author.  But that's ok, because I agree with Mr. Crossley's assertion that birders should take a notebook into the field and leave the ID book(s) at home, which forces the birder to look at, observe, and learn what makes the bird unique.

Although beginning birders will find this guide invaluable, I would recommend that it not be their first ID guide.  It is simply too big and too detailed for someone trying to identify birds for the first time.  A person could quickly become overwhelmed and frustrated trying to scan through 500+ pages to find the bird they had just seen in the field. The lack of 'arrows' highlighting distinctive ID traits, first made popular with the Peterson Bird Guides, adds to the complexity of using the Crossley ID Guide.  Crossley purposely left out captions and ID features to force birders to look more closely.  I would advise any birder, however, from beginner to advanced, to read his Introductory chapter on "How to Become a Better Birder" as he explains why we should learn to "look", versus "seeing".

Photo courtesy of Princeton
University Press
The intermediate and advanced birder will find this guide invaluable for the impressive amount of information held within.  You will also find that this guide is not laid out in the traditional, Taxonomic manner.  Instead, Crossley divides the book into 8 sections based on habitat and physical similarities:

- Swimming Waterbirds (swans, geese, ducks...)
- Flying Waterbirds (seabirds, terns, gulls, jaegers, skuas...)
- Walking Waterbirds (shorebirds, herons, egrets, rails...)
- Upland Gamebirds (turkeys, grouse, quail, pheasants...)
- Raptors (vultures, eagles, hawks, falcons, owls...)
- Misc. Larger Landbirds (goatsuckers, doves, pigeons, cuckoos, parrots, woodpeckers, jays, crows, ravens...)
- Aerial Landbirds (hummingbirds, swallows, martins...)
- Songbirds (chickadees, flycatchers, vireos, warblers, sparrows...)

For the most part this layout follows the traditional AOU Taxonomic order, and makes it easy to find habitat groups (the next version might separate the groups using different colors on the page-ends, or tabs).  The inside cover and 16 pp. before the Introduction provides a key to the different groups with the most common birds shown 'carefully' drawn to relative scale. However, the scale is only accurate 'within' the particular section and is not accurate when comparing birds of different sections.  This is not inherently clear, thus, a floating scale would be beneficial for each section to lessen confusion.

Photo courtesy of Princeton
University Press
Which brings us to the plates! Crossley has created stunning photographs (from his own collection) of representative habitats for each species.  This makes it a reference guide that shows each bird in a variety of poses and plumage variations from near to far.  This revolutionary new way to show birds in their natural habitat is what Crossley calls "reality birding".  I love this concept, and found the plates to be absolutely stunning.

The layout for each plate is arranged so that the bird plumage we'd most like see is shown forefront.  From there Crossley depicts each bird in various positions, plumages, and distances so that we see the bird much like we would in real life.  Species get proportional coverage, i.e., less common or rare birds get a smaller plate w/ fewer images.   To maximize use of space, Crossley makes use of the 4-letter Alpha Code for each species (the same used by bird banders), so a bird like Western Sandpiper would be labeled WESA.  A birder even gets a hint as to whether the species is solitary versus communal based on spacing of birds w/in the plate.

Photo courtesy of Princeton
University Press
I love the section on seabirds.  Nowhere else have I found such a wealth of images of pelagic birds that would help a seabird novice (like me).  I wish that that warbler plates would've shown more undertail covert images, since they provide views of what we birders see all the time from these birds, and help to ID the birds during their 'confusing fall' plumages.

A detailed examination of the book will reveal a number of editorial mistakes.  For a list of corrections check out: .  The Crossley website contains a wealth of information about this book, and the author's thoughts behind this project.  Check out his videos!

Unless you're an absolute birding beginner I highly recommend spending the $35 to get this book.  Richard Crossley deserves a ton of credit for creating a brilliant guide that everyone will enjoy, and find most useful.  It will not negate the current crop of ID guides currently on birder's bookshelves, so folks like David Sibley, Kenn Kauffman, the Stokes, and National Geographic can rest easy.  But the Crossley ID Guide will certainly become an instant classic!

1 comment:

Cathy Carroll said...

Jerry, good review with description of both pros and cons. I haven't purchased the book yet, but have thumbed through it on a recent visit to Ottawa NWR. I agree, an impressive endeavor, with a new way to view birds. Thanks also for the Crossley website. His videos are good. Of note, he has two new books upcoming - a book on birds of Britain and of mystery birds. I wondered about the authors name, Richard Crossley - sounded like a British name - but then I read he was from Cape May. His videos reveal that he is, indeed, British - but, then also from Cape May, I guess. For his upcoming birds of Britain book I imagine he will use the same format. Having just been to England last year, I searched high and low for a good field guide specific to Britain. That will be also be a welcome field guide.

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