24 September, 2021

LitStack Recs: Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays & A Guide to Field Identification – Birds of North America

A Guide to Field Identification – Birds of North Americabirds
Chandler S. Robbins, Bertel Bruun, and Herbert S. Zim
Illustrated by Arthur Singer

This week at the dog park, a huge bald eagle circled overhead, then landed in a tree only a few feet away and stoically tried to ignore the blackbirds who flew at him. They were obviously upset that such a dominant raptor was honing in on their territory. Even more amazingly, a pair of plucky Baltimore orioles also joined in the harassment; perhaps they were building a nest nearby? The eagle took the abuse for about ten minutes, then spread his amazing wings and flew off. Peace returned to the park.

Earlier in the morning I had seen a lovely egret flying overhead, and there were, of course, ducks and geese aplenty, seeing that park is right across the road from one of our loveliest urban lakes. Cardinals, woodpeckers, nuthatches are often out and about along with the common sparrows and red-winged blackbirds. Jays call from the evergreen trees. It’s not uncommon to hear loon call echoing over the water as the dogs cavort and dig holes and bark at bicyclists going by. Earlier in the week, at neighboring lake on the way home from the dog park, I saw a flock of dark water birds who had hunkered down for a few days. I thought they were pie-billed grebes, but then I remembered that grebes were birds that preferred rushes, and these dark, duck-y critters seemed content on the open water. So I grabbed my handy A Guide to Field Identification – Birds of North America, and did some thumbing through its well worn pages to discover what they really were.
In my youth, I might have called myself a birder. My dad and I, especially on summer camping trips, would often rise before the sun and take off across meadow and vale, looking and listening for birds. A trim yet jam packed “Field Guide” was always in a jacket pocket, either his or mine. Even though I haven’t been on a birding jaunt in years, I can’t think back to a time when I didn’t have a Field Guide nearby, even after I had moved away from home, even during my more bohemian years.

There is something about rifling through the pages of a Field Guide, whether it be the Golden edition that I always had to the Roger Tory Peterson that my dad preferred (the Peterson was prettier, the Golden was cheaper) that just feels right. Sure, the internet has lots of snazzy information on birds (even too much information) and smart phones no doubt have amazing apps that allow you to hear and see and read about birds in question. They are great resources when doing research, or learning about migratory patterns, habitat or the sociability of any given bird. But when you are out in the wilderness, or in the amazing freshness of the dawning of a spring day -when you’re out in the field – and all you want to do is find out what that little flittering critter with the brown body and the red patch on his head (and the beautiful chirpy song) is, then having a Field Guide at your fingertips is the way to go. It’s always available, sans internet connection or 4G signal.

Some things just can’t be replaced by modern technology; some things don’t need to be replaced by modern technology. No matter who you are, no matter where you live, a Field Guide on your bookshelf, ready to take to the back yard or bring to the front window, is a wonderful thing to have, for whenever you need it. I highly recommend owning one, and using it!
Oh, and those water birds I was wondering about earlier? Not grebes. White winged scoters, I think. Probably on their way to Lake Superior. Lovely sight.

—Sharon Browning

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