Stuck in Dillon, MT with very little to do for an entire summer. I was being paid by the Forest Service to literally hike and count rocks in creeks, one of the best jobs ever. The weather was finally comfortable and being outside had become the number one priority. I was looking for something new to do, but what exactly? I had been seeing a lot of birds, and even though I knew most of the species, I did not know much about them. I remembered my long dormant passion for wildlife observation. As a young kid, I would go out all day long, and explore every nook and cranny of my family’s northwest Montana ranch. Insects were placed into jars, rocks and skulls dragged home, and hours spent just watching things. Then, puberty hit with an acne-covered thud. Spending time with bugs and frogs was no longer cool, as if it ever was. There were girls to impress with my considerable conversational skills, for example, “Huh, um…I have hands.”, and the need to be viewed as a non-nerd. I worked hard to scrap away any remaining vestiges of my nerdish leanings, and during that summer, I reclaimed my true passion from my web of social nuances and appearences. I was about to buy, as an adult, my first bird field guide.
The only bookstore in Dillon, MT was not exactly a mecca for natural history texts. The only field guide they had was the first edition of the Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Western Region. I absolutely devoured that field guide, and that peculiar passion that infects some of us had begun to emerge. I was becoming a birder, an obsessive one at that.
I still have that old, battered field guide in my office, even though it has gone unopened for quite some time. Each tear and smudge has some story behind it. Even though I have obtained a ridiculous number of field guides and reference books, this worn book will always be my first field guide, much like a first kiss.
I was excited to learn that Donald and Lillian Stokes were publishing a new field guide that covered all of the North American birds. The blurs that were my fingers, tapped rapidly on the keyboard as I procured my copy of The Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Within a few days, the package had arrived, and I ripped it open with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning.
I am very impressed with this field guide, both terms of the layout and comprehensiveness. The images are generally excellent with a few less than great ones popping up from time to time. These duds, however, are universally images of species that are nearly impossible to obtain decent photos of them, such as the swifts. Each account has several images of the species, and these are generally along the lines of stages of maturation and plumage. Also, the images are above the account text, so the visual aspect of learning is initiated first.
There is nothing earth-shattering about the species account text, but the information is concisely presented and accurate. The range maps tend to be more accurate than those found in several other North American field guides.
The best feature of the Stokes Field Guide is the inclusion of a CD of over 600 bird songs and calls that are matched with species accounts. I have written about this kind of cross media package before, and I love this approach. Want to learn birds better, read about them as you hear them and have images in front of you.
Overall, the Stokes Field Guide is well-suited for beginning birders or backyard birdwatchers, and I feel that these folks are the current audience of this book. It would be a great gift purchase for the young birder as well.