Book Review: Birds of Ontario by Bezener

I found Birds of Ontario by Andy Bezener at the local public library about a week ago. The book is part field guide and part reference, with one page devoted to each species. Having used various bird guides and books, I found this book to be a very convenient guide for Ontario.

I am very partial to books that give more than just the basic identification and species information. Bezener’s book is one of these because it includes a large paragraph for each species that gives interesting behavioural information not strictly necessary for identification. I have enjoyed reading many of the entries so far.

This book also has a very handy reference guide with small thumbnails at the beginning as well as an introduction to birdwatching. It also contains a small description of some of the most popular sites in Ontario. We will probably find this very useful, as we actually have done the majority of our birding in Australia where we first became interested in birds, and we are only just getting introduced to Ontario.

The book is illustrated by Ted Nordhagen, Gary Ross, and Ewa Pluciennik. Each species has one or (in the case of tricky species) two illustrations. As a guide, I would say that it would be definitive for the majority of species, with only very few sightings needing a second source. It also has the advantage that it concentrates on Ontario, which is more efficient sometimes than consulting a more massive North American guide.

I would recommend this book for anyone who regularly birds in Ontario.

Book Review: Dolby and Clarke’s “Finding Australian Birds”

Long-time readers probably know that we only have two guaranteed years in Australia, so I’ve been strict with myself with regard to buying books. I know that any book I buy will be one I’ll have to take with me or get rid of, and getting rid of books is not something I do easily. So, it must mean something when I bought “Finding Australian Birds” by Tim Dolby and Rohan Clarke.

This book is a summary of hundreds of birding sites across Australia, including those crazy little islands I’ll sadly never visit. I found it in a public library, and after taking it out and renewing it about a dozen times I finally decided I had to buy it.

Yes folks, this book is good. It’s primary purpose is to give you a solid idea of some great birding sites around different places you might visit or live in. Each site starts with a list of “key species” (i.e. species we never see) and “other species”. The description itself usually say something cool about the place, a little about how to navigate it, and what birds you can find. In short, Finding Australian Birds is an excellent first approximation to all your birding adventures. With pictures on almost every page, it also provides a nice mind-trip to those spots that you might not ever get a chance to visit.

Is a book like this still relevant in this day and age of eBird? Absolutely. A book like this is an excellent complement to eBird. Unlike eBird, Finding Australian Birds gives a compact but detailed overview of an area, its birds, and its general feel. eBird then can be used to fine-tune plans with its continuously updated data. In my mind, this book and eBird make a superb team.

Along with a field guide, Finding Australian Birds should be on every birder’s shelf in Australia. Will it help you find the Night Parrot? No. But it’s a good start!

Review: Pizzey and Knight’s “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia”

Under review is the 9th edition of “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” by Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight, edited by Sarah Pizzey. It describes virtually every bird that can be seen in Australia including vagrants. Chances are, any bird you see will be in this book.

It contains excellent colour illustrations by Frank Knight. Each species is accompanied by a description of its appearance, voice, habitat, breeding times, eggs, and range and ecological status. The range is supplanted by a clear distribution map. To aid in finding a bird, the front and back cover contain a quick finding guide. The last part of the book contains short descriptions of all the bird families in Australia, which makes for interesting reading and can give additional valuable clues for identification. At 608 pages, it is perfect for short walks or the car, though it may be too heavy for some on longer backpacking treks into the outback.

Finding a species is usually easy. When the illustrations don’t provide enough for identification, often the hints in the text do. There were only a few types of birds that were difficult to identify. One is the family Charadriidae. For example, I could not distinguish between the Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers and I only came to a conclusion after consulting a specialised shorebird book.

Another type of cryptic birds are terns. Distinguishing terns is notoriously difficult and most of the time I give up. In the book, some of the terns are illustrated standing, flying from above and flying from below, but not all, which is frustrating. Then again, tern plumage is varied and never constant on an individual, so even illustrations from a given angle may not be enough for a definitive answer. To this end I have ordered an additional book on seabirds to see if I can improve my luck with terns. Ideally, I’d love an additional section for these tough groups including additional illustrations, descriptions, and photographs, though I understand that this may make the book too large.

Despite these few difficulties, the guide is detailed, accurate, and fun to browse. In summary, it is superb for anyone interested in finding and identifying Australian birds. Highly recommended.