Best Bird Field Guides

The Best Field Guides and Yellow Legs

Identifying Birds – You Need A Guide

Identifying the species and type of bird you are staring down can be really hard to do.  After a day’s haul of pictures, I have to ask my Birder Brain friends to identify what I shot and they love the challenge of identifying shorebirds.  Apparently, many shorebirds are really hard to identify and even the brainiest Birder Brain can have difficulty.  They change plumage with the seasons, the birds that is, and differ when they are juveniles.  I carry the classic “Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds” and it has served me well.  The Birder Brains I meet use the newer Sibley Guides that have more details such as juvenile and winter plumage drawings.

Whichever guide you purchase, I recommend getting the version that addresses only the birds in your part of the country and not for all of say North America.  Identifying birds can be very very difficult so you want to eliminate birds that don’t exist in your area.  One time, I swore I saw a Spotted Owl.  Yepper, I just knew I saw a spotted owl as it looked just like the bird in the darn book.  I was so proud of my discovery, I blasted the picture out in an email to virtually every one I knew and declared it a Spotted Owl.  Well it wasn’t a Spotted Owl, but a Barred Owl.  A Birder Brain friend of mine pointed out that the Spotted Owl’s range is the very west of North America and I shot these pics in New Jersey.  Ooops.  She also hit “Reply All” to my email and everyone saw what a dope I was.  Don’t be a dope; get the book that is more specific to your area.

The Sibley and Peterson guides are fantastic and can be purchased in many versions, some with the whole enchilada of birds in North America, specific to Eastern/Western, or some that even include/exclude Central North America.  No excuses for a screw up like mine.

My Birder Brain friends tell me I should “graduate” to the Sibley guides, but I have been very happy with my Peterson classic guide.  However, it is getting a bit dog-eared and I spilled a milkshake into it thus turning the last third of the book into a single clump of stinky, rock hard paper board.  Snowbirds, Finches, and Sparrows ceased to exist in my world so it looks like I will give Mr Sibley a try in my near future.

If you are new to birding and just want to tell a chicken from a cow, the Peterson Guide is fantastic.  If you get into the hobby, then you must have a more detailed guide like the Sibley guide.

Guides to Avoid

I have since trashed my first guide as it was awful.  It had the word “Audubon” in it and it bragged it had only photographs rather than the drawings that are in Sibley and Peterson.  It was useless.  I was ID’ing sparrows as eagles and ducks as falcons.  The drawings in the Sibley and Peterson guide just work well and they highlight what characteristics uniquely identify that bird.

Forget the smart phone apps

Now that most of us have smart phones, bird identification software started showing up for these devices a while ago.  I purchased the Sibley guide for Android and carry around the catalog on my belt.  Problem is that it is pretty useless for ID’ing birds due to the small screen and display of a single bird.  You really need an old fashioned book with its large surface area to compare and contrast a few birds at once.  The Android app only shows one bird at a time, the drawings are too small, and therefore completely useless.  Get the book.

Hot to Trot Yellow Legs

I snapped these by accident when I was shooting some Semipalmated Plovers.  These guys or gals dropped in, walked around for a bit, and then took off.

Nothing exciting about this bird unless you are a lonely, yellow leg lover.  Then I guess this bugger will get your motor running.  Problem with Yellowlegs is they come in two different types, the Greater Yellowlegs and the Lesser Yellowlegs.  I think this is a Greater Yellowlegs bird because its bill is ever so slightly upturned and a little longer than the head width.  How do I know this?  I got a field guide!!

Lesser…. what an awful label.  Can you imagine living your life being lesser?  I bet most of these Lesser Yellowlegs have issues… problems…. some even have tough nicknames that make up for their diminutive stature like “Spike” and “Nails”.   Don’t f-around with Spike, he’ll give you a yellowleg to the plums.

The Equipment:

  • Canon 5D MkII
  • Canon 500mm f/4 L lens
  • Gitzo 3530LS carbon fiber tripod
  • Wimberley II gimbal head
  • Peterson Field Guide to Eastern Birds (Gonna get a Sibley soon!)

Galleries: Birding, Birds, Field Guide, and Yellow Legs. Tags: 500mm, 5D Mk II, Birding, and Gitzo Wimberly.

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