Thursday 5 January 2012

Nat. Geo. Field Guide - 6th edition

Late last year the 6th edition of the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America was released. I primarily used the 5th edition as my field guide + the Sibley Guide App before I got the 6th edition for Christmas. It was welcome Christmas gift because my old book looked like one of those duct tape wallets - only slightly larger.

Although I've had limited 'field experience' with the new book I have spent some time going through the book at home.

Some of the small things I loved about the previous edition that I was happy to see in the new edition are the Quick Find Index and the Tabs for the major family groups.

One huge improvement over the previous editions is the use of field-mark labels on the actual plates. After spending 4 months using the Birds of Europe field guide I found the field-mark labels extremely useful and wondered why they didn't exist in the North American field guides. It can be annoying going through the text to find the important details when trying to clinch an ID in the field before the bird flees.

The other big improvement that I've noticed is the sketches of sparrows. I don't know what went wrong with the previous editions in terms of sparrows but, in my opinion, they simply did not look like the sparrows I was seeing in the field. I remember seeing my first Clay-coloured Sparrow and when comparing it to the field guide I couldn't see the resemblance - I had to trust the identification made by others in my group!

Another large source of praise for this edition is the use of subspecies maps. For me I haven't found much use for them yet - partly because I haven't been in North America for a while - and partly because I'm still trying to figure out the species let alone the subspecies. But I can definitely see the value in the maps when trying to figure out what subspecies is expected in your region. I remember when I was a new birder I couldn't quite figure out which Song Sparrow ssp. I should focus on. And there's definitely a limit to how well you can describe the regions occupied by each subspecies when using only words.

Some questionable things I've noticed include the fact that Fieldfare appears on the map for Eastern Newfoundland. As far as I know there's only 9 records for the island so I don't know why it's included. Townsend's Warbler has over 10 records for the island and they don't even show Eastern North America (let alone Newfoundland) in the map for that species! And even Redwing has more records for the island and that isn't shown for the island! It's not a big deal but definitely an inconsistency.
And another questionable thing I've noticed in this edition and previous editions (and the Sibley guide for that matter) is the range map for Common Eider - why does it always show them as being inland for the island? I've yet to see a Common Eider on freshwater, I know that some of them breed on freshwater (especially further North) but I didn't think it was that common for the island?

Another small thing I've noticed is that the page numbers are at the bottom of the pages. I don't know how others use their books but for me it is easier to read page numbers if they're at the top of the pages!

Another thing to note is that the book is very up to date. The word Dendroica is no where to be found. And it even includes Greenland and Iceland in the maps when appropriate!

Overall I think this is definitely a big improvement over previous editions and the fact that you can purchase it for less than $20 is pretty awesome :)
I'll definitely be dragging it around with me when I'm back in Canada.

That's my brief opinion (with an emphasis on Newfoundland)!