Exploring The Last Green Valley: Don’t forget the guide book for exploring the region
“The truth of the matter is, the birds could very well live without us, but many – perhaps all – of us would find life incomplete, indeed almost intolerable without the birds.”
– Roger Tory Peterson
Last week, a reader called me looking for suggestions on a guidebook for birds from the region. There was a bird at his feeder he couldn’t identify, and he was looking for advice.
I will readily admit to being mildly obsessed with guide books, as well as books on specific species of animals and trees. A visitor to my office or home will discover a bookcase filled with these reading materials. I can’t seem to get enough. I frequently visit used book stores seeking good deals and have found many, if not most, of my nature guidebooks this way – usually in perfectly good shape and at a great price. Needless to say, I had several suggestions for the caller.
I am not a trained naturalist, and, though I have attended countless workshops, walks and talks about nature, guidebooks are with me on every outdoor excursion. I refer to them to help answer my all too frequent question, “what kind of ___ is that?” Here is a list of my favorite guidebooks.
There are several excellent choices when it comes to bird books. When I was a kid the most important guidebook in the house, fondly referred to as the “bird bible,” was the “Peterson Field Guide to Birds″ by ornithologist and artist Roger Tory Peterson. First published in the 1930s, it has since gone through several new editions. The Peterson guide was designed for the amateur bird watcher and included illustrations of what birds looked like in flight – as a dark silhouette against a bright sky.
Since the first “Peterson Field Guide to Birds” many Peterson Field Guides have become available and continue to be excellent resources. From Eastern to Western birds, butterflies, amphibians, insects, animal tracks and more, just about every aspect of the natural world is available in a Peterson Field Guide.
The National Audubon Society also publishes excellent field guides, and, like the Peterson guides, the Audubon guides cover several topics. There are 16 different Audubon guides to choose from and you can even purchase the entire set. Both the Peterson and Audubon guides also provide region-specific topics such as Eastern or Western birds, the Rocky Mountains, etc.
David Allen Sibley is an ornithologist and artist and first published his Sibley Field Guide to Birds in 2003. His guides to birds are considered on par with the Peterson Field Guides. I frequently use my Sibley guide to birds of Eastern North America and consider it one of my go-to books when first looking up birds. I like how each bird is illustrated at different plumage stages and the guide includes a map of the Unites States with a regional color code of where the species is typically located in winter, summer, year-round, migration or if they are rarely in a region.
My brother gave me one volume of the “Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior.” There are several Stokes Nature Guides, but their bird behavior guide – of which there are three volumes — are excellent for the amount of information given on each bird species. Each volume details 25 common birds with information about the seasonal movement, behavior calendar, visual displays and plumage, territorial behavior, courtship, nest building, breeding and calls. To really understand a specific species of bird, the Stokes Guide to Bird Behavior, Volumes 1-3 are a fantastic resource.
Recently, I purchased the “National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America″ and as can be expected from the National Geographic Society, the quality and information and pictures are excellent. Like the Sibley guide, it also uses a handy map of the country to show the seasonal movements and location of each species.
Last year, I purchased the “Kaufman Guide to Nature in New England.” This handy guide is great to keep in a backpack simply because if provides identification of the most common species of trees, wildflowers, birds, mammals, insects and amphibians typically found in New England. This guide is great for kids who are just getting interested in exploring the outdoors.
I enjoy finding animal tracks and the best guide I have found for identifying tracks is “Tracking and the Art of Seeing” by Paul Rezendes. From tiny mice to tall moose, this guide clearly illustrates the tracks and signs of pretty much all the mammal species found in North America. It is full of helpful information about tracks and the behavior of each animal with excellent photographs, diagrams and illustrations.
The age of the internet has given rise to many online guides. While it is not always possible to get an internet signal in the woods, I do recommend checking out the Cornell Lab for Ornithology’s All About Birds website. The data and information layers on each species are exceptional and there are handy audio recordings of each bird’s songs, calls, etc. I have used this feature many times. You can find it at www.allaboutbirds.org.
The TLGV website is also a good resource for information about our local flora and fauna with our “Wild Guide to The Last Green Valley.” Along with descriptions of our region’s natural habitats the guide has helpful information on common birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, trees and wild flowers. The guide includes a list of more than 30 specific locations open to the public for viewing wildlife and experiencing nature in the National Heritage Corridor. The TLGV Wild Guide can be found at http://thelastgreenvalley.org and by clicking on the About tab, the Publications tab, and scroll down to the Wild Guide.
There you have it – Ranger Bill’s guide to guides. Most of these can be found at book stores and online book sellers. By the way, for the person who called looking for a bird guidebook, I suggested he look for books specifically on Eastern United States birds and suggested the Audubon, Sibley and, of course, the old favorite Peterson guide.
Spring is here. It’s time to get out and explore our beautiful region called The Last Green Valley. It remains 77 percent forests and fields – green during the day and dark starlit at night. Join me as we explore its wonders, care for it, enjoy it and pass it on. Don’t forget to take along your handy guidebook – you never know what you might see.
Bill Reid is chief ranger of The Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor and has lived in the region for more than 35 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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