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A State Birding Guide for the Modern E-era

A review by Chris Loscalzo

Birding in Connecticut, by Frank Gallo

Wesleyan University Press 2018

488 pages—softcover

ABA Sales / Buteo Books 14860 

With its temperate climate, extensive coastline, and large tracts of open space ranging from mature forests to grassy fields, Connecticut is a superb place to see a great variety of birds all year round. Over 400 species have been seen in the state, with new additions to the list every year. Approximately 175 species breed in Connecticut, with dozens more passing through in spring and fall on migration and many staying as winter residents. Birding in Connecticut by Frank Gallo is the newest and best resource for learning where to go look for all those birds. 

Birding in Connecticut is a comprehensive, well-organized birding guide. The book is arranged geographically, zigzagging by region from the southwest to the northeast corners of the state. The author’s intimate knowledge and love of the birds and birding sites of Connecticut jump off the pages of this book and into the eyes and hearts of the readers. He describes the best birding sites in each region in meticulous detail, drawing upon his considerable knowledge of the birds of Connecticut and where to find them. He provides precise instructions for the best ways to explore each site and names some of the birds that can be found there.  

Connecticut birders will find the book helpful in their quest for new sites to explore. Visitors to the state will find the reviews of such premier locations as Hammonasset State Park in Madison and White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield valuable for making the best use of their time. Serious birders looking for rarities will find the book most useful of all.  

Birding in Connecticut arrives some 20 years after two other Connecticut birding guides. The Connecticut Birding Guide by Arnold Devine and Dwight G. Smith has been a useful resource since its publication in 1996, providing maps and directions for nearly 100 locations. The encyclopedic review of 450 sites in Dave Rosgen and Gene Billings’s Finding Birds in Connecticut appeared the same year. But much has changed since then. Some species have gone from rare to common, others from common to rare. Some sites have been developed, while others have been enhanced or opened up to birding for the first time. 

The new Birding in Connecticut is similar in layout and design to Deborah Rivel and Kelleye Rosenheim’s Birdwatching in New York City and Long Island, published in 2016, which treats birding sites immediately south and west of Connecticut. In his 48 chapters, Gallo covers more than 140 locations and provides handy, well-designed color maps and species abundance charts for each site. Each chapter begins with a a seasonal rating (from 1 to 4 stars), the best time to bird, habitats, specialty birds, migrants, address, nearest restrooms, and hazards. A detailed color map displays trails, habitat types, and other features with easy-to-understand symbols. Each section also includes a QR code. Scanning this code takes the reader to the eBird checklist and bar charts for the location, showing the relative abundance of each species. 

This information is followed in each chapter by two very important sections, “The Birding” and “How to Bird this Site.” The former gives a general description of the habitat and the birds that can be found there, while the latter goes into precise detail about how to navigate the site, whether on foot or by car, efficiently and productively. In several cases, alternative routes are recommended, depending on how much time the birder has. Throughout, Gallo is quick and correct to remind the reader to stay safe and follow proper birding etiquette. These informative sections, along with the site maps, are the most useful features of the book.  

Nearly all of the top 100 eBird hotspots in the state appear here. All of the most popular and productive sites are described in the detail they deserve. A few others could have been included, among them Naugatuck State Forest, Hartman Park, Nehantic State Forest, and the Portland Fairgrounds.

Occasionally, Gallo has some fun in describing what the birder might experience, such as when he warns the reader about “mosquitoes the size of small birds” on the railroad trail in Stratford. The text is also ornamented with photos of a few of the rare and uncommon birds observed in Connecticut, many of them taken by the author.

The six appendices provide additional information. Appendix A shows the abundance of each species in bar graphs. Appendix B lists each species found in Connecticut, with a brief description of its abundance and preferred habitat. Appendix C describes 13 habitat types found in the state and mentions the bird species found in each one. Appendix D is a state checklist; Appendix E is a rare bird review list. Appendix F lists birding resources and organizations. All of this is very helpful, but one wonders whether these lengthy appendices might be more valuable printed separately—or made accessible by way of QR codes, making the book more portable. 

Birding in Connecticut has a few imperfections. Unfortunately, birding is becoming something akin to a treasure hunt, with novice and seasoned birders alike emphasizing the pursuit of rarities. This trend creates a dilemma for the authors of bird-finding guides. Should the focus be on the common birds likely to be seen at a particular location or on the rarities that might be found there? The first approach will appeal to beginning and intermediate birders, the second to the some experienced birders and the rarity chaser. Birding in Connecticut tilts to rarity. Gallo’s tendency to mention the rarest birds ever seen at a particular location, rather than the species most likely to be encountered on a visit, is especially noticeable in his description of the H.S. Richardson Wildlife Preserve in Westport:  The four species mentioned for the site include the extremely rare Boreal Chickadee, Western Kingbird, and Painted Bunting. The only bird specifically listed for Westwoods in Guilford is the locally rare Prothonotary Warbler. 

The book also lacks an introduction explaining the format of the chapters. It is not always clear what constitutes a specialty or key bird. Again, the mixing of common and rare birds in site lists can be misleading. There will be an opportunity to address these issues in a second printing. 

On the whole, though, Birding in Connecticut is a comprehensive, modern guide to birding in a state with varied habitat, dozens of prime birding locations, and a great diversity of birds. Indispensable information abounds, presented in narrative form, lists, bar charts, and maps.  Residents of the state will spend many fine days visiting the locations described here, and visiting birders will find guidance to the best sites for the best chance of seeing the birds that interest them the most. Connecticut birders are grateful to Frank Gallo for putting so much time and effort into creating this useful, detailed, and eminently readable guide.

A birder for 45 years, Chris Loscalzo is President of the Connecticut Ornithological Association, Past President of the New Haven Bird Club, and a long-time compiler of the New Haven Christmas Bird Count. When he is not out birding, Chris practices cardiology in New Haven County, Connecticut.

Recommended citation:

Loscalzo, C. 2019. A State Birding Guide for the Modern E-era [a review of Birding in Connecticut, by Frank Gallo]. Birding 50.2: 66-67.

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Birding Book and Media Reviews

Birding Book and Media Reviews

Birding magazine publishes full-length versions of all its reviews on its blog. Books and media of all kinds are evaluated for potential interest level to the ABA membership and then assigned for review and edited by Frank Izaguirre. Contact him at [email protected]
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