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Lovitch: How to Be a Better Birder

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And that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? The goal of birding, of any hobby, is expertise gratia sua, and the only reason we do it is to do it better. This slender new volume by Derek Lovitch will help almost any birder do just that.

Buy It Now!Relatively new birders who take this book in hand may be surprised to find out just what “better” means. This is not a difficult species guide. Instead, in nine short, casually written chapters, the author introduces us to some of the tools and resources 21st-century birders have available, and shows us how to bring them to bear as we look for that next “good” bird.

After an introductory chapter advocating “whole bird and more birding,” Lovitch devotes the next two to how birders can use–and acquire–a knowledge of habitat and geography. Here and throughout, he offers very helpful recommendations for books and online resources in the ancillary sciences; no excuse now not to be able to tell a syacmore from a maple. There is a whiff of an eastern bias in the habitat discussions; the extended example of wintering Empidonax flycatchers in southeastern Arizona doesn’t really “work” for me. But the reminder to seek out islands of habitat, especially treed islands in seas of open country, is a salutary one wherever you are. Literal islands, peninsulas, and other geographic edges are the subject of the next chapter.

Lovitch is at his very best in the book’s central chapters, where he offers detailed instruction in reading weather forecasts for finding birds. I’ve “bookmarked” several meteorological websites I hadn’t used before, and am eager to see whether they help me this spring. Just to show that theory begets practice, the author narrates a “case study” of a few autumn days in New Jersey, when Lovitch and his friends used the techniques described here to great advantage, birding from Garrett Mountain to Cape May.

The book ends with a postscript about “patch birding,” frequent visits to the same birding site over a long period. This is how birding used to be done, by most of us at least, and Lovitch’s call to return to the practice is a welcome one. And the skills we’re taught in this book will make it even more fun–and make us all better birders.