American Birding Podcast



Crossley does Raptors

If you follow many bird blogs you may have noticed a lot of press recently for the upcoming Crossley ID
guide to Raptors (scheduled for release in April- your order from Buteo Books helps support the ABA!)  Crossley Books and Princeton University Press have coordinated a bird blog tour to introduce the book and I’m very pleased to be a part of it.


Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last few years you are no doubt familiar with the revolutionary approach to field guides taken by Richard Crossley.  His idea of using digital photographic montages, representing the many aspects of birds we see in the field in a single plate filled with imagery of subjects near and far, perched and in flight, from above and from below, etc. was a refreshingly unique idea first seen in his ID Guide to Eastern Birds.  Here Richard has collaborated with raptor gurus Jerry Liguouri and Brian Sullivan to take the concept a bit further.  Yes, the trademark composited assemblages are still at the heart of the book but much more text has been added in the back in the form of detailed species accounts and fine-resolution distribution maps.

The book also includes several “quiz” plates, featuring multiple looks at raptors in different circumstances often encountered by enthusiasts and photographers in the field.  These include themes such as Prairie Raptors, Buteos of the Midwest Prairie, Soaring Widespread Common Raptors, Hovering Raptors, Raptor Topsides, Southeastern Raptors, Raptors of the South, Raptors Going Away, Raptors in Black & White (to emphasize structure and simulate bad lighting conditions), Sunrise on the East Coast (raptors washed in warm light), and Into the Sun (backlit raptors.)  These plates have numbered birds without ID labels, with discussion points and the answers given in the back.  In short, the book represents a master course on raptor ID and should be in the arsenal of any serious birder in the US, especially those with a fondness for birds of prey.  Copies at hawk watches are bound to be dog-eared and broken-spined through loving use by the end of the season, as it offers fantastic comparison photos of any given species of any age or color morph from about any angle and in many types of lighting (just like one encounters in the field!)

So my role in this blog tour is to connect bird photography and the book.  What I’ll say here is that the guide (along with Crossley’s ID Guide to Eastern Birds and upcoming UK and Western editions) show that bird pics can be useful even if they are distant, taken in tough light, etc.  I know there is debate about teaching new birders traditional field skills and critical observation techniques vs. just snapping away at everything and figuring out what’s on the card later.  I appreciate the tension between these extremes but I honestly think that the two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive.

I know that I have personally learned a lot by analyzing the myriad of bird photos I’ve taken just as the countless thousands of hours of keenly listening to birds and staring through my bins and scope have improved my ID skills.  When the opportunity presents itself my advice is take pics and look critically at birds, then compare notes when you get home of what you thought you saw vs. what you find in your pics. When it comes to raptors, there is often time to both hoist bins and snap a few pics of a circling bird.  Even if it is just a private guess to yourself, stick a name on the bird in the field and then at home see what the pics indicate and note anything you may have missed on the live bird.

Anyway, as a wrap-up event for the blog tour, Richard Crossley and Brian Sullivan will host a live online Raptor ID Happy Hour from 6 to 7pm EDT.  Click on over to this Shindig link to RSVP!  There’s also a generous sweepstakes with some sweet prizes on offer- link here to enter (& make sure to do so by Friday when the contest ends…)


An example of a species account in the new Crossley ID Guide to Raptors (in this case Zone-tailed Hawk.)

Plates like this show many ages and angles of a given species (care to take a stab at identifying this one?)

Other plates show collections of many species to practice ID skills on, like this example of backlit birds of prey.