REVIEW - BIRDS OF ALASKA FIELD GUIDE

Tekiela, Stan, Birds of Alaska Field Guide. Adventure Publications. Softbound. 376 pages. Color photographs. $15.95.

This is a hefty little book, short, but almost too thick to put in a pocket. The photos are clear and the color reproduction well done. In many cases, if the male and female differ considerably in color of plumage, both are shown. Occasionally a juvenile bird is also illustrated.

The prefatory notes are much more helpful than the initial title. "Why Watch Birds in Alaska?" strikes this reviewer as one of the lamest titles of the year. Why watch birds anywhere? is the first reaction. However things quickly look up. Tips for identifying birds from its color, size, shape of bill, habitat, what it's eating, and noting the size and shape of the wing if the bird is in flight, are all soothing and helpful to the novice.

The short section, with drawings, on bird nests, is also encouraging. Migration and range terms are explained, and the explanation that the book sections are arranged by color of the bird is useful.

However, here's where the caveats begin. The color of the bird can be a very subjective thing. For example, the White-winged Scoter is listed under Brown Birds, although it looks black when seen on the water.

It would seem arranging by habitat might make the guide easier to use.

And now we get to the point. All the photographs are of birds resting or perching. This may be fine for the experienced birder, but the beginner rarely sees the Tree Swallow perched on a branch or the Yellow-rumped Warbler in the privacy of its nest. This book would be much improved if at least some birds were shown in flight. The Canadian government put out a great little booklet years ago, called "Ducks at a Distance". I loved that book. It showed what to look for, including wing patterns, when viewing ducks from the normal viewpoint - at a distance.

In other words, this book divides the haves from the have-nots - those who have lots of experience sighting birds and those who haven't.

Beginners beware, or just enjoy the photographs.

D.L.

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