MBCP Book Reviews

Raptors of Mexico and Central America

By William Clark and John Schmitt, 2017

Raptors of Mexico and Central America is an ideal guide for the accipiter inclined in what must be one of the richest regions of the world. Photographs by William S. Clarke and paintings by N. John Schmitt provide the user with a ready appreciation of the region's 69 species of eagles, hawks, kites, falcons and vultures -- their age-related plumages, flight silhouettes, and behavior. Accounts of each species include distribution maps and describe their status, habitats  and subspecies.  

Bill Clark has co-authored the guide to North American raptor identification in the Peterson Field Guide series, a similar guide to raptors of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa (illustrated by John Schmitt) and a field guide to raptors of Africa is in the press. John Schmitt has spent considerable time in the field and has captured the quintessence of the raptors and the unique patterns of their plumage. 

Much good work is being conducted in Mexico and Central America, particularly on raptor migration and monitoring population levels. This book helps the reader appreciate such efforts and invites participation.

Princeton University Press is known for its high standard of published bird books and this contribution further enhances it reputation. 

- Colin Rees, March 2017

Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

By Donald Kroodsma, 2016.

We have all enjoyed the Dawn Chorus but few can boast about bicycling across the US in pursuit of the phenomenon. This is what Donald Kroodsma achieves in his new book Listening to a Continent Sing. In less than 10 weeks the author journeyed with his son covering terrains vast and spectacular and intimate and special. His delight is infectious and allows us to appreciate this natural symphony all the more. He ends each day describing evening choruses and throughout offers insights into the functions and forms of song detailing behavior, habitat and evolutionary biology and the subtleties we all too often miss: how different species master their special repertoire—e.g. songs passed on genetically, learned from their fathers, or picked up from neighboring birds. Kroodsma’s descriptions of the bird songs and their calls populate the text, but they are also available as online recordings.

Given the approaching festive season, I cannot but help recalling a vignette from one of Kroodsma's earlier books: Birdsong by the Seasons. For the winter he posed a question: do the winter birds begin to sing more in the winter solstice? Do they know that this shortest of days is in fact not the first day of winter but instead the first day of spring, and do they announce it in song? Accordingly, he decided that December 11 to December 31 was a good time frame, the goal being to listen on at least five days before the solstice and five days after, plus the solstice itself, trying to keep the weather factor constant by choosing relatively calm days with no inclement weather. Try the experiment around an hour long walk simply listening for birdsong (not just calling) and you will be surprised at the result.

- Colin Rees, December 2016