Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Review: Peterson Field Guide

The Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America is the the 100 year birthday edition celebrating the late Roger Tory Peterson. It combines the Eastern and Western field guides into one larger version. While it does Mr. Peterson's legacy justice, it is also very progressive in its approach; this is the first field guide I have seen that embraces the worldwide web as it provides website address info for video podcasts and other fun birding stuff.
The list price for this field guide is $26. I bought it for an embarrassingly low $4.19 online from an online book dealer that must buy and sale books in bulk like Fannie Mae buys and sales home mortgages. I just got a treasure for cheap!
I like the beautiful and durable vinyl cover. I really love the "One-Page Index" on card-stalk as the very first page of the book. They must have been spying on how I use my field guides to give it such importance. The quick indices feature of field guides get used more than any other page. Another handy quick look-up feature is the color coded bottom of the pages that lumps similar species together. The colors are visible from the edge of the book too.
The introductory pages of this Peterson guide is one of the most interesting and readable of all the field guides I have seen. I actually enjoyed reading it and I learned a few pointers that will help me be a better birder.
The plates of species paintings have been enhanced, updated, and sometimes replaced based on newer and better information. The artistic style has remained true to the Peterson genre and deserves to carry on his name. Roger's son wrote part of the intro and explained that his dad made every effort to capture the "perfect" bird for each species. This artwork is indeed
fabulous and extremely helpful in identification.
In comparison with my trusty Sibley's guide, I still prefer the overall layout of Sibley's over the plates with multiple species shown. Peterson was apparently the innovator of the little arrows pointing to the most relevant identification characteristics. I think Sibley took it another step forward in evolution by adding a snippet of text explaining what the arrows are for. Peterson's arrows almost seem funny and out of place in comparison, but they are still helpful. This Peterson guide, like Nat-Geo's, does show more plumage varieties than does Sibley's. The taxonomic order and descriptive paragraphs are pretty standard, but the relative rarity index is prominently noted on the upper right of each entry.
Other really cool features of the new Peterson guide include:
* Several pages of silhouettes. Every avid birder knows how often you only see silhouettes and a guide like this will be helpful.
* In the back are more detailed range maps in taxonomic order with additional species information. I love maps!
* The life list checklist in the back has enough space to write in the date the bird was seen, which is better than Nat-Geo's checkbox. But again, this is a throw-back to the days when life lists were kept in your field guide, which seems irrelevant in my world where I keep my lists and reports on eBird. I'm sure that long-time Peterson users appreciate it though.
My recommendation: This is a must-have guidebook. It may be too large to use as a guide in the field, but definitely a primary go-to reference book for bird identification.

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