Not only do Swainson's Hawks have that sentimental value for me, they are also just really cool hawks. I've watched them hunt and kill. I've seen them seemingly play on the wind. I've observed them mate, build nests, have failed nests, and have successful nests. I've even seen them squirt their pooh...they can really get some distance.
Swainson's Hawks come in all shades of color and even sizes...and that's where the Crossley ID Guide: Raptors comes in! With the help of Brian Sullivan and Jerry Liguori, Richard Crossley has produced another fantastic tool for us to develop our ability to identify birds of prey. Because this guide focuses on one category of birds, we're getting multiple composite plates for many of the species, rather than just one. Each bird image is carefully selected for a purpose.
The Crossley ID Guide books can indeed be used to help you figure out which bird species you saw. Yet, the real purpose of this series is that Crossley Guides can and should be used as a study workbook before you go birding. It's like practicing birding in the comfort of your home by birding in the book itself, then you can take those skills into the field and "recognize" birds rather than having to "identify" them.
Allow me to give you an example of how the new Crossley raptor guide could be used:
Say that you're an east coast U.S. birder and you're coming to visit me in Idaho for the summer and you really want to see your nemesis bird, the Swainson's Hawk. Open your copy of the raptor guide to the section on Swainson's Hawks and study the several plates. Check out the landscape behind the bird images to get an idea of the birds preferred habitat. Ask yourself what the bird is doing in each of the images. Ask yourself, what is this image trying to teach me about Swainson's Hawks? Why did Crazy-Crossley include this? There is a method to this madness. Some images show behavior. Others show various wing positions in flight and perching postures. Yet others show the variety of color patterns and light angles you may come across in the field. For greater memory retention and recall in the field, I encourage you to take notes while you study the plates and images as if you were in the field. You'll surprise yourself with how much you can learn about identifying a bird by following this method of study.
Below are two of the Swainson's Hawk plates, and there is another one at the top of this post. Give it a practice go! What do you learn from these images?
Once you've completed your study of the images, you can turn your attention to the text in the Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. You'll discover that the supporting text will confirm what you have learned from your study. Feel free to consult other fine hawk identification books to supplement your study. You will be a thoroughly superior birder and nearly a Swainson's Hawk expert by the time you arrive in Idaho. I'll even let you point out the first Swainson's Hawk to me.