George’s Outdoor Picks – The Warbler Guide

Linda and I gave up trying to identify fall warblers in their drab or nonexistent colors. But not any longer, thanks to The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle. Wow! This is the best warbler book we’ve ever seen. Actually, we’ve never seen any bird book like this one, published this year by Princeton University Press.

Whittle’s photos – and there are thousands here – are stunning. Stephenson’s in-depth comprehensive information will – if we ever master it all – make us real experts on our favorite species of bird. The book’s 560 pages will entertain and inform you for the rest of your life.

There’s plenty of innovative and interesting information here for the birding expert, but, as amateurs and relative newcomers to the sport of birding, the “Visual Finder Guides” have been most beneficial so far.

Can you only see the face of a warbler high up in that tree? Whip out the Face Quick Finder. Two-page guides offer face, side, 45 degree, and underview photos of all the warblers, plus east spring, east fall, west spring, and west fall photos. I’ve opened the guide to the east fall photos so many times this past month that the book opens automatically to these pages now. No more flipping through a bird book from warbler to warbler, until I give up in frustration. They are all here, on two pages!

The first 100 pages are all about learning. I particularly benefitted from the chapter “What to notice on a warbler” and “How to listen to warbler songs.” Linda is far better than I am at identifying songs, but now, I’ve got a chance to catch up! The chapter on chip and flight calls is fascinating. I’ve got so much to learn. But it is all here, in one guide.

Each warbler also gets its own ten page presentation, and I quickly checked out my favorite, the Blackburnian.  After enjoying the amazing photos, I dug down into the details, learning how to age and sex my favorite bird, studying sonograms and written descriptions of their songs, carefully noting the variations in colors throughout the year, and checking out photos of comparison species.

It took me quite a while to get to the back sections of the book, where the habitat and behavior charts are helpful, and the quiz and review section is humbling. Lots more to learn!

Recently, they also added, at www.thewarblerguide.com, a downloadable Vocalization Finder, with songs, chip calls, and flight calls of all the warblers. It’s a symphony of song!

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website, georgesmithmaine.com, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. George also hosts, with Harry Vanderweide, a TV talk show called Wildfire, now in its 13th year and focused on hunting, fishing, environmental, and conservation issues. The show is owned and produced by Maine Audubon and seen on its website as well as on the Time Warner cable TV station throughout the state.