Nicely timed with the arrival of gulls in Arctic Bay has been the arrival of a new guide on gulls, Gulls of the Americas. This large (515 pgs) volume is the first book in the Peterson Reference Guides series, written by Steve N.G. Howell and Jon Dunn. It would make a nice addition to any bird watcher's library, especially those vexed by the challenges of gull identification.
The guide is generously illustrated with over 1,100 photographs, and covers some thirty-six species of gulls found in North and South America (out of the fifty odd species found world wide). The book is organized with the photo plates at the beginning of the book (after the "How to Use This Book" and the Introduction), followed by the species accounts including range maps. The introduction is an excellent primer on gulls and the various elements of gull identification that one needs to sort through this group of birds. The species accounts are well organized and detailed, and include a section on similar species in all the various plumages. The similar species section is essential for proper identification. It also includes information (and photos) of various hybrids.
The beauty of gull identification is that you can take it as far as you'd like. You can start by identifying only adult plumage birds if you so like, ignoring some of the confusing intermediate plumages. If you feel up to it you can delve further and further into the identification challenges, but I'm willing to bet that no matter how skilled you become you will never reach 100% success in identifying the gulls out there. There will always be individuals you come across that defy identification. All part of the beauty of nature. This is a book that can assist you in expanding your skills and enjoyment of gulls.
But while this book is a welcome addition to my library I do have to say that it will not be my primary reference when it comes to gull identification. That will remain Seabirds: An Identification Guide by Peter Harrison. The Harrison book is slightly more portable, and thus is easier to take out in the field, but more importantly for me (and I realize this is a personal thing) has illustrations rather than photographs. The photographs in Howell and Dunn's book are excellent but I much prefer illustrations. Illustrations (to my mind) are better able to convey the "idea" of characteristics, rather than a particular individual's characteristics.
I've already made good use of this excellent book, the day of it's arrival. I look forward to expanding my gull identification abilities with it.