I don't think it is possible to have too many Field Guides. It is almost the same as having too many tools, it just doesn't seem like there could be an theoretical limit. Harper Collins has just published an excellent new one, for those of us who like to get as many as possible, or for those in search of their first.
The Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America covers some 750 species of birds found in the ABA area of North America, in a clear concise guide. A little too large to slip in to most pockets, it is nonetheless still very portable and easily taken into the field (where a Field Guide does the most good), and has one of those durable plastic covers that can take the abuse of being thrown in a pack, or kicked around in the car. But what of the content?
One of the beauties of this book is the species accounts are each on a single page (in many cases there are two to a page). And they manage to pack a lot of information into each page. First of all there are sharp clear photos of the bird, covering at least the major plumages. Fantastic photos by the way. A code (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) tells you the bird's status in North America; a single line instantly gives you the bird's size, and whether one sex is larger than the other. A small but quite useful range map, a brief but informative description of bird and habits and a description of major calls or songs rounds out the page.
The introductory chapters on how to use the book, how to identify birds, and the natural history of birds are excellent. They are a must read before you dive into use the book, as not only do they give you the overview of the system that the book uses, but they are an excellent primer on bird ID and natural history.
As an added bonus, included with the book is a DVD with 587 downloadable bird songs, covering a good selection of songs and calls of some 138 common North American species. It was a bit unwieldy getting them on to iTunes and subsequently my iPod, but that may have been more me than anything else. I did put all 587 tracks (each accompanied by a quality picture of the bird) on my iPod, even though the chances of my making use of all but five Arctic species are pretty slim. But hey, if a Dickcissel finds its way up here I'm ready (I love that name, it always reminds me of school boy's insult - "Yeah, well you're a dickcissel." "Heh heh. He said 'Dickcissel'") It would have been nice to have a more complete coverage of species but I suppose space was the limiting factor. As an aside that would be a good project for someone like Cornell's Macaulay library of bird song... partner with Apple and iTunes to offer bird songs/calls for individual purchase through iTunes. That way a person could build their own personalized library (including geographic differences) for study or field ID. Anyone in Cornell reading this?
In short I found this book to be an excellent, practical field guide, well worth the purchase. I have a particular bias towards paintings as opposed to photographs for field guides but that is a personal choice. The book is functional and concise, and that is the main thing. And wait, how would you like to win your own copy of this book, or maybe an iPod? The lads over at 10,000 Birds (the 600 lb gorilla of bird blogs - a very deserving 600 lb gorilla) are giving away 10 copies of the book and an iPod. The contest started yesterday but there is still time, check out the details and then give it your best shot. It is a worthy book to try for.