Today marks what would have been the hundredth birthday of Roger Tory Peterson. It can be argued, quite easily I think, that no one is more responsible for the success of birdwatching as a hobby, avocation, or compulsion than him. He figures quite significantly in my development as a bird lover, for like many people it was the gift of a copy of his Field Guide to the Birds that... that... hmm gave me the skills to identify what I was seeing in the field. Like many people, the ability to name something strengthens my desire to know more about it, to want to be able to name others, and to know more about them. I still own that first copy of his seminal guide, and still take it out from time to time despite its having been updated many times since it was published.
It is fitting of course that Houghton Mifflin, the publishers of the Peterson Field Guides, chose to issue a new edition of his Field Guide to the Birds. Actually it is a new edition to his two Field Guide of the Birds of Eastern North America and Birds of Western North America, for both editions have been included in this book, Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America.
I love the book. But what can I say, I am unabashedly a fan of the Peterson Guides, and they are the first guide I reach for most birds. Possibly because of early exposure to the Peterson Guides I've always been partial to field guides with paintings of birds, rather than photographs. And quite frankly for North America no one does painted plates better. So, I imagine you can get more objective reviews than this one is going to be.
So, what is new about the book? Well the most obvious thing is added bulk and weight. In fact that is probably the biggest drawback to combining the Western and Eastern editions. This is no longer a book that you can slip in your pocket, well without a big pocket. I've been known to carry around several large tomes with me in a back pack while out on an excursion, in Cuba I think it was six but hey I was supposed to be the expert (little did they know), so the size isn't a major issue with me, but it is a consideration that you must make if you're only going to get one field guide. I've heard that there are actually people who only own one field guide, I've just never met one. I can stop buying field guides anytime, really, not now, maybe later.
The larger size means that the plates are larger, and they now include the range maps on the page facing the plates, along with the description. Now my first impression was that the range maps were much too small for my liking, but there is a second, larger version of each map towards the back of the book. About 40 new paintings have been added, and many of Peterson's original drawings have been digitally enhanced.
With a nod to the impact the internet is having on birding and birdwatching with the book comes the opportunity to register for some video podcasts, that offer some further help with popular and common species, tips and a biography of Roger Tory Peterson.
I obviously think highly of Peterson's system of field marks, features of birds that are key to the species identification. It is a system that is especially suited, I believe, to the bird watcher who is just starting out. And while I think this book is worth picking up for everyone, its worth is greater for the beginner.
But if you're a birder who is just starting out, or a seasoned veteran, it is probably worth taking a moment to day to give thanks to Roger Tory Peterson, who really got the ball rolling in this grand game.