Birding, more than anything, is characterized by dreaming. While birdwatchers may be satisfied to enjoy the birds they happen to see in their yard or wherever they may be, birders are always seeking and dreaming about birds unseen. If you have birds that you want to see, but haven't--you are a birder.
Global Birding, the latest National Geographic book by Les Beletsky fans the fuel of such dreams. Written primarily for North American birders with dreams of shiny exotic birds, each chapter of its 320 pages introduces the reader to the birds and birding possibilities of a continent, with sections on regions within each continent of special interest to birders--and since this is National Geographic, the requisite gorgeous photographs of birds and landscapes, as well as basic maps for the geographically challenged. Global Birding provides tips on traveling in each region, as well as an overview of the significant bird families and species in each region. This makes Global Birding useful to would be travelers, as well as arm-chair travelers who may never save up the serious coin that it takes to reach some of the more exotic birding destinations. You may never actually get to see a Helmeted Vanga, but after spending some time with Global Birding, you will at least know what it is, where to find it, and what it might take to find one.
In thumbing through Global Birding, I was glad to see that Beletsky provides the names of the local birding and conservation organizations in each region--along with web addresses. Sidebars provide recommendations on the best field guides and site guides for each region. There are also dozens of sidebars with information on birding unique locations or tips on spotting high profile species like Gray-necked Rockfowl or Dwarf Jay.
As a geographer, I really enjoyed the introductory chapter on The Geography of Birds, with its review of bird diversity by country and bioregions. Tables provide information on Endemic Bird Areas within each country, as well as how many restricted-range species occur there. Sidebars also show the reader which countries have the most endemic species, as well as the most globally threatened species. All the while stoking the fire of bird lust with gorgeous photographs of birds you may never even have heard of--like Peruvian Plantcutters, Upland Goose, or the Coral-billed Ground-Cuckoo.
Now the sad part, where I complain that I wish the book were bigger. I wish there were more info on more birds--but of course, that itch can never be fully scratched. I'm a birder. I always want more. More pages. More birds. But lets not get carried away. There have to be limits. But when it comes to the maps, I think the book could have done more with what it already had. The maps are pretty basic, and could have provided so much more information on birding locations, endemic bird areas, etc. For example, major rivers are often depicted but not labeled. The map of Asia doesn't even have political boundaries. We know National Geographic can make some sweet maps, but the ones here aren't anything to write home about.
Other than that, my only other concern is that this book is dangerous! You can't just show a birder pictures of exotic birds and landscapes without fueling a desire to get out and see those places and birds--which in this case involves considerable expense. So be forewarned. The more time you spend with Global Birding, the more you will want to be a global birder. The book is a call to adventure, the adventure of birding on a global scale. It is not for the faint of heart. Peruse at your own risk!