Last fall I was birding at Lake Nockamixon near my house, when a bird of prey came flying past. By the time I saw it, it was already parallel to me. By the time I got my binoculars on it, it was heading away in a glide and I couldn't see its head. I first thought Peregrine but then it flapped and the wings didn't look so falcon-like. It swooped up into a tree, and I got a good look at its wings--dark grayish blue above with blackish "hands". By the time I got it in the scope, I only got another brief look at it. It wasn't the best view, and in some circumstances I might have had to let it go unidentified.
But fortunately I had been brushing up on raptor ID by reading Jerry Liguori's Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight (Princeton, 2005). Based on what I had read, I had seen enough to be able to identify it as a male Northern Goshawk. Sweet! I don't get to see many of these birds around here, and though they are a cinch to identify with a good look and when they are perched--they can be tougher at a distance or in flight or at an awkward angle--just the type of ID that Hawks from Every Angle is set up to help us with.
Some birders love to study their bird books. Others may be more like me, and more likely to read something else for fun rather than a bird identification book. But to stay sharp, birders need to study. Its one thing to be able to take notes or remember enough about a tricky bird to look it up in a library of field guides and other references when you get home. But to be really sharp in the field you have to be able to at least know what to look for when you are presented with a tough bird. That only comes from lots of experience combined with study.
So how is Hawks from Every Angle as a study aid? I'll admit that I haven't read it cover to cover yet. I just don't have the fortitude to do that all at once. But the good thing about Hawks from Every Angle is that you can study it at different levels. You can focus on the more than 370 photos and read the brief but informative captions. That will show you the most important points. Or you can skim the sections on each of 19 raptor species that are most commonly seen from hawk watch sites in the United States, where bolded statements in the text help a reader focus in on key marks. If you are really awake and have time to concentrate, you can read the full text of those species accounts and drink from the fire hose of descriptions of the key characteristics of each species as seen form below, head-on, wing-on, or flying away.
While there is probably too much in Hawks from Every Angle to absorb in one or even a few sittings, Jerry Liguori has written in a readable, clear, and concise style. Hawks from Every Angle is a great book to keep on the bed side table. Ten minutes of perusing this beautiful and helpful book now and again is a great way to become familiar with key field marks, as well as the gestault of each bird so that when that tricky raptor speeds past you in the woods, or that distant hawk flirts with you in the shimmering heat waves, you'll be ready!
(Review based on review copy provided by Princeton University Press)