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Monday, October 24, 2011

The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution

I just moved to The Garden State, so William Boyle's The Birds of New Jersey: Status and Distribution (Princeton, 2011) has appeared just in time to help me get up to speed on the birds in my new home state!

The Birds of New Jersey is an annotated checklist to the 465 bird species recorded in New Jersey through mid-2010.  Each species account features a paragraph outlining the seasonal status and distribution of the bird within New Jersey.  For birds reported fewer than five times in the state, the account lists the locations and dates of occurrence.  A large color-coded seasonal distribution map (showing county boundaries) is included for each bird.  Rare birds on the New Jersey Bird Records Committee review list feature dots showing the location of every accepted record.  Finally, The Birds of New Jersey also showcases 200 photos of New Jersey birds, including documentation shots of rare birds.  All in all this is a great book, and since I'm new to the state, I find myself referring to it all the time.  Even when I'm more up to speed on local bird distribution here in NJ, I can see myself keeping it handy for quick and frequent reference.

A few more thoughts:
Species Accounts--Worth their weight in gold.  Short but detailed, with discussion timing and distribution of migration, breeding, and wintering birds.  The Birds of New Jersey tells you when and where each bird is to be expected.  It frequently provides numbers or trend data from statewide Christmas Bird Counts, as well as notes on historic change in range or status.  For rare bird fans, the discussion of accidentals is fun and juicy, often providing notes on individual birds including their behavior and how many hours they were observed--for instance you can read about NJ's first Green Violet-Ear, found on an August afternoon, and "present after dawn the next morning , to the joy of many observers, but departed before seven a.m., never to be seen again."  It is great to see the individual records listed for birds seen fewer than 5 times, but I would have loved to seen the full list of records for those found fewer than 10 times--but I'm just a rare bird data fan, so that's just me!  I'm always looking at these records and frequently thinking it must be about time for another one of these birds to show up.  I'm also finding lots of fun trivia--for instance I was surprised to read that the Brambling that showed up in 1958 just a few miles from where I'm now living was the first record of that bird for North America.

Maps--Very detailed and useful, showing distribution at a very detailed scale--useful especially for birds with limited distribution in the state, and detailed enough to show, for example, the local boundaries between Black-capped Chickadee and Carolina Chickadee distributions.  As a geographer, I love the detail, but am a bit put off by the color scheme.  Having grown up with the old Golden Guide, I find the color scheme in The Birds of New Jersey to be somewhat counter-intuitive  Blue for winter and purple for year round distribution are familiar and make sense, but green for summer?  I'm still trying to get used to it.

Photos--Kevin Karlson served as the photo editor, and many of the shots of more common birds are his.  The photos are all fantastic, including a 14 page center spread of photos that showcase common as well as rare species.  For casual birders or even backyard birdwatchers, there are lots of beautiful photos of common birds.  For rare bird chasers, the photos of rare birds are simply there to stimulate birdlust!  Flipping through the book, it is hard not to stop and just stare at the photos (there is at least one on every open two-page spread)--I don't know how many times I've found myself staring at the Large-billed Tern photo (the first documented record for North America), or the Little Stints, or Yellow-nosed Albatross soaring over Reeds Beach.  But even the photos of common birds are delicious.

Basically, if you bird in New Jersey you should have this book. If you bird in a nearby state, you should have this book.  If you enjoy great bird photography and discussion of rare bird sightings, you should have this book.  The Birds of New Jersey is currently living on the nightstand near my bed and I expect it to live there for a long time to come!

(Disclosure: Review based on a review copy provided by Princeton University Press)

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