Re: New Hummingbird Field Guide
- I have had the new Steve Howell hummingbird guide for a couple of
months, and it has been a state-of-the-art guide to the extent I have
dipped into it so far. Yesterday I had a chance to look through the new
Williamson hummingbird guide at a book store. It is nicely laid out and
has the look of the Dunn/Garrett warbler guide in design (part of the
same on-going series). Alas, it suffers in comparison with the Howell
book for California species.
I happened to look at both books on the topic of female/imm-plumaged
Calliope Hummingbird, in part because there was one at Pt. Pinos that I
studied this fall. A new field character discussed on humminbird chat
lines over the last couple years has been the presence of a thin white
line above the gape from eye to bill in this plumage of Calliope. David
Sibley's guide illustrates it very well, and it was present on the Pt.
Pinos bird when I looked for it. Howell mentions the character and many
of his photos chosen for his book show it, and the photos are published
large enough to study this area. The Williamson book does not mention
the field mark at all, and the photos chosen are published at such small
size as to make it impossible to determine one way or another. The text
spends more time separating female Calliope from female Bumblebee
Hummingbird than any Selasphorus! I found very little in the text of
the new book to help me identify a female or imm. Calliope Hummingbird.
The Williamson text has detailed descriptions of each plumage but does
not help one figure out what is important, nor does it address how one
sexes & ages the bird to start with. Nor does it describe the range of
variation.So I was very disappointed.
Earlier in the posts of this topic, the maps that show where migrants
would be at various spring dates were praised. One commentator wrote:
>As soon as you see the book, go to page 198, and look at thedistribution
>map for Black-chinned Hummingbird. This is the second distributionmarch
>map. It has countour lines in various colors, that show how far north
>Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive by specific dates, like March 1,
>11, March 21, and April 1. Fantastic! Why hasn't everybody else donethis
>up until now?Al Jaramillo responded
>While this is a very good idea, one question to ask is: how accurate isthe
> information. I know that to try and do something like this for manyNorth
> American birds would be extremely difficult as accurate data onarrival
> times is not out there. Then there is the question of what do youpick,
> average first arrival date, or some other measure of arrival? Thisyear
> Allen's Hummingbirds appeared to have arrived a couple of weeks aheadof
> schedule in San Mateo county ....I looked specifically at the Black-chinned Hummingbird map and compared
it with what I know about Monterey County. The Williamson book showed
spring migration dates right at Monterey County to be April 1. This is
in error. Except for one anomolous mid-March record from long ago, the
EARLIEST arrival in Monterey County has been April 2, and the typical or
average arrival date is two weeks later -- in mid-April. In some years
they don't arrive until late April. So the new book is glaringly wrong,
since small differences of just 3-5 days are shown by lines much farther
north. [I suspect that migration up the Central Valley is earlier than
in the coastal range.]
The lines on the map might be pretty, but I suspect that they are not at
all accurate if the Monterey example is any clue.
I searched the book's intro and appendices to try to figure out where
their dates came from. I could find no discussion at all. No where was
it explained whether it was meant to be an average date, or the earliest
date, or a mean date, and what sets of data were used. Worse, the
bibliography did not include anything from central California, even
though these details are in the Monterey County breeding bird atlas and
others, and have been available for a decade. The bibliography is very
enlightening. It looks like the author relied very heavily on the
fascicles in the Birds of North America series -- some of which are
great and some of which are very weak -- and on the accounts in the
Handbook of the Birds of the World series. Virtually none of the
important primary literature in California was cited.
The maps are drawn at a very broad scale and thus extremely misleading,
especially such things as showing Costa's Hummingbirds nesting in Santa
Cruz and San Jose. They could easily have been drawn more carefully. In
California, at least, they do not compare well to the maps in
The new book lists very web sites as important references, including the
useful HUMMNET, but entirely overlooks the best web site on hummer i.d.:
Then the book praises Blake Maybank's site as a repository for trip
reports, blithely ignorant that many of these were posted without the
author's permission and in violation of copyright laws and that there is
on-going signficant disputes that could lead to litigation, or that the
quality of trip reports posted there varies widely. One just gets the
feeling that the book doesn't distinguish between good information and
In all, the Williamson book does not compare variably to Howell's book
on i.d. topics (as least so far as I have been able to review), and the
maps & text are not all that accurate on range or migration topics in
California. The whole thing looks rushed and not reviewed by a wide
selection of regional experts.
On the other hand, the book does have a fine collection of in-hand
photos of tails and heads of many age classes and species, and this
alone will be valuable. I also suspect that the information on Arizona
species will be excellent, given the author's expertise and experience
there, and through HUMMNET contacts will be quite good for Gulf Coast
i.d. and distribution.
If you have the funds or space, obtaining both books would be useful.
Arizona or Gulf Coast birders will want the Williamson. But if you were
to pick just one for California, the Howell book appears superior to
Pacific Grove, Monterey Co., CA
- HI Calbirds,
As one who enjoys hummingbirds, I have also purchased both Howell's and
Williamson's recent hummingbird books mentioned in previous Calbird posts.
And I've enjoyed reading the "reviews" on Calbird about these books.
While I certainly can allow folks to have their own opinions of these books,
however harsh, Don Roberson's review of Williamson's book (Calbird, February
8, 2002) contains two factual errors that should be addressed...
> I looked specifically at the Black-chinned Hummingbird map and compared<snip>, then in same paragraph...
> it with what I know about Monterey County. ...
The Williamson book showed
> spring migration dates right at Monterey County to be April 1. This isI can't find ANY contour line in the book which shows a difference of "just
> in error. Except for one anomolous mid-March record from long ago, the
> EARLIEST arrival in Monterey County has been April 2, and the typical or
> average arrival date is two weeks later -- in mid-April. In some years
> they don't arrive until late April. So the new book is glaringly wrong,
> since small differences of just 3-5 days are shown by lines much farther
3-5 days." All apparently show arrivals at 10 day increments, as further
clarified on page 47.
> I searched the book's intro and appendices to try to figure out whereThe section "How to Use This Book" addresses this question. On page 47,
> their dates came from. I could find no discussion at all. No where was
> it explained whether it was meant to be an average date, or the earliest
> date, or a mean date, and what sets of data were used.
under the heading "Spring Migration Maps" Williamson writes that the lines
"show average spring arrival dates in 10-day increments." Then later in the
same paragraph she says the information was "based primarily on firsthand
reports..., with additional information from publications such as American
Birds/Field Notes." Her next sentence warns readers that actual spring
arrival dates may vary.
I disagree with much of the rest of the review, but that is my personal
interpretation and perhaps perspective. I will agree that Howell's book is a
fine one -- I particularly appreciate the overall layout and the larger
photos. As a distribution aficionado, I appreciate the attempt by Williamson
to illustrate the range of every species in as much detail as possible on the
maps, rather than the "field guide brushstrokes" of Howell's maps, which are
reserved for common species only.
It is interesting how two books covering the same group of birds can turn out
so differently, but perhaps that's the appeal. I'm glad I have both!
Stacy Jon Peterson
4442 Sijan St. Apt. A
Mtn Home AFB, ID 83648
Elmore County; USDA zone 6a; Sunset zone 3
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