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Re: New Hummingbird Field Guide

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  • creagrus
    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.
    Message 1 of 5 , Feb 8, 2002
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      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 the
      distribution
      >map for Black-chinned Hummingbird. This is the second distribution
      >map. It has countour lines in various colors, that show how far north
      >Black-chinned Hummingbirds arrive by specific dates, like March 1,
      march
      >11, March 21, and April 1. Fantastic! Why hasn't everybody else done
      this
      >up until now?

      Al Jaramillo responded
      >While this is a very good idea, one question to ask is: how accurate is
      the
      > information. I know that to try and do something like this for many
      North
      > American birds would be extremely difficult as accurate data on
      arrival
      > times is not out there. Then there is the question of what do you
      pick,
      > average first arrival date, or some other measure of arrival? This
      year
      > Allen's Hummingbirds appeared to have arrived a couple of weeks ahead
      of
      > 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
      "Warblers."

      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.:
      http://users.yourvillage.com/conover/
      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
      poor information.

      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
      me.

      Don Roberson
      Pacific Grove, Monterey Co., CA
    • SJPeterson@aol.com
      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.
      Message 2 of 5 , Feb 20, 2002
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        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...

        Don wrote:

        > I looked specifically at the Black-chinned Hummingbird map and compared
        > it with what I know about Monterey County. ...

        <snip>, then in same paragraph...

        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 can't find ANY contour line in the book which shows a difference of "just
        3-5 days." All apparently show arrivals at 10 day increments, as further
        clarified on page 47.

        <snip>

        > 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.

        The section "How to Use This Book" addresses this question. On page 47,
        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!

        Best,

        --Stacy
        ^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^
        Stacy Jon Peterson
        4442 Sijan St. Apt. A
        Mtn Home AFB, ID 83648
        Elmore County; USDA zone 6a; Sunset zone 3
        SJPeterson@...
        ^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^
        HUMMINGBIRDS: www.geocities.com/trochilids
        ^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^...^v^


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