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The Crossley ID Guide: A Review

posted by Tim Avery at
on Monday, February 14, 2011 

There is a new birding guide on the market this week and it is certainly making waves on listservs, blogs, and review sites around the U.S. The guide is The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds. The author has said that the book is revolutionary. Some critics have said that is hogwash. Many people have praised it; thus far it is definitely causing a stir both ways. I have to admit when I first heard about this guide a year or so ago I was skeptical. Some of the initial plates I saw left me shaking my head. As more hype was built I thought it was a little messy. Each plate was filled with lots of pictures of the birds. It seemed hectic, and in some cases crowded. I didn’t see the positive in it, it was just too overwhelming.

Then this past week when the book launched I saw a video the Crossley put out to speak about the book, and it finally made sense to me. This book is not geared for the seasoned birder. It isn’t a "field guide" so much as an at home reference, or a learning guide. Looking more into it and thinking back to my early days I realized this is the perfect guide to give someone that is going to get into birding. It is trial by fire so to speak. When you look at a plate like the one below you see multiple images of the bird, in a somewhat natural setting (the background have all been photoshopped into the pictures):

Lesser Scaup

These plates show the bird in different poses, in different plumages, at different angles, and in flight. It gives an idea of what the bird might actually look like in the field from different distances, and vantage points. I still think some work could have been done to improve on the quality of the plates and the organization, but the idea is there and as a first try it truly is somewhat revolutionary and here is why.

Guides with a single pose, or single drawing of a bird, with no reference to where the bird is and how it fits into its habitat are missing something. They are great for looking at field marks—however field marks are something that we as birders have come up with. How many birders in the field see something and say, well based off that field mark that bird is a so and so bird. Most advanced and intermediate birders don’t do that, and I haven’t met a lot of beginners that do that either. When it comes to learning birds and what they look like this guide hits it on the head. Give this bird to any 10 or 11 year old that is just getting into the hobby and they will be able to learn species quickly and have a good idea what to look for when they go into the field. It’s a learning tool and in my opinion might be the single best for learning birds before ever stepping foot into the wild to look for them.

The downside is that I do not see this as a field guide. It isn’t right for a field guide, as it shouldn’t be dragged into the field with you. In general I will always say look at the bird first, look at the guide later. Seeing the bird in real life and being able to study it will be very helpful in IDing it later if you are unsure. Trying to use any book in the field often leads to more confusion than confirmation when you are trying to identify something. Peterson and Sibley are far better field guides, and are what you should take with you if you feel the need to have a guide in the field. That is when those subtle details that these guides show come in handy.

As for the Crossley ID Guide, a western version is on the way in the future, and it will be interesting to see what happens with it. If you are a pro, then this book probably isn’t for you, but if you feel you are still learning or have a ways to go it may be worth picking up just to help with learning birds before you go afield. Seeing pictures and poses that you will actually see of these birds adds a new dimension to the bird guide book, and I am sure innovations will be on the way. It does need some work, but I like the idea, and even in this first try I feel it has something great to offer.

Blackburnian Warbler

So pick up a copy of the eastern version today, so you can be ready for those eastern warblers when they start coming through on their way north in May!

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Blogger Kiirsi said...

Sounds like an interesting book! Thanks for the review.

February 14, 2011 at 1:58 PM  
Anonymous Jennifer said...

Wow this is great information! Thanks for sharing this!

February 14, 2011 at 3:49 PM  
Blogger Susan said...

Thanks. I think I will get it, I am learning still and I like the idea of the different poses.

February 14, 2011 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger birdchaser said...

I think Crossley ID is also good for reviewing birds you don't get to see very often, or are hoping to see. And there is a lot more text here than you might think on first inspection, including lots of helpful stuff for birders of all levels. It has its weaknesses, but most everyone could benefit from time spent with this one.

February 17, 2011 at 10:28 PM  

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