“The ultimate must-have guide for identifying raptors”… I think that line from the back cover pretty much sums up how I feel about Jerry Liguori’s new book, Hawks at a Distance. It is a reference, it is a field guide, and it is as David Sibley calls it, “a gold mine of information”. If you have any interest in hawk watching you need this book.
Just picking up a copy of the book and from the front cover you are already entranced. A beautiful full frame shot of a Red-shouldered Hawk graces 2/3 of the front cover. Down the right hand side, the other 1/3 are thumbnails of 6 other wide ranging hawks and falcons. That Red-shouldered Hawk is the money-shot though. It is crisp, colorful, and makes you want to open up and see what Jerry has to say.
Pete Dunne’s foreword covers over 100 years of birding history and speaks to the advances in birding and identification over the years. He ends by saying, “Now that Hawks at a Distance is available to today’s ‘students of birds,’ the world beyond the horizon is about the only place that a raptor that aspires to remain anonymous can hope to hide.” How Poignant!
Jerry himself will tell you that you can not identify every bird you see. It is just about impossible. I agree with that. At the same time this book is providing a tool to help identify a number of distant birds that you otherwise may not have been able to identify. This leaves only the birds “beyond the horizon” from your ability to ID. But thus far these are just praises about words and the cover. What about the meat and potatoes? What about the content—the plates and the copy?
In the introduction Jerry gives some helpful hints, talks about terminology, optics, photography, and a number of other hawk watching related topics. He wraps up with a table showing the timetable of raptor migration by species in the spring and fall. It’s a helpful start for even seasoned birders—a nice refresher and a perspective specifically related to hawks. One of the key points that Jerry mentions is that in this book is that the plates are presented in a way that shows the hawks at a distance (like the title wasn’t enough). This is important because when you open to p.18 and see the first set of Sharp-shinned Hawk images you are going to see specks.
Most plates show the birds at about ¼” height or smaller. Each plate has 6 images from various angles and lighting. Each is accompanied by a paragraph explaining how these images will be helpful in identifying these birds in the field. It’s simple, it’s to the point, and it’s just about perfect. The images are like what you would see peering through your binoculars from Bountiful Peak on a crisp fall morning.
Every set of plates is accompanied by an intro to the species with a full color image and up to a couple pages of species specific information. Read these! This book has a wealth of knowledge and these pages contain some great information.
After the plates there are 19 pages of “shapes”. Almost 900 black-and-white silhouettes were used to create what is perhaps one of the coolest features of the book. I can’t even describe how cool it is—only a sneak peak will do:
Some critics will complain that the book doesn’t cover every species of raptor in the United States. Those critics failed to read the introduction, and understand what this book is for. Others will complain about the size of the images—again the point will have been missed.
For what this book was created for I do not have anything bad to say about it. I don’t have critiques, I don’t have complaints, and I don’t see a way to improve the topic at hand. It truly is a revolutionary guide and will certainly be a tool for teaching many a hawk watcher in the coming years. I would tell even the most seasoned of birders to add this to their collection. I can’t count the times I have seen a hawk far out that I have been unsure of the ID because I didn’t understand some of the specifics of that species shape. This book is the answer.
Thank you Jerry for putting out another fantastic book, and a guide that will surely be one of, if not the most influential hawk watching guide ever. I look forward to putting it to use, and hope others follow suit!
If you didn't pre-order your copy, you can pick one up on Amazon today, and have it as soon as Monday: Hawks at a Distance