Field Guides and Apps
Three tools are essential for successful birding-a field guide, a good pair of binoculars, and a guide to local birding. A spotting scope, while not essential, is an important addition to any birder's tool kit, especially in Vermont when birding the Lake Champlain shoreline. Reviews of what to look for when buying birding optics can be found on many websites. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website listed below has a particularly useful review of birding optics. Here I will briefly discuss field guides and a few useful apps.
The gold standard for field guides is the Sibley Guide to Birds. Recently, the second edition of this comprehensive guide to North American birds was published. Though a bit too large to be lugged around in the field, the Sibley Guide contains a wealth of information about bird identification, illustrating plumage variations among juveniles and adults and providing range maps showing where each species is likely to occur and when. The book is organized along standard taxonomic lines, allowing the reader to rapidly find and identify birds. Smaller, more portable volumes describing eastern and western birds are available, as well.
Rivaling the Sibley Guide is Roger Tory Peterson's classic field guide. Peterson introduced the first modern guide for identifying birds in the field in 1934. Although Peterson died in 1996 his field guides continue to be updated to reflect changes in taxonomy. Particularly useful are the pages that compare species such as warblers that can be difficult to distinguish in the fall when they have molted into alternate or nonbreeding plumage. Like the Sibley Guide, the Peterson field guides are available for different regions of the country or for all of North America.
Other useful field guides include those by Kenn Kaufman and his coauthors, the Stokes guides, the guide published by the National Audubon Society, the National Geographic bird guide, and the Crossley guide to bird identification. While the Sibley and Peterson guides rely on paintings of birds, the Kaufman guide and others use retouched photographs. Both approaches to bird illustration have advantages and disadvantages. Review a selection of guides before you buy one to see what works best for you. A number of books focused on individual species such as shorebirds, raptors, and warblers are available, too. Many of these books are available in local bookstores or online. Here is a link to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds to get you started:
If you would like to carry a field guide in your pocket, several apps can fill this need. iPhone apps for the Sibley and Peterson Guides, for example, are available for sale in the iTunes store. Most apps also include voice recordings that go beyond book form field guides, a useful adjunct to bird identification. Two free apps of note are the National Audubon Society app and Merlin, created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can download the NAS app at http://www.audubon.org/apps/. Merlin is especially useful in helping to identify unknown birds. You can learn more about Merlin at http://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/. For more information here is a useful review of these apps and others published on the NAS website at http://www.audubon.org/news/the-best-birding-apps-and-field-guides .
Another useful app has been created for eBird, the online database inaugurated by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. This mobile app allows birders to enter their observations into the eBird database, receive alerts of recent local sightings, and track one's own bird sightings over time. To find out more about the eBird mobile app go to: http://help.ebird.org/customer/portal/articles/1848031-ebird-mobile-apps-overview
Still another useful publication to add to a Vermont birder's library is the book written by Ted Murin and Bryan Pfeiffer, Birdwatching in Vermont. Though out of print, this comprehensive guide to Vermont birding is still available from online booksellers and might be found in some local bookstores. The book provides extensive coverage of habitats and birding locations in Vermont as well as arrival and departure dates for many species. Also included in this book is a special primer for beginning birders covering optics, habitats, and tips for successful birding.
Birding on the Web
State of Vermont Departments
Local and Regional Organizations and Their Websites
Other Audubon Chapters in Vermont
Northeast Kingdom Audubon
Ascutney Mountain Audubon Society
Otter Creek Audubon Society
Rutland County Audubon Society
Southeastern Vermont Audubon Society
Taconic Tri-state Audubon Society
Banner photo by Marc Faucher