The Warbler Bible

warblerguideJust in time for the challenge of what Roger Tory Petterson called the “confusing fall warblers” in his ground-breaking field guide comes The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle, with drawings by Catherine Hamilton. It is published by Princeton University, whose field guide line is very impressive. I know Tom, who lives in Brooklyn and gives tours for the Brooklyn Bird Club, and think of him as a warbler sensei, so this book comes with some expectations. All amply met.

There are 56 species of warblers in the U.S. and Canada. There are 38 species on Prospect Park’s checklist (with three more on the rarities list, including an ancient sighting of the presumably now-extinct Bachman’s warbler). But this is insider baseball (yes, a lot of boy birders are obsessed by numbers, but they are mostly harmless), for the point is that the variety and complexity and sheer heavenliness of seeing these glorious birds should get you out into your local patch of woods.

In spring, as they hurry north to breed, some of these tiny songbirds bring the colors of the tropics with them, especially the males. Cerulean blue, flame, chestnut, orange, a whole palate of yellows. Wildly spectacular, if you’ve never seen them, and the reason why so many complain of “warbler neck” from straining for a view in the high canopies of our woods. Many species are unmistakable. But in the fall, as they return to their “wintering grounds” — since it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, it might better be said that migratory birds move from summer to summer; we ponderous simians, at the mercy of climate-wrecking hydrocarbon-spewing engines, are the ones at the whim of the globe’s axis — their breeding plumage has been shaken off. Now many of the males are as plain as the females. And the trees are still in leaf. How to identify these swiftly moving animals? Practice… and a thorough guide. While on the hefty side for the field, I suspect this richly illustrated (photographs, drawings, and song notation) book will become the book, which is what “bible” means, on the subject, much thumbed through during the long dry months of winter.

On the cover, Northern Parula on Eastern Redbud. Beautiful, but too easy!

2 Responses to “The Warbler Bible”

  1. 1 Tom August 23, 2013 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, Matthew. See you in the Park.

  1. 1 Books | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on December 18, 2013 at 8:06 am

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