BOOK REVIEW: Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest

There’s a new bird book in town:

Sarah Swanson and Max Smith, Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest: 85 Unforgettable Species, Their Fascinating Lives, and How to Find Them (Portland, OR: Timber Press, 2013), 244 pp.

I first learned of Must-See Birds earlier this year when a nature park coworker of mine said to me, “Did you know that a woman who used to work here is coming out with a book about birds?” I had not heard of it yet, but am happy to know about it now! Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest presents bird species profiles in a unique way: instead of showing the birds taxonomically (related birds all grouped together), here we can become familiar with “must-see birds” based on their habitats or behavior.

Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest  85 Unforgettable Species, Their Fascinating Lives, and How to Find Them from Timber Press

The book is organized into two sections. “The Birds” (featuring their selection of 85 birds) is divided into the following categories: Beach Birds, Big Birds, Colorful Birds, Fish-Eating Birds, Killer Birds, Marathon Birds, Singing Birds, Tree Trunk Birds, and Urban Birds. This is not the usual set up for a guide about birds, but I think it works as a way of allowing someone who might enjoy something specific about birds to get the best out of their experience looking for them. For example, if someone enjoys looking for birds while walking in forested natural areas, then the section on Tree Trunk birds will be very useful. There’s no point in flipping through a field guide past various species that you would not find in, say, Tryon Creek State Park or Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Or if one wishes to see birds on the coast, then Beach Birds will interest them. The organization of this book is appropriate for the activity one likes to do in order to enjoy birds. For each bird in the book, the authors describe the bird’s appearance, what it eats, mating and parental behavior, its migration, and, most important, they give a list of suggested places of where to find that species. Beautiful photography of their own or in some cases, other regional photographers, is provided for each species as well, and at the beginning of each chapter and section.

Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest  85 Unforgettable Species, Their Fascinating Lives, and How to Find Them from Timber Press (1)Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest  85 Unforgettable Species, Their Fascinating Lives, and How to Find Them from Timber Press (2)

As “The Birds” goes all the way to page 205, it takes up a majority of the book. The second section, “Weekend Birding Trips,” describes eight excursions throughout the western regions of Oregon and Washington, three in the winter and five in the spring and summer. They share places to go for each excursion as well as tips for seeing birds in those places.

Must-See Birds of the Pacific Northwest is not an in-your-back-pocket sort of field guide, although it can fit in a backpack or in your car. It’s not intended for someone to learn about all species that reside in Oregon and Washington. This book is more about the experience and the fun of looking for birds and appreciating them as part of our small but spectacular region of the world. This selection of birds, from Wood Duck and Western Tanager to Belted Kingfisher and Varied Thrush, are all “must-see” because we share something in common: we all get to live somewhere pretty great: the Pacific Northwest.

You can preview the book on the publisher’s website, and continue to read about birds from Sarah and Max on their Must-See Bird Blog and Facebook page.

The authors have several Portland events coming up, listed on their events page:

9/10, 7pm – Nature Night talk and book signing at Audubon Society of Portland
9/16, 7pm – Reading and book signing at Annie Bloom’s Books in Multnomah Village
9/24, 7pm – Bird and book talk at Garden Home Library in Beaverton
10/12, 11am-2pm – Meet & greet and book signing at Backyard Bird Shop in Beaverton

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