The Crossley ID Guides: Raptors and more!

hawk

Perched on a fifth floor windowsill in downtown Trenton, New Jersey, a young Cooper’s Hawk stood close enough to peer into his (or her?) eyes. A thick glass window separated the hawk from television producer Rich Renner’s camera. The hawk visited frequently. We were interested, and the bird, no less so.

I know this is a Cooper’s Hawk because the bird matches the pictures and description in a new book called Crossley ID Guide: Raptors. If Rich’s photograph included the tail feathers, I could probably tell you whether we’re looking at a male or a female bird. I know a lot more from the descriptive text: this particular bird is probably under a year old because its coloration changes after its first molt, which occurs around age one. Here in the U.S., Cooper’s Hawk is a very common bird, seem most of the year in most of the states (less so in the Great Plains, where it’s mostly seen in warmer or cooler months).

5-Sharp-Shinned-Hawk

The Crossley ID Guide has become especially popular because the birds are shown (or digitally added to) natural habitats. The birds in flight, above, are Sharp-Shinned Hawks–apparently, the adults are often mistaken for Cooper’s Hawks. Here, the hawks are flying around one of the U.S.’s most popular birding sites (home of the annual World Series of Birding), Cape May, New Jersey.

Birding, and books for birders, are more popular than ever before. This is, in part, due to interest from an aging baby boom population (especially with women), the availability of digital photography and the requisite long lenses (especially among the men), and, generally, a growing awareness of nature. In particular, the work of Richard Crossley, a long-time birder and bird photographer, has gained notice because of the inviting visual approach used in the books. The book is filled with lavish natural spreads, or composites, as above, and also with visual quizzes in which readers are asked to identify birds in flight, as below.

13-Widespread-Common-Raptors-Mystery-Plate

I especially like the Raptors book because the birds themselves are both fascinating and often present in the area where I live. When I spot a raptor flying above, I can’t help but stop and watch the bird in flight, often for quite a long time. They are very special birds, both from afar and close up, and the new ID Guide adds texture and context to their visual appeal.

The book about raptors is runs several hundred pages, but it that’s only about half as long as the weighty volume about Eastern Birds. This is a book that will entertain you all summer long, especially if you enjoy watching backyard birds, or if you’re willing to schlep this volume along on vacation. Here’s a layout of Glossy or White-faced Ibis, beautiful page after page featuring the secrets of owls in their habitats: Short-eared, Long-eared, Barred, Barn, Great Horn, Northern Saw-whet, Eastern Screech, Elf, Burrowing, and more. There are both Red-bellied and Red-headed woodpeckers, each in its own full-page layout. Chickadees, robins, thrush, various warblers, and the wonderful Little Blue Heron who seems to enjoy bathing in a creek just across from my home.

These are the birds you see every day, or sometimes, glimpse while traveling. They come alive in these layouts, making the Eastern Birds book one of the best browses around. The Crossley Raptors book has three things that the Eastern Birds book does not: first, those wonderful visual quiz layouts. the wonderful visual quizzes; second, lengthy descriptions about each individual species; and, third, my favorite part, which goes something like this:

On a frigid winter day, a mass of songbirds anxiously feeds on seed strewn in a grassy area cleared of snow, their bustling chatter discernible through the living room window. At once, they freeze, pinning themselves low to the ground in response to alarm calls from nearby jays. From the center of the yard a blue streak appears, seemingly materializing from thin air, moving swiftly toward the flock. The group scatters as a high-speed chase ensues. The small, compact hawk picks its target. It extends its long legs and talons outward and fans its long tail as it banks sharply and snatches a White-throated Sparrow from midair. The hawk disappears into the brambly thickets without moving a branch; the only evidence of the event is a plume of feathers softly floating to the ground.”

Each description begins that way: with an observer’s sense of the birds living their lives.

Special books, indeed. but don’t take my word for it. Try a free sample!

This link takes you to Princeton University Press’s FREE (yes, completely free) download of the new Crossley ID Guide: Raptors book as a .pdf, and also another free book about garden birds. Download here, then add it to your tablet or smartphone for reference wherever you happen to be.

Chipping in for Mother’s or Father’s Day

Some ideas, most of them digital:

A turntable. Yes, this may seem a bit retro, but vinyl is in the midst of a wonderful comeback. New records cost more than their CD equivalents, but it’s easy to build a terrific library of good used records by spending about $5 per disc (so you can surprise mom or dad with a whole box filled with favorites!). Assuming you still own some sort of stereo receiver and a pair of good loudspeakers–most likely as part of your home theater setup–you’ll be set. One good starter choice: Audio-Technica’s AT-LP60, which costs less than $75 including cartridge. Online research will turn up rigs costing up to a thousand times as much, but a few hundred dollars will place you on the quality path. To review good choices for several hundred dollars, visit the online store, Audio Advisor.

Apple TV. Before we bought one of these small plastic boxes for my office TV, I wasn’t completely sure what to think. Connect an Ethernet cable to your network, an HDMI cable to your TV, power up, and you can watch Netflix, Hulu Plus, movies and TV shows from iTunes, YouTube, Major League Baseball, HBO GO, and more (for some, a subscription is required). AND you can wirelessly connect your iPhone, iPad or Mac to the screen. For $99, it makes watching TV a lot more interesting.

airstashAirStash. Simple idea: load some movies on a 8GB or 16GB SD card–the ones you use in a camera that are about the size of a postage stamp–then wirelessly connect the small AirStash device to watch movies (or review documents) on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device. It costs about $125. Use it once and you’ll carry it everywhere, as I do.

A good pair of binoculars. If you’re contemplating an outdoor hobby such a birding, Bushnell’s 10×42 NatureView is a good tool to get you started; it costs about $125. In fact, you can buy binoculars specifically designed for safari, sports stadiums, theater, opera (fancy!), sailboating, marine exploration, the list goes on. For more information about binoculars than I have ever seen, visit Best Binoculars Reviews. There are digital binoculars, but optical binoculars remain far more popular than their initial counterparts.

A monopod. Yes, that’s right, the equivalent of a one-legged tripod. Not as steady as a tripod, but not as heavy either, and far more likely to be taken along. Used properly, a monopod can provide enough additional stability to allow your camera or camcorder to shoot with a bit less light, or to with a bit slower shutter speed. The best ones are made by Manfrotto, and Gitzo, and cost about $150-350, but good monopods are available from Slik, Cullman, Oben, Velbon, and other companies. A large selection of monopods and tripods are available from B&H and other online retailers.

Zoom-VideoA ZOOM Q2H2. With cameras and camcorders now built into phones, why buy a small video recorder for $199? Because the sound and the picture quality is outstanding, but the device is small. What do I mean by “outstanding?” Video: 1920×1080, 30p HD. Audio: 24 bit, 96 kHz PCM. Record the results on an SD card.

A Røde VideoMic Pro. Whether you’re using a DSLR or a camcorder to make your own home movies or independent films, this $230 investment will make at least some of your work sound a whole lot better. It mounts directly on the camera’s hot shoe, and its design won’t make your camera (or, most cameras) unbalanced or difficult to carry.

A digital drum kit.. You know you’ve always wanted one! Nowadays, you can buy a decent setup for a few hundred dollars. Yamaha’s Electronic Drum Kit DTX400K costs $500 and includes a 7.5-inch snare, three similar sized toms, a 10-inch hi-hat and other cymbals, and 169 digital voices. You can spend half as much (PylePro’s PED04M), twice as much (Roland’s TD-11K), more. Once again, B&H is a good source, but musicians may prefer Sweetwater.

DrumKit

Enjoy spring, enjoy the holidays!

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