A Book Review
by Mark Thomas
Like many, I first met Richard Crossley at Cape May, a location which he has become synonymous with since he turned his regular annual vacations from Leeds into a full-blown emigration to New Jerseys finest migration centre.
After just a few minutes in Richards company it came as no surprise to learn that he built his own house on THE very best migration spot on the entire peninsula, he is that kind of person. Richard is a man of two main qualities, on one hand purposeful, determined and focussed but also very willing to educate and share his overwhelming passion for birds with everyone.
He has developed an almost celebratory status as ‘the brit’ at Cape May and can often be encountered holding court at Higbee Beach, confidently identifying overhead visible migrants, particularly wood warblers or at the ‘hawk watch’ photographing migrating raptors.
Richard is a first class birder and bird photographer and it came as no surprise to learn that he was engaged in producing a completely revolutionary style of field guide aimed at identifying birds in the field based on a photographic format that places birds in real life situations. Richard has aimed his books at beginner and intermediate birders who are actively seeking identification help the most.
On randomly opening ‘The Crossley ID Guide to Raptors’ (North America) on page 46, the background image of Cape May lighthouse immediately transported me to my visit in 2003 when hundreds of Sharp-shined Hawks were passing through. The photographs on this lavish double page spread depicted the scene just perfectly, close low-level hawks, high kettles and birds approaching and going away when their flight appearance create a challenge. The really interesting bit is that each bird in the photograph is numbered and the book is designed that you test yourself on identification and sexing/ageing of the depicted birds with the answers and explanatory text at the back of the guide. As a birder new to North American raptors I would have so loved to have had access to this guide on my first visit. The plates depict a wide range of scenes such as birds on the Prairies or Great Plains and even include birds against the light or in early morning ‘orange’ light which add extra identification issues. Personally, the images that show multiple species together from below and above are most instructive.
Unlike most guides which chose to focus on detail, this book is all about the beauty of the birds and the environments in which they are found at different times in their life cycles. However, this does not mean you lose out on any detail, you just see it in a complete and accurate way. The images in this book also ooze behaviour , you are seeing the birds as you would naturally, which clearly aids learning.
Technically the book is well designed, has a pleasant usable feel and the images are reproduced to a high quality. It is composed of 101 full colour plates including thirty-five double page layouts and covers all the North American raptors composed from thousands of images.
The second half of the book contains detailed and accurate written accounts for each species by two of North America’s foremost raptor experts Jerry Liguori and Brian Sullivan, Each account gives details of where and when birds are encountered, how they fly, their size, shape, plumage, vocalizations, confusion species, migration patterns, moult, geographic variation, status and distribution. Each species is accompanying by a detailed distribution map showing winter, breeding and year round range for each species.
Overall you do not read this book you view it and marvel at one of the most amazing groups of birds in the world cleverly brought to life and jumping out of the pages as you would now expect from a Crossley ID Guide.