Earlier this year I was very excited to win two autographed copies of the new Stokes Field Guide to Birds, Western Region and Eastern Region editions, from Donald and Lillian Stokes. I’ve read through them, they’re terrifc, and this review is long overdue!
The guides are revised and updated from the previous editions published in 2010. They’re also smaller and more portable than the previous editions and especially the one-volume edition, though they still won’t fit in a smaller pocket and they do have some serious weight (about two pounds each). But as the only photographic field guides for both eastern and western North America, what you lose a bit in portability you make up in comprehensiveness.
The Stokes guides are identical in format, with an average of one page for each species, with four or so color photographs for each species. However, the Western guide has more photos (2,400) compared to the Eastern guide (2,200 photos). The guides each measure 8.5″ by 5.5″, and are each about an inch thick, not too big for carrying around in a backpack. But together they weigh a good deal — the Eastern guide is 1.7 lbs. and the Western guide weighs 2 lbs. A good part of that weight are all the color plates, and the quality of the photos is very good. Each entry has a average of about four photos, showing differences in summer and winter plumages, age, sex, and location; each photograph is also identified by location (state, or province or country) and month. Difficult birds get more photos — the Red-tailed Hawk in the Eastern guide gets a full dozen shots, and in the Western guide, 23 photographs over four pages. The Wilson’s Snipe and Long-billed Dowitcher get two pages and seven photographs each in the Eastern Region volume. That’s lots of scope for showing the variations in appearance in a species.
The text supports all the photography very well. The text is detailed for each species, concentrating mainly on identification but including common name, scientific name, important subspecies, ABA Codes, common hybrids, habitat, voice, and range maps which show year-round, breeding, wintering grounds; and migration routes. Throughout the guides, the Stokeses have added boxes with “identification tips” that further explain how to distinguish between difficult, or similar-looking, species, such as Swainson’s Thrush and Gray-cheeked Thrush, Western Grebe and Clark’s Grebe.
The new guides include the American Ornithological Union’s most recent changes to common and scientific bird names, new splits or lumps to a species, and updated taxonomical order.
One feature I find very useful is the Quick Alphabetical Index just inside the front cover. The back of the book includes a full index, and also a complete list of photo credits.
I understand from other birders and other reviewers that the previous one-volume edition included a bonus CD/MP3 with 150 tracks of bird songs. This is no longer part of these field guides, but I would imagine that was a decision made to keeping the new volumes the books more portable and affordable.
If you’re an amateur or a serious birder, just watching birds in your yard or planning a special trip, these guides definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf or in your backpack. I highly recommend these field guides, and thanks again to the Stokeses for the contest and the autographed copies.
You can buy it from your favourite bookseller or Amazon.com.
(I won copies of each guide, but my opinions in this review are entirely my own.)