Book Recollection: 51 Birding Tips

Good Birders Don't Wear White - Lisa WhiteTurns out February was a very good month for getting through my reading queue. This is the first of no less than 4 books that had all their pages perused and turned. Granted one of these books was for pleasure only – a rarity since I like to try and get something out of my time spent with an author. One of the books covered war photography and the other two had a bird theme. We’ll get to the other three books soon enough, but let’s start with one of the bird related ones. Today’s featured recollection is about a book entitled Good Birders Don’t Wear White with a subtitle of 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders. This sounded intriguing when it came up on an Amazon search for something else I was looking for. Ended up adding it to my wish list which Linda used for a birthday gift. Unfortunately, she purchased two of them accidentally thanks to a shopping cart snafu. Rather than bother with returning it, my brother Ron ended up getting some extra reading material. There were big expectations now that it essentially cost us double – Ron, don’t read this review if you had your heart set on reading it.

The format of the book is a series of magazine like articles from a number of well known birders (and a bunch of others I probably should know based on their bios at the end of each article). Each author is given 4 to 7 pages or so to bestow pearls of birding wisdom on the reader. The book is actually very short so each is a quick read which worked out perfectly for my pre-sleep reading material. Take in a few different authors and hit the lights to be ready for the next day’s grind.
Edited by Lisa White. It didn’t take long to get through the 261 pages – each tip is a fairly easy read but the real speed element was a result of content – felt like I was rushing through it to actually get a tip that wasn’t obvious or trivial. As far as 50 tips go, it should have been titled 4 good tips buried in a sea of words. Maybe I’ve just been birding too long and the experiences and knowledge has built up more than I thought – would be interesting to see how a new person to the birding world would take to this advice. As noted, there were a few good nuggets like recommending you buy a Duck Stamp to help out conservation efforts, pishing to draw birds out of brush and confirmation that talking to people about birding is a good thing (take that Linda!). However, these are countered with a multitude of tips ranging from the absurd (cranking bird songs through your car stereo) to the insane (recommending I sketch a bird in the field when I have a perfectly good camera with me). In summary, I will add a 51st tip – if you have spare time to read a book related to birding, spend that valuable time with another product – something like Arthur Morris’ book reviewed last time (link here).

You can see some of the takeaways for this book below after the jump, but all in all, this was a disappointment.

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Book Recollection: The Art of Bird Photography

Bird Photography by Arthur Morris
Today I bring you the first recollection of the young year. Truth be told, I have been trying to get through this featured book for at least two years. It has been all across North America as it is the book I would grab as my reading material on our cross country birding trips. For some reason I kept getting sidetracked and would only get a few pages further regardless of how many days we were gone. Luck would have it, I was able to FINALLY get through it while our recent trip to Texas – had a lot of driving time which gives plenty of opportunities to turn the pages … when Linda is driving, of course. Do not make the assumption that the struggle to get through this book had anything to do with the quality – it is a worthwhile read, not overly technical beyond some detailed sections of exposure rules of thumb. Even if you do not like reading, this book has some stunning photographs in it – absolutely stunning! I find the better I get at photography, the more appreciative I get of the works from others. Arthur Morris is a top notch photographer – add in the fact those pictures were done in film format is even more amazing. I laughed to myself as he routinely mentions the thousands of film pictures he would take on a shoot – damn expensive in those days and huge separation along with glass costs between the professionals and amateurs like myself.

As a whole it did end up being a pretty quick read once I could dedicate myself to the task. He reaffirmed a number of my hardened principles and gave me some things to think about and likely try. At the end there is mention of a volume two available on CD that had the digital elements added to it – will probably pick that up some time too. As a summary, I wouldn’t hesitate to take a gander at this book (may check out the CD instead for the digital aspects). The shots are worth the time alone and will likely give you few more angles/options/poses to look for when you are out in the field.

In case you are wonder, this book appears to have been published back in 1998 with a large paperback version (the version I have) that came out in 2003. Not sure if I ordered it special or got lucky when I ordered it, but my copy is officially signed by Arthur – nice little touch. Hit the jump to see my takeaways.

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Book Recollection: Deadly Instinct

I bet you thought the next post would be Part 2 of the Mute Swan post.  I felt bad having to go back to the bird topic so quick after the barrage from Project Chekov so trying to ease you back onto the feathered features.  Instead figured it was about time to throw out another Book Recollection.  Today’s recollection comes to us thanks to Melissa Farris who compiled a product she called Deadly Instinct.  I can’t remember what made me aware of this book, but my guess would be one of the wildlife photographers I follow on Google+ brought it too my attention.  No need for a lot of convincing past the cover which had the National Geographic seal along with a Lion bringing down a Wildebeest – I’m in.   Big thanks to Linda who ended up getting me this book for Christmas.  Technically, coming in at only 180 pages, it is really more of a photography book than a reading book.  There was a setup at the beginning of each chapter that set the tone for the set of images.  Once that page or two was consumed, it was on to a nice collection of shots… umm let me correct that.  There were some FANTASTIC shots, a lot of cool wildlife shots and then some I simply put in the TOTAL CRAP category.  I’m sorry, but I like my pictures to be in focus and the attempt to show speed by throwing the shutter speed way low resulting in a blur you wouldn’t even know what it was unless they told you is not worth my time – trust me, there were more of these shots than I would have expected alongside the other quality shots.  I wouldn’t let the bad shots deter you from enjoying all the good shots, but note to author – there were plenty of better shots you could have used of the Gorillas. The best part of the book was it had a number of pictures from my favorite photographer – Joel Sartore.  If you recall I featured one of his books previously called Rare (link here).  I had a feeling some of his work would be included based on the National Geographic stamp on the cover.  Pretty used to his style these days and can usually pick out his work without seeing the credits first.  Was surprised to learn he started on his naturalist journey after seeing the harsh conditions of the Galveston coast.  Always cool to learn more about the background of photographer’s you spend a lot of time following.

I should probably mention something before people run off to purchase this book to see the “purdy” pictures.  The pictures are not all “pretty” in the hang on your wall and let your visitors gawk over mode.  The truth is the intent of the book is to show how lethal, dangerous and aggressive wild animal behavior is.  If you are weak of stomach or god forbid a PETA member save your money and go watch the Muppets Movie instead.  This book is full of violent, bloody wildlife on wildlife encounters.  Oh, and a lot snakes so Linda has been warned to never open the book herself – about 5 pages in there is a particular awesome picture of a Vine Snake that even made me hesitate when I turned to that page.  Also very appreciative of the heavy paper stock she used which helps maintain the quality of the pictures.  Kudos to the photographers that provided all the outstanding shots to this book.  It always inspires me when I see the work of photographers that are clearly on top of their field.  A pretty short recollection but the book only took me two nights of light reading before hitting the hay.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways.

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Book Recollection: Creative Bird Photography

I am pretty ashamed of myself right now.  Remember that goal of getting through my ever growing stack of reading material?  If not, I completely understand since I haven’t posted a book recollection since ..wait for it .. wait for it.. APRIL (link here).  Pretty pathetic, but there are some reasons for that and most of them result in just being too tired or busy to sink myself into anything with any intellectual depth.  As a result most of my night and travel reading has been running and health magazines that invade my mailbox once a month.  There are usually some interesting quick reads in the running journals but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that my health mags are worthless – give them three months and they will contradict every recommendation they gave you in the current month.  I’ll be ending those and my Guitar World subscription at the next renewal.

The bright spot in all of this is I have been turning a few pages in a real book every once in awhile.  Somewhat shocking I actually came to the index on one last week.  Which means it’s time for a new Book Recollection – WOOT!!  Today’s entry is about an offering from Bill Coster on Creative Bird Photography: Essential Tips and Techniques.  Pretty sure Linda picked it up for me – obviously she knows me pretty well.  This is a 160 large paper bound book printed on nice stock pages which make the numerous pictures stand out nice and crisp.  To be honest, it was more of an inspiration book than a volume of new information.  This isn’t Bill’s fault but I have read so many books and manuals on wildlife photography that it takes something revolutionary to really grab me.  However, if you like perusing some of the best bird photographs you will ever see.. then this book is for you!  This is where the inspiration comes from – nothing like seeing successful shots out in the field to get your juices flowing to go out there and try to get your own gallery shots.  When it comes to bird photography, Arthur Morris is clearly in the cream (can check out his work out here) Beware, that dude is a Shopaholic in case you have some angst on that (I DO NOT).  Based on the images in this book I am going to add Bill into this elite group as well – strange that I have never stumbled on his work before.  He also gets extra props because he started in the IT Industry before going full time into photography – his sweet spot back then were birds in flight which were pretty rare in the film days.  This led to his employment with one of the top natural history agencies in Britain.  Oh, did I mention he was raised in London?  This particular book was based on a series of articles he wrote for Birds Illustrated magazine – maybe I’ll replace my health subscription with a bird journal .. maybe even on the iPad.  He does an excellent job of giving the details (bird type, location and exposure information) for all the shots in the book.  Note he is a Canon user – let’s all let out a collective siiigggghhhh.

One thing that becomes very clear in the book is Bill has a lot of spare time and is very patient in the field.  He details all of the locations around the world he’s been able to shoot at (many of which I’ve added to my travel list) and continually mentions the multi-day outings just waiting for a bird to show up where he wants it to.  This is a huge advantage over holding down a full time job in the IT world.  I actually have a pretty big list of takeaways so clearly it was worth the read if you can call 160 pages in 5 months actually READING.  There are 38 unique birds (class and common name combined) within the covers (yes, I counted them) and I’m sure some of them you have never seen in person.  If you are new to bird photography or wondering why anyone would take up this pastime, then this book is for you.  If you want to judge how far you need to go before you can call yourself a real bird photographer, then this book is for you (answer a LONG ways for me) or if you just like looking at “purdy” pictures then … this book is for you.  If there is one negative on the book is that it just simply ends.  One moment you are learning about Tilt Shift photography, turn the page to see a couple full spread shots of bird flocks and next thing you know you are staring at the index.  No words of encouragement, no go out and win one for the Gipper speech (speaking of which Notre Dame is currently kicking the crap out of Michigan State) or thanks for spending your valuable time with me.  None of that, just the index.  This always gives me the sense that the book was rushed or the author became so bored or burdened with it that he was relieved just to make it to the page quota.  Maybe it is just me, but if ever write a book I’m going to take the time to properly polish up the ending.

Well, that’s it boys and girls.  Hope you enjoyed the discussion and find some value in the Takeaways that can be found after the jump.  Until next time, happy shooting

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Book Recollection: Rare

I decided to pinch the Yellow stream for a quick post on a book recollection.  This is mainly due to something that arrived in the mail just a few days ago, but more on that later.  Today’s post is on a book called Rare: Portraits of America’s Endangered Species by Photographer Joel Sartore.  Like the previous book recollection post on Decisive Moments (link here), this photographer’s work is one of my favorites (to be honest, he is probably tops in my list).  As you can guess, he is a photographer for National Geographic and has a focus on bringing awareness to endangered species.  There are wildlife photographers that can capture a shot by getting all the technical details right such as lighting, focus, aperture and shutter speed.  There are also photographers who are able to illicit emotion from the viewer by capturing the mood and feel of a situation.  Without a doubt, Joel is one of the few people who is able to produce a shot with both of those qualities.  As an example, just take a look at the Red Wolf in the cover shot.  The 2 subjects reside at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.  This proud species is fighting for their survival with only 330 of them left (at time of publication).  As Joel states in his book, their relationship at the top of the predator food chains makes them susceptible to lead poisoning thanks to intolerance.  To be honest, this is not a book you put down feeling good about your place on earth.  Sure, there are some bright spots like the success stories on American Alligator recovery and the banning of DDT in 192 which was responsible for devastating the populations of our proud American symbol, the Bald Eagle as well as the Peregrine Falcon.  Having just come back from Yellowstone, let’s not forget the progress of the Gray Wolf recovery.  But for all those triumphs, there is the losing side of the battle.  This includes the last Dusky Seaside Sparrow whose final resting place is in a jar at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville Florida or the fragile Mississippi Sandhill Crane population of 155 birds residing in Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refugee that was put at great risk by Katrina.

I am not in a position to preach to anyone and I certainly have my biases, but if you get the opportunity, just take a look at this book.  Even if the message doesn’t hit a personal chord, simply enjoy the stunning photographs.  Joel does a nice job of capturing the subject in a black or white setting (intentionally done to illicit more emotion).  The book is organized by population sizes with a description of the plight of that particular animal, insect or plant and in some cases he includes a little background on where and how the shot was taken.  If nothing else, it will push the bar up a little higher on your own photography output.  The book was also published on high quality paper giving it almost a gallery feel that you can put on your coffee table.  If you like his photographs, keep an eye out for his other works.  For starters, his image in the Simply Beautiful Photographs (see recollection here) was quite stunning.

So, back to that mail delivery mentioned at the start.  As a wolf enthusiast, I feel obligated to help in their recovery.  As a member of the National Wolf Foundation based on Ely, Minn), a member of the local Wildlife Prairie Park (who have a very nice wolf pack) and a new member of the Yellowstone National Park Association I like to think in some small way I am helping make a difference.  A few months ago I was made aware of another effort to help my four legged friends.  Will Burrard-Lucas and Rebecca Jackrel (whose photography blog Lind and I actively follow) started a project to document the struggle for survival of Africa’s wolves – you can find more about the project at their website (link here).  They were asking for financial assistance to get the project off the ground and I jumped at the chance.  Since that time, I had slowly forgotten about it as the stress of the holidays began to set in.  Low and behold we received this postcard in the mail.  A handwritten postcard from Rebecca and Will from Ethiopia.  How cool is that!  Needless to say, I am excited to be a part of this and cannot wait to see the shots upon their return.

Hit the jump to see my takeaways from Rare

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