It's not often I devote an entire column to a single new book, but "The Warbler Guide" by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle (2013, Princeton University Press, $29.95, to be published July 24) deserves such attention. At 560 pages, "The Warbler Guide" thoroughly covers all 56 species of North American warblers.
The first 137 pages cover introductory material that would make a valuable stand-alone book. It's birding 101 focused solely on warblers. It begins with a legend for icons and silhouettes used in every species account. Two pages explain how to use and interpret range maps. Then comes a topographic tour of the basic warbler body. Here you learn to distinguish among primaries, secondaries, tertials and coverts.
In a section titled "What to Notice on a Warbler," contrasting markings, wing bars, facial patterns, and diagnostic colors are superbly illustrated by some of the more than 1,000 color photos in the book. There's even an example of the different forms of blue found on northern parula (powder blue), Canada (slate blue), cerulean (sky blue) and black-throated blue (ocean blue) warblers. The differences are as striking as the variants of blue found on bluebirds, blue jays and indigo buntings.
Another entire section highlights warbler faces. Masks, check patches, eyerings, eyelines, lores, and supercillia are clearly defined so even a beginning birder won't be confused by jargon. A few pages later, variations in bill size and shape become apparent. Similar sections focus on the breast, belly, flank, tail, and under tail.
Then it's on to aging and sexing warblers in various plumages. This will help ease the frustration that comes with identifying confusing fall warblers.
Next are 37 pages devoted to vocalizations with emphasis on using and understanding sonograms (graphical representations of bird sounds). This discussion includes songs, calls, chips, and flight calls. Though I've been birding for more than 40 years, I felt like a beginner on some pages, and I know I'll be a better birder next spring.
The final 38 pages of the "introduction" contain a series of "quick finder" sections.
It begins with the "Face Quick Finder" on facing pages. Side views of the heads of each species, complete with name and page number reference, make comparing similar species easy.