Book Review: The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

Review by Stephen J. Bodio
January 15, 2014
The Warbler Guide by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle

This book could not be more different from Mark Cocker’s. Where his is as broad in scope as the entire world of birds, The Warbler Guide instead hones in on a single family of New World birds, presenting a meticulous, exhaustive—and at times almost ridiculously detailed—field guide. The book is one of the more innovative examples of what I might call the “New Field Guides,” perhaps best exemplified by the in-your-face Crossley Guides. The only unifying principle of these is that they reject the old format developed by Roger Tory Peterson in the 1930s, opting for very different modes of identification. But perhaps field guide is the wrong term for this kind of book, because I doubt anyone could reference the enormous amount of information graphically and innovatively rendered in this book except at home.

In the section that is most useful outdoors, each species is given a couple of guide-level photographs, some “Distinctive Views,” “Additional Photos,” and “Comparison Species.” You also see a series of diagrammatic symbols showing the bird’s outline, primary color scheme, under-tail markings, east-west distribution, and a symbol for where it forages. All of these are of real use in the field, especially after you familiarize yourself with them.

The rest of the astonishing amount of data—including the most complex analysis of sonograms I’ve ever seen in a popular book—is probably best analyzed at home. Some of the other tables such as the “Face Quick Finder” are useful if you get a good look at the bird. Others, such as the “Side Quick Finder,” seem to me to be just filler.