Imma let you hear all about how Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors is a remarkable and important field guide, but first I want to mention that one of the most interesting parts of that guide is the forward by Pete Dunne, who himself has written a bird book or two. Dunne reviews the history of bird identification guides, going back to the time before they actually included illustrations (yup, just words!) and follows the evolution of bird guides through the 20th century, with special reference to how raptors have been handled. Or, more exactly, mishandled.
It make sense to question the old ways: When was the last time a hawk came to your feeder and hung around in close view, or a small flock of hawks hopped around in a nearby meadow for ten minutes or perched on a bush for a minute or two? Yet, most depictions of raptors have used the same posing and otherwise been handled the same way as depictions of wrens and sparrows. True, various guides, including Peterson’s, have included silhouettes of selected birds in flight, and indeed, that is the point; As time has gone by, bird books have treated raptors more and more differently, until finally Jerry Liguori came up with his now classic Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors In Flight.
And now, the subject of today’s review, Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors, takes raptor identification to a new level, showing multiple photos of hawks, eagles, kites and their kin of North America as they almost always appear: Way the hell over there!
For each species, there are numerous photos. The photos show the birds at multiple angles and with a variety of lighting conditions, and across a range of morphs and ages, as appropriate. The photographs are all taken during the fall migration. Indeed, the book is oriented (as suggested by the title) towards use by people observing raptor migrations, though it really will be useful for anyone any time of the year.
In addition to the photos there is a series of all-black silhouettes showing the birds in a variety of positions and from multiple angles. These are the old-time silhouettes of Peterson cloned and on steroids. It’s almost too much to take in all at once but I’m not going to say its a bad idea until I’ve used it for a while. The silhouette plates would really shine in a larger format book.
Speaking of format, Hawks at a Distance: Identification of Migrant Raptors is of medium format, larger than a pocket guide and probably about as small as it could be and have the photos make sense. My copy is the Twelve Dollar Paperback Version, and there is also a Kindle Version which I have not seen, and can’t imagine how that would be useful. Kindles are delicate and not good at photos. A cloth (hardcover) version is available but its more expensive and less lightweight, so I’m not sure why you would want that one either. The paperback actually has a very sturdy cover and the book is priced nicely, so you won’t worry much about getting it worn through field use.
I am sure that I’ll keep this book with me all season. I’ve test driven the guide for the last four days. That one hawk I see now and then near 81 and 169 is a sharp-shinned hawk, and Amanda got a positive ID on a Northern Harrier. Neither ID would have happened with certainty without reference to the photos in Hawks at a Distance. Nicely done, Jerry.
Oh, one other thing: In his front matter, the author reveals his current choice for hawk-watching optics. He likes Zeiss Victory FL Binoculars. Yes indeed, they do look rather nice.