Category Archives: Books

Video preview of Crossley ID Guide

Richard Crossley, one of the authors of The Shorebird Guide, has put together a new bird guide for the eastern United States. The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds is slated to be available in early 2011. The guide takes a different approach to bird identification, using photos rather than illustrations and placing them with lifelike backgrounds, showing many different photographs of each bird. Context is key. Recently the author spoke about his ideas for this new kind of bird guide:

Early versions of pages from this book were shared almost a year ago at, and that post garnered 32 comments. To say this book is highly anticipated would be an understatement! The book is now available for pre-order. Meanwhile you can view more sample or working pages here.

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In it to win it

Part of the program last Saturday evening during the Illinois Audubon Spring Gathering was a raffle and silent auction. Now, you know I have a problem with books. Maybe you can guess what happened.

I saw several lots of older bird books that I thought were pretty cool. Each item had a cup next to it, and players could add their ticket(s) to the cup to try and win that item when the tickets were drawn randomly later in the evening. Arthur and I purchased 30 tickets for $20. I placed multiple tickets inside a few of the cups, to increase my chances of winning.

In the end my name was called six times and I won 13 books plus 4 sets of bird call cassette tapes. When my name was called for the third time, it was already pretty funny. Subsequent wins were met with laughter and during the remainder of the weekend I became known as either “the book lady” or “Amy with the books.”

My favorite of the bunch is The Book of Birds from the National Geographic Society, published in 1925. The color illustrations by Louis Agassiz Fuertes are accompanied by some photos. More about this one later!

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So much for goals

This weekend the Waukegan Public Library had a book give-away. Free books. Oh, dear.

My bird bookshelf, which includes mostly memoirs, got a little less manageable. It looked like this at the beginning of the year. And now:

A scant few books have since moved on, but many more took their place.

I also picked up a few bird guides and other instructional, natural history non-fiction. And I succumbed to my old nemesis, travel guides.

I’ll post a couple of book reviews in the coming weeks, but at this rate I’ll never catch up. Gah!

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Birding’s star turn

The film version of The Big Year is progressing, with filming to begin next month. Local birders even have a chance to be in the movie — there is a May 1st casting call for extras in Tofino, BC. I was an extra in a movie many years ago, and it was a lot of fun. I would LOVE to be able to be an extra in The Big Year! Producers are looking for “local men and women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities who are interested in working as paid Extras on the movie.” I wonder how many birders will show up for the casting call?

In other entertainment news, Los Angeles Audubon will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in May and as part of the festivities, birders can join several Star Trek cast members on a birding field trip. The Bald(ing) Eagles of Star Trek is one of several teams competing in a Birdathon over the first week of May. It’s a fun chance to go out birding with Armin Shimerman, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips and John Billingsley, and contribute to Los Angeles Audubon’s activities, too.

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New cast member for ‘The Big Year’

A film adaptation of Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year looks to be another step closer to production. In January news broke that the film would star Owen Wilson, Jack Black, and Dustin Hoffman. Tonight reports are circulating that Steve Martin will take Dustin Hoffman’s place in the film. According to ABC News, filming is set to begin in May in Canada. David Frankel is still on to direct.

Although I do like Dustin Hoffman, I’m a big fan of Steve Martin, so I like this announcement. With this cast, there’s no doubt this will be a comedy. I just hope they don’t make birders look too goofy.

Humorous Pictures

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The Big Year coming to theaters?!

This interesting tidbit came to my attention via Facebook: a film adaptation of Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year is in development. According to this page on the New York Times, the cast includes Dustin Hoffman, Owen Wilson and Jack Black. The director is listed as David Frankel, and the genre is listed as adaptation, comedy and period (the story takes place in 1998). According to IMDbPro, the production companies are Deuce Three Productions and DreamWorks SKG, with Carol Fenelon and Curtis Hanson on board to produce.

I read The Big Year a few months ago and I thought it would make a great movie. The casting has me a bit puzzled, though.


**mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn’t read the book **


** here come the spoilers **


The book covers the competition between three birders attempting a North American Big Year – they’re trying to see the most bird species in the continental United States and Canada. The year is 1998 and the three players are Sandy Komito, Al Levantin and Greg Miller.

I figure Sandy Komito was about 66 years old during The Big Year. He had worked as a salesman, and was known in the birding community as “the loud wisecracker from New Jersey.” Reading the book, I pictured him as looking something like Dan Hedaya. I would guess Dustin Hoffman would be cast as Komito. There’s a photo of Komito towards the bottom of this page, but I can’t figure out when it was taken (1997?).

At the start of the big year, Greg Miller was working systems for a nuclear power plant, getting ready for Y2K. He was recently divorced, overweight, and sad. “Forty years old and alone and no children-he hadn’t pictured his life this way.” It’s not at all hard for me to picture Jack Black in this role. There’s a photo of Greg Miller about a quarter of the way down this page, which was apparently taken around 2004.

In 1998, Levantin was a business executive recently retired after a 40-year career. As Obmascik describes him, “He was sixty-six years old, but often accused of lying about his age. With an outdoorsy pink in his cheeks, slate-blue eyes, and shoulders that still packed some muscle, he looked fifty. He acted thirty. He had charisma.” In my mind he looks kind of like Alan Dale.

So of those three main characters, I’m trying to figure out where Owen Wilson fits in. Could he play the part of narrator, or of Mark Obmascik, the book’s author? Obmascik doesn’t actually follow the birders around during 1998, but maybe the screenplay will work that way. What do you think? Have you read The Big Year? Who would you cast as the three leads? Are there any other roles – Kenn Kaufman, Debra Shearwater, etc – you would like to see cast a certain way?

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Birding Goals for 2010

The new year is coming fast – just about four and a half hours to go here – and I’ve been thinking about setting a few birding goals for 2010.

I’m not really a hard core lister at this point, but one of my goals for the new year is to start using eBird. Every time I try to navigate the site I get frustrated because I can’t find what I am looking for. And it’s slow. I also can’t stop comparing it to the system we used in the Netherlands,, which was so easy and intuitive. Right now I’m trying to make a birding route for tomorrow and I can’t find the birds reported at our local hotspot, aargh! I want to search by location, not species. I guess if I start using it more, I’ll get the hang of it, right? So my first goal for 2010 is to use eBird for recording my sightings, and for exploring data. And I want to answer these questions: Can I find all the sightings by a certain user? Can I see what species were seen on a specific date at a specific location?

Another goal I have is to read these.

At least most of them. More bird-related natural history books are on the way (thanks to bookmooch and paperbackswap) but the shelf is filling up fast. And I’m trying to not hoard so many books any more. The idea is to read them and pass them on. I should be able to manage a book a month, right? Geez. First I have to finish The Beak of the Finch and then I’ll be on my way!

I suppose a list of birding goals should include species targets. We only managed 194 species for 2009. I think we should be able to get 200 in Illinois. Beyond that I’m reluctant to make a goal, although it would also be nice to get 13 lifers as that will get us to 500 total. We’re still missing quite a few local birds and I think we’ll pick up a bunch in Holland when we visit in the summer.

Did you make any biridng goals for 2010?

Happy New Year to all my birding friends and fellow bird bloggers! To a great and bird-filled 2010!

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Glen Chilton, Duck P.I.

The Curse of the Labrador Duck

Today we attended a lecture given at the Field Museum in Chicago by noted ornithologist Glen Chilton, who was speaking on his new book, The Curse of the Labrador Duck: My Obsessive Quest to the Edge of Extinction. Chilton has spent the last 10 years or so, on and off, chasing down the last remaining museum pieces, study skins and eggs of this duck that went extinct in the 1870’s. During his extremely entertaining lecture, he explained how he came to take on the project and shared a few of the adventures he had along the way to finding the 50-some birds and handful of remaining eggs that reside in museums (and other places) around the world.

Labrador Ducks
The Field Museum’s pair of Labrador Ducks

At the beginning of his talk, Dr. Chilton praised the Field Museum as one of the top 5 natural history museums in the world. Also among his top 5 is our old favorite, Naturalis, in our former hometown of Leiden (the mention of Leiden elicited a quiet “woo hoo” from your blogger). After the lecture Dr. Chilton signed his book and when it came our turn we mentioned our former time in Leiden. He again praised Naturalis and told us a bit more about the two Labrador Ducks that are in the museum’s possession.

Labrador Duck trading card
Circa 1970 trading card featuring the Labrador Duck

Chilton is pretty sure he tracked down all of the remaining examples of the Labrador Duck still in existence. He’s so sure that he’s offering a $10,000 reward for anyone that can produce a duck he didn’t manage to find (restrictions, of course, apply).

Reward for Labrador Duck
Reward for ‘new’ Labrador Duck

Dr. Chilton will be making more appearances for his book in the coming weeks, in Seattle, Denver and Portland (Portland Audubon Society), before returning to Australia. I highly recommend his lively and interesting lecture. I’ve read the first few chapters of the book and will post a review when I’m done (so far, thumbs up).

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John James Audubon’s Birds of North America

An original copy of one of the world’s most valuable books, John James Audubon’s Birds of North America, is on display at the oldest museum of the Netherlands. The exhibit Vogels van Formaat runs at the Teylers Museum in Haarlem until 20 January 2008.

The proprietor of the museum at the time the book was published in the early 1800’s purchased one of the original Double Elephant Havell Editions of the book. Read Arthur’s account of our visit to the exhibit.

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