How to Be a Better Birder - Derek Lovitch

This book is aimed at the novice birder who wants to develop their interest and skills. The author is American, based in Maine, and the book is unsurprisingly very US-focussed, although much of the subject material is obviously relevant more widely. It covers topics such as Habitat, Geography, Weather, Vagrants, Patch Listing and “Birding with a Purpose”. The book is predominantly text-based, although contains a good selection of photos to illustrate points being made. It also contains a good range of references, both to books and to online resources.

So, how well does it succeed? It’s a bit hard to say really. Unfortunately, I wasn’t particularly taken with the book personally. Indeed, I haven’t managed to finish it yet (although it’s not particularly long). I’m not sure why this is. Partly it might simply be that it was aimed more at novice birders; I felt a lot of the tips being given were rather obvious (e.g. learn to read a map, look for birds in their favoured habitats, etc). I also didn’t really warm to the author’s writing style, but maybe that’s just personal preference; he is obviously genuinely interested in sharing knowledge and helping birders develop. The book might have been better edited in places however.

However, maybe it was just the US focus that made it seem less relevant to me as a UK-based birder. There were lots of tips that might have been really useful (or not?) had I lived in the States. For example, the author describes his thoughts on the finer-scale habitat preferences of the many species of North American sparrows, and I guess this would be helpful to the novice birder in North America. Having just returned to the UK from a trip to upstate New York, I was struck by subtle differences in the practice of birding there, due to things like the size of the country, larger size of habitat blocks, land ownership and access, the intensity of migration and the fact that many migrants are detectable at night by calls. Therefore, if you’re based in the US or Canada, I’d say it would be worth giving this book a go. If you’re a relatively experienced European birder, it’s probably less useful. And for those of you in the rest of the world ….?

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