Shorebirds of North America: The Photographic Guide—Dennis Paulson. 2005. Princeton University Press. Princeton, New Jersey. 361 pp. ISBN 0-691-12107-9, $29.95 (paper).
The increased attention devoted to shorebird research over the past 15 years and the release of the second edition of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan (Brown et al. [eds.], 2001, Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, Manomet, Massachusetts) has stimulated renewed scientific interest in shorebirds. Many shorebirds present identification difficulties, so this book fills an important need for researchers involved in survey work for conservation purposes, as well as for birders interested in delineating the different species. This represents the first comprehensive photographic guide to North American shorebirds and treats 94 species, including species that are rare or accidental in North America.
This book is an identification guide, not a book on shorebird biology that includes information on identification. The author states in the first sentence of the Introduction that “this is a book about shorebird identification” and the book does not stray from its intended purpose, so other literature is necessary to cover additional aspects of shorebird biology. Photographic guides sometimes suffer from uneven quality of photographs, but the photographs presented here are uniformly excellent. In my opinion, this is one of the best photographic guides available, as it provides a wealth of photos for each species, illustrating seasonal, geographic, and age-related variation in plumage. Moreover, the author is one of the foremost experts on shorebird identification and his expertise is clearly evident throughout the book. The bulk of the book consists of species accounts for the 94 species, and the species accounts follow an introductory chapter. This introductory chapter includes information that is pertinent to shorebird identification, such as shorebird anatomy, plumage variation, molt, and a cursory treatment of behavior and vocalizations. A short section on hybrids with some accompanying photographs is a particularly interesting part of the introduction. Finally, very short sections on shorebird distributions, briefly mentioning differing migration strategies among shorebirds, and conservation, which includes a plea for amateur birders to become involved with local or large-scale shorebird monitoring programs that have recently been initiated in many locations, are included in the introduction.
The species accounts are arranged according to a template that includes plumage descriptions, subspecies designations, identification information, and habitat and range descriptions. No range maps are included along with these descriptions, and the author specifically refers the reader to other field guides for maps. However, I felt that thumbnail maps included in the species accounts would be useful and wouldn't take up much space. The species accounts are relatively light on text, but heavy on photographs, and much of the important identification information is included in the figure legends. Comparing the text pages devoted to species accounts in this book with that in Paulson's (1993) Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest (University of Washington Press, Seattle, Washington) illustrates this approach nicely. As examples, dowitchers are covered in only four pages of text (excluding photos) in this book but take up 12 pages in Paulson (1993). Similarly, stints are covered in 14 pages of text in this book, but 31 in Paulson (1993). This text-light and photo-heavy approach allows for a lot of variation in plumage due to age, sex, season, and geography to be dealt with in a concise fashion in this book, and I found this to be an effective presentation method.
This book is an indispensable guide for shorebird identification and will be an exceedingly useful resource for scientists training field workers in shorebird identification. It will also likely serve as the primary shorebird reference for birders, and the book is portable and sturdy enough to stand up to substantial field use.