In 1989 two British birders published a 39-page booklet. This booklet was not a field guide, and not a natural history. It was a brief (39 pages) informal manual that explained *how* to look at a bird. It was entitled The New Approach to Identification and its authors, Peter Grant and Killian Mullarney, were among the best birders in the world. Grant, who died a year after The New Approach came out, was responsible for starting the gull craze in 1982 with his Gulls: A Guide to Identification, and Mullarney went on to become the senior author and illustrator of the Collins guide to the birds of Europe, considered to be the premier field guide in the world.
The New Approach went out of print years ago, but I bought myself a copy while it was still available. I’ve studied it many times, and I still regard it as an invaluable book, the best explanation of what you’re supposed to be looking for when you encounter a bird in the field. If you give it a serious perusal (only 39 pages!), I think you’ll be pleased at how much more you begin to see through your binoculars. As the authors put it, the New Approach “adds a great deal of extra interest to the identification of birds.” Phil Laipis was kind enough to make me a pdf of the booklet – with Killian Mullarney’s blessing – and you can find it here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/83186272/New%20Approach/The%20New%20Approachv3.pdf
Phil made a second pdf in printable format and took it to Renaissance Printing. They printed it out, trimmed the pages, and put a spiral binding and transparent plastic covers on it, all for about ten dollars. The photos in the printed copy were nearly as sharp as those in the pdf. If you want to print yourself a copy, let me know, and I’ll send you a link to the printable file.
More sparrows are starting to show up. On the 11th, Frank Goodwin found and photographed the fall’s first Grasshopper Sparrow at La Chua Trail, probably the second-earliest in the county’s history: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8088775324/in/photostream On the 12th Frank was back at La Chua with Mike Manetz, and near the observation tower they found a Clay-colored Sparrow, a western species that’s a rare fall visitor here. The Clay-colored was still present on the 13th, and was seen by Jonathan Mays and by John Hintermister – and on the same day Geoff Parks saw a little bird feeding in a patch of Coral Foxtail grass in his NE Gainesville backyard that turned out to be another Clay-colored! Geoff managed to get a picture of the bird eating the seeds of the Coral Foxtail: http://www.flickr.com/photos/30736692@N00/8088774385/in/photostream (“Everybody ought to be growing this stuff,” he comments.) Were there any other sparrows? Why yes, now that you mention it, there were! Mike and Frank saw the fall’s first Swamp Sparrow in addition to the Grasshopper and the Clay-colored on the 12th, and on the 13th John found a very early White-crowned, a sighting duplicated on the Bolen Bluff Trail on the same day by sharp-eyed Samuel Ewing – again, the fall’s first.
Other sightings worth your notice: Several people have mentioned to me that the La Chua Trail is overrun with Soras right now. John Hintermister estimated 125 along the trail on the 13th, so if you’d like to see one of these secretive little birds, you know where to go. On the 12th, Mike Manetz heard an American Pipit fly over the La Chua observation platform, by 19 days the earliest ever recorded in the county. And on the 13th Jonathan Mays saw a rather late Cliff Swallow at … let’s all say it together … La Chua.
I don’t think fall migration is over, but you couldn’t prove it by this weekend’s field trips. Saturday’s Bolen Bluff walk produced 51 species of birds, including 11 warbler species, but it was like pulling teeth to get them, and only a handful of the 30 original participants remained when we finally stumbled across a feeding flock. Sunday’s Powers Park / Palm Point field trip was somewhat livelier, but again the migrants just weren’t there in any numbers.
So it’s good news to hear that more cold fronts, followed by more birds, are headed this way. Bob Duncan of Pensacola writes, “Looking good for birding this week. Two cold fronts are forecast to pass through the northern Gulf Coast. Monday winds are shifting to NW 8-13 knots and to N Monday night 13-18 knots. So I think Tuesday should be good at the migrant traps. Another front is due Thursday night, winds Thursday SW 11-15 knots shifting to NW 15-20 knots Thursday night, so Friday looks promising. Some late Neotropical migrants should still be coming down and winter visitors, sparrows, etc., should really be on the move. This is a good time for drought-driven vagrants from the west to appear. Already a Say’s Phoebe, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Groove-billed Ani have been found in the Pensacola area.” Two years ago a Groove-billed Ani showed up at Paynes Prairie on October 16th.