Better birding for beginners and others

The Complete Birder. A Guide to Better Birding, by Jack Connor. Illustrated by Margaret LaFrage. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 285 pp. $18.95. Many books have been written on the joys of bird watching. Amateurs and experts alike have waded into topics ranging from feeding and housing to migration and nesting. And there are several excellent guides with fine illustrations and photographs to aid in the identification of almost anything that flies by, whether through the backyard or farther afield. But Jack Connor's treatment of the subject is new and exciting and should prove valuable to all interested birders, from the beginner to the more advanced. While it is more than an expanded field guide, it does not plunge the reader too deeply into bird behavior. Despite its title, this is not ``everything you ever wanted to know about'' birds.

Each chapter prepares the reader for what to see or hear as well as when to expect to sight your favorite kind: songbirds in the early morning, hawks around noonday, owls at night. Mr. Connor even includes some of the exceptions to these general rules.

Of course every ``sport'' has its specialized equipment, and birding is no exception; it's just that you need less. To help you do it right, the author explains the science of optics as it applies to binoculars and makes it so interesting that you may want to check your old pair to be sure you have the right type for the need. In a later chapter the author shares ideas for birding by ear. This may be the most valuable chapter ever included in a bird guide. The field notes and tips Connor provides are truly the keys to better birding. By fine-tuning his listening ability, a birder gains skills that lead to greater enjoyment and awareness of the environment.

This book can be picked up at random; the chapters can be taken in any order. The information will not get out of date. Yet it yields the latest thinking and research on birds and their habits. Whether hawks or warblers are your passion, and even if you are only a fair-weather birder (the section on ``summer'' should help here!), Connor's style entices one to get immersed in a leisure activity that can challenge both mental and physical abilities.

David P. Townsend is a free-lance book reviewer.

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