As a frequent traveler – mostly on business – I often find myself in locations with which I am not particularly familiar. For most business travelers this isn’t unusual; which is why so many can only tell you about airports, hotels, conference centers, and the odd restaurant when asked bout their most recent trip. However as a naturalist, I absolutely abhor the thought of going somewhere without making at least a small attempt to become better acquainted with its natural history. Therefore my shoulder bag always contains an optic, a notebook, and some sort of field guide relevant to the area.
Over the years, I’ve discovered that birds are one of the most easily observed subjects for a traveler. Even if I only have five minutes to step outside or a layover between flights I can always grab the three above-mentioned items and scan the area for birdlife. Which is why on my most recent trip to Florida I had a copy of the recently published American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of Florida by Bill Pranty along for the trip.
The third of the five American Birding Association state field guides thus far published by Scott & Nix, Pranty’s Field Guide to the Birds of Florida provides the traveling bird watcher or naturalist a handy, durably bound photographic reference book to the birds reasonably likely to be seen in the state. Large enough for comfortable use but small enough to be easily and unobtrusively carried in a jacket pocket, hand bag, or what-have-you, it is quite sufficient for the purposes to which most people will wish to put it.
Beginning with a nice, concise overview of bird physiognomy and behavior, and followed by a helpful list of prominent bird watching sites, a summary of the highlights of bird activity by month, and a glossary of important terms, the book concludes with a checklist, index, and quick index inside the back cover. A full state map is included inside the front cover. The taxonomically arranged species accounts are straightforward and to-the-point; common and Latin binomial names, size and wingspan measurements, a short explanatory paragraph and a large captioned color photo or two. No individual species range maps are included on either the account pages or elsewhere in the book.
While some may think such presentation too abbreviated, it is important to note that this book is not a comprehensive guide to all the birds that might potentially be found in the state. According to the Florida Ornithological Society, the official list of all bird species as maintained by their records committee totals 516. This list, however, does include exotics (both established and disestablished), extirpated species, and other similar categories. Once all these are removed, there remain 379; which has caused some reviewers – including myself – to ask why only 300 were selected as worthy of inclusion in this field guide.
To be sure, I have contemplated this for some extended period of time (long airplane flights between Oregon and Florida give one ample time to think about such things). Consulting Pranty’s notes on the point in the introduction to the book, it quickly becomes clear that the birds not included were carefully culled due to a number of very understandable reasons – being “less than annual” to the state, far-offshore pelagic species, and non-accepted sightings; in other words, species highly unlikely to be seen by any but the most ardent bird watcher. It is interesting to note that two species, the Greylag Goose and Red-masked Parakeet, are included despite their not being established simply to their being commonly seen (when it comes to wildlife, Florida is a veritable carnival of exotic creatures blown, brought, or otherwise delivered in to the state – just have a glance at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s list of non-native birds that have been recorded there and you’ll see how astonishingly wide-ranging the problem is).
Thus the conclusion to which I came focuses squarely on the purpose to which I was putting the book myself on the aforementioned trip. If I was making a dedicated trip to Florida specifically for the purpose of watching birds – visiting as many birding hot spots, refuges, and other areas of ornithological interest as possible – I would likely take one of the many comprehensive regional field guides along to cover any rare species I might (hope to) observe. However these types of guides are – by their nature – much larger and bulkier. I was traveling on business and, like many others traveling on business trips family vacations, school outings, etc., I simply needed a quick, handy reference to any birds I might have an opportunity to see in the limited time I had to look for them. Should I see anything not included Pranty’s field guide, a few good notes and a few short days would allow me once again access to the resources my library affords for identifying such curiosities.
Therefore I can well recommend the American Birding Associations Field Guide to the Birds of Florida to all bird watching travelers or vacationers visiting the state, as well as Floridians looking for a general reference guide to their state’s birds. It is a very handy, easy-to-use, convenient to carry reference that will well serve the needs of all but the most serious birders traveling or in the field specifically for the purpose of birding. Indeed, as Scott & Nix have already indicated forthcoming volumes to be published later in 2016 for the states of Arizona, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Texas, I just hope each will be released in time for my already scheduled trips to those respective states as well.
Author: Bill Pranty, photographs by Brian E. Small
Publisher: Scott & Nix, Inc.
Format: Flexible heavy plastic cover
Pages: 368 pp., 545 photographs
Published: December 2014
In accordance with Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, it is disclosed that the copy of the book read in order to produce this review was provided gratis to the reviewer by the publisher.