Corrections or additions?
This article by Carolyn Foote Edelmann was prepared for the October 23, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Our Garden State & Birds: Perfect Together
Birding is becoming America’s fastest-growing outdoor
sport, with recent studies indicating some 80 million birders flocking
across our land. This weekend, thousands will converge on Cape May
for the New Jersey Audubon Society’s annual three-day Bird Show, October
25 to 27, one of 400 birding festivals now offered across North America.
Just in time, Rutgers University Press has re-issued a classic birding
guide written especially for New Jersey. And for those stuck at home
during the peak autumn migration, author and illustrator David Allen
Sibley signs his latest birding book, Sunday, October 27, at the Princeton
Rutgers University Press could have produced a gold mine with William
Boyle’s revised and expanded, "A Guide to Bird Finding in New
Jersey." First published in 1986, this successful work has been
brought smartly up-to-date for millennial 2002. The author, a chemist,
was regional editor of "American Birds" for 19 years and has
devoted 30 eager years to the unique and memorable bird life of New
Jersey. Boyle’s detailed descriptions cover more than 130 New Jsersy
birding ‘hot spots’ in welcome detail, even to the color of tree blazes
(marks to guide hikers) and recommended footgear for treks.
Birding in New Jersey could be compared to panning for gold: both
require gearing up and settling in at a likely spot. With infinite
patience and keen eyes, flecks materialize, not heavy metal in this
case — but possibly "Life Birds" (the term for one’s first
sighting of any species). In both cases, however, the seeker does
have to know where to settle. That’s where this revised guide comes
A workmanlike and thorough volume, it’s easy to conclude that no New
Jersey birder (nor Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware) should leave
home without it. Except that RUP has overlooked a promotional opportunity
that could have set off the publishing equivalent of the Gold Rush.
The re-issued book’s nature-green cover makes no mention that these
pages hide exquisite black and white drawings by the hottest name
in (probably global) birding — David Allen Sibley. Precocious
son of a Yale ornithologist, Sibley began birding and painting before
the age of 10. This soft-spoken man has now eclipsed Roger Tory Peterson,
fellow artist and father of field guides.
While many look back fondly on naturalist Pete Dunne’s weekly columns
in the Sunday New York Times New Jersey edition, they are long gone
now. But Sibley, recently described as "America’s foremost bird
expert," has just launched a weekly bird column in Newark’s Sunday
Star-Ledger. Sibley is the key interviewee in birding journals, all
of which seem to by vying for anything authored or painted by this
new Renaissance man. His recent tomes, "The Sibley Guide to Birds"
and "The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior) (Knopf, 2001),
— despite hefty $45 and $55 price tags — remained on best-seller
lists all over the country. Now Knopf has just come out with another,
"Sibley’s Birding Basics," designed to introduce even more
newcomers to the sport.
Boyle’s comprehensive and truly useful guide is salted and peppered
with stunning Sibley artistry from his pre-fame days. His portrait
of the barred owl alone is worth the book’s purchase price. And although
Rutgers Press does not trumpet this book’s concealed gifts, I welcome
Boyle’s addition to my nature travel library. Ninety-five good clear
maps to scale (including even our area’s new Plainsboro Preserve and
Princeton’s bountiful Pole Farm) render this guide essential for many
of us. Two prefaces (1986 and 2002) fill in knowledge and understanding
gaps, pointing out informational and stylistic changes in the new
version. Boyle has obviously and frequently visited all these sites.
He is generous in thanking those who assisted (including local legends
such as Charles Leck and Tom Southerland), and invites readers to
write to expand his own knowledge.
People tend to be profoundly surprised at the birding
riches of our region. Four-hundred-twenty species have been recorded
in the Garden State. Some are resident; some are ‘merely’ passing
through in autumn and in spring. A sighting is a sighting, no matter
the bird’s motivation. With Boyle in hand, if any species are missing
from your Life List, you’ll now know where and also when you yourself
should migrate on a quest for rarities. He’s almost as valuable as
a live Audubon, Sierra, or Cape May Bird Observatory guide in terms
of getting out "Where the Birds Are."
Particularly appealing is Boyle’s "Birding by Season" feature.
You can check it yourself by turning to ‘Winter,’ whose bounty is
usually a well-kept secret. He’ll tell you how to fill those seemingly
empty months. A welcome segment covers Pelagic birding (winged creatures
who sail above the sea, rarely coming ashore), with suggestions about
best places to secure boats for this "last frontier for bird explorers
of North America. No other birding activity can match [it] for the
sudden appearance of an extreme rarity." Whales and dolphins are
pelagic bonuses. Hawking has its separate section, covering not only
New Jersey sites but also nearby Pennsylvania.
Boyle’s index is complex and complete. However, I wish Boyle had separated
bird names from everything and everywhere else, as food memoirs index
recipes in their own section. Rare Bird Alert links are offered, but
the list of birding websites would be more useful if alphabetized.
There is a valuable annotated bird list, new to me. Boyle admits to
having borrowed its form from avian authors John and Justin Harding.
Informative paragraphs describe everything from season and environment
to "Common, Fairly Common, Uncommon and Rare". Symbols reminiscent
of Michelin Travel Guide alert seekers: from Hard-to-Miss to How-Lucky-Can-You-Get?
This list, a real selling point, should also be included in cover
Boyle’s tome is divided into regions; regions into counties. You can
check out his expertise by studying areas you know well and explore
from your armchair places you’ve always meant to go. In personal havens,
such as Whitesbog, Boyle reveals rare nesters which I have not discovered;
as well as the lack of restrooms, which I have. Oddly, he does not
mention favorite Whitesbog winter sightings, Snow Geese and Tundra
Swans, to say nothing of last year’s Trumpeter Swans. These last were
so unknown in New Jersey that they do not appear in my pre-Sibley
bird guides. Boyle knows and honors Tuckerton’s Great Bay Boulevard.
He gives precise tidal correlations ("same as Sandy Hook; 20 minutes
later than Barnegat," and notes the faithful Osprey who is built
his own nest on a power tower near Bridge 5.
Boyle briefly addresses birding ethics for this fastest
growing outdoor activity. He cautions that we "leave no trace;
consider the birds; no tape recording," and more. But does not
mention other courtesies: such as muted clothing that is quiet, not
rustly; beaked hats because our eyes alarm birds; no slamming of car
doors; speaking in low tones, if at all. If you’ve ever spooked 100,000
snow geese at Brigantine by slamming your car door, you’ll start your
own list of birding ethics. Boyle is thorough with warnings on insects
and waterproofed hiking gear; yet neglects the prime outdoor rule
of one pint of water per hour below 90 degrees; one quart above 90.
Serious stomach cramps, dehydration, mental confusion, and even death
can follow overlooking this maxim whether winter or summer. Boyle
misses proffering this rule: "If you’re thirsty, it’s too late!"
All in all, William Boyle is thorough, no-nonsense, ranging from lively
to chatty. He’ll remind you to wear layers for autumn hawking, "can
be 20 degrees colder on top of the ridge," suggesting a thermos
of "hot cocoa or other libation." There isn’t a libation on
earth that’ll soften those rocks, but a measure of anti-freeze could
be in order. Boyle’s personalized directions include "Turn left
at the Dairy Queen" and "Tell the guard at the gate that you
are going hawk watching." This is a book that goes beyond information,
to the level of companionship.
— Carolyn Foote Edelmann
William J. Boyle, Jr., Rutgers University Press, 1986/2002 ($25 paperback;
Cape May Bird Observatory and Convention Center, 609-884-2736. The
big annual bird show during the peak of the autumn migration. Field
trips, workshops, and exhibits. Preregister. Friday to Sunday,
October 25 to 27.
Place, 609-921-8500. David Allen Sibley, artist, naturalist, birder,
and author of "Sibley’s Birding Basics." Free. Sunday,
October 27, 3 p.m.
Corrections or additions?
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