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

A Guide to Bird Finding in New Jersey, Revised and Expanded,

William J. Boyle, Jr., Rutgers University Press, 1986/2002 ($25 paperback;

$50 hardback).

Cape May Autumn Weekend, New Jersey Audubon Society,

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.

David Allen Sibley, Princeton U-Store, 36 University

Place, 609-921-8500. David Allen Sibley, artist, naturalist, birder,

and author of "Sibley’s Birding Basics." Free. Sunday,

October 27, 3 p.m.

Previous Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.

Facebook Comments