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Review: Hawks at a Distance

April 8, 2011
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Hawkwatches, those stationary counts from strategic locations along the migratory routes, have been in existence for decades.  Generations of birders have watched tens of generations of hawks pass by year after year and attendance at hawk specific sites like the famous Hawk Mountain in Pennsylvania, Key West, Corpus Christi and so many others continues to go up and up.  And why not?  Hawks are flashy and charismatic and best, they can be present in the thousands at any of these locations on a good day, and the birders that focus on hawks, falcons, and eagles are among the most passionate and knowledgeable subsets of our community.

The parade of amazing family specific guides that are being made available to birders in North America continues with Jerry Liguori’s newest, Hawks at a Distance.  A treatment like this for raptors is a no-brainer.  Raptors, more than any other group of birds, are primarily seen on the wing at great distance.  It is the ability to put a correct name to a  hawk shaped speck on the horizon that makes or breaks a hawkwatch hero and until now, this was really the province of the inveterate solo birder peering off into the horizon for hours on end for the entire period between late August and early November.  Like all other aspects of birding there’s no shortcut to that kind of experience, but Luguori’s new book gives the would-be hawkwatcher a head start, significantly closing the gap between rookie and expert with his simple and comprehensive approach.

Hawks at a Distance succeeds for a few reasons.  First, the photos, nearly all contributed by the author himself, are nothing short of amazing for both their breadth but also for their quality.  You might think much skill goes into  a photo of a distant hawk, but the ability to come up with an image that not only meets the criteria of presenting the relevant field marks at a distance is difficult enough, but to do so over and over again for every raptor in North America is an accomplishment in itself.  As such, there isn’t another book available that is so comprehensive in its scope.

Second, and perhaps most exciting, is the section at the end called simply “Shapes”.  It is here where, on each page, between 60 and 70 photos of each raptor are presented in silhouette in nearly every position a raptor can twist itself into t in the field.  Expert hawkwatchers know that even common species can be misleading depending on the condition in which you see them, but Luguori’s ingenious presentation offers a means by which you can quickly compare not only different species, but different looks at the same species.  Even without the pages of color photographs, this section enough is well-worth the price, but added to the whole it’s the cherry on the top of an amazing sundae.

Hawkwatchers are going to be the primary audience for this book, but anyone interested in pushing the physical boundaries of their bird identification to the horizon should pick it up.  You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks to Princeton University Press for providing me with a review copy

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6 Comments
  1. jmj permalink
    April 8, 2011 9:38 am

    just fyi, you’ve mis-spelled the author’s name at least twice 😉

    • Nate permalink*
      April 8, 2011 9:42 am

      Oops, will fix pronto…

  2. April 8, 2011 10:16 am

    I absolutely love Liguori’s “other” hawk ID book, I think it is “Hawks from every angle”? didn’t have to use it for the last couple’ years here in Europe, but I was very impressed by it back in the States in 2006/07. This new book is definitely on top of my wish list when I re-visit North America. Whenever that may be… Thanks for the great review.

  3. Nate permalink*
    April 12, 2011 11:13 am

    @Jochen- My pleasure. It really is a nice book. I’ve only glanced through Hawks at every angle in the book store, but really liked it.

  4. Derek permalink
    April 12, 2011 5:19 pm

    Well written review.

    The more I look through this book, the more I am impressed by what it achieves. I agree, the choice in photos is excellent and the “shapes” section is so interesting to study. The only thing better would be to learn from Liguori in the field…now that would be neat.

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