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Birding Guides to Alaska

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Old Friday 22nd October 2004, 02:50   #1
Joe H
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Birding Guides to Alaska

Greetings!

I haven’t seen a string pertaining to birding guides specifically for Alaska so I thought I’d post some information on the topic.

The obvious first choice would have to be Robert H. Armstrong’s "Guide to the Birds of Alaska." It uses photographs for identification which I don’t like as much as good illustrations, but it is small (5 1/2” x 8”) and well laid out. It contains a good photograph or two of each species found annually in Alaska. It also has a description of about 160 accidentals and casuals. I used this guide a lot early this year (my first year bird watching) but found tricky IDs were better made with more traditional guides. I especially like that this book points out similar species when confusion is likely, and then highlights key field marks to help eliminate them.

I’ve found that both David A. Sibley’s "The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America" and the National Geographic Society’s "Field Guide to the Birds of North America" are excellent for general purpose use. I’d give the nod to Sibley only due to better flight illustrations (in truth, I consult all three for most IDs).

Since Alaska birding is synonymous to many people with Eurasian accidentals in North America, a good field guide to the North Eastern Pacific would be great. I have not yet found one but recently stumbled across a truly interesting book that might be of value to anyone who might some day manage a trip out to the Aleutian Islands: The LG Evergreen Foundation’s "A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea." This Little book (5" x 7”) contains color illustrations of 450 species, is written in English, has Korean (in English characters) names and Latin. It was written by Woo-Shin Lee, Tae-Hoe Koo and Jin-Young Park. I compared this book to the “accidental and casual” list from Armstrong’s book and found every rarity identified as being seen on the Aleutian Islands. It should be noted that Alaska does have a fair few birds that only rarely visit us from Canada or the Lower 48 states, and this book obviously does not cover those. This guide could be a good English language option for those who cannot find (or do not wish to pay for) the English language version of the Wild Bird Society’s "A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan." Also of note to anyone hoping to ID an ABA first, I compared this guide to the list of 17 birds most likely to next be identified in Alaska (Birding Magazine published a study on this topic in December 2000) and sure enough, they were all in there.

Though I have not yet found a copy, V. E. Flint‘s "A Field Guide to Birds of the USSR: Including Eastern Europe and Central Asia" is supposed to be available under the title, "A Field Guide to Birds of Russia." I believe it was first published in 1968 so it may be out of date, but English language identification guides for this region are unusual, so if I find a copy I’ll update this post with my impressions.

While not an identification guide, anyone considering a trip to Alaska should absolutely consider investing in George C. West’s "A Birder’s Guide to Alaska." I’ve used this book to plan bird-specific trips in several portions of the state and have found it accurate and invaluable. With this book, a rental car and a good field guide or two, you’d be more than prepared for a do-it-yourself birding tour of the state.

For general reading about Alaskan rarities, Charles Osgood’s "Attu: Birding on the Edge" is very good.

There are several CDs with bird calls of Alaskan birds, but I have not used any of them. There are some very good web sites that pertain to Alaska, my favorites are:

http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/o...kbird/r7/2.htm (good for regional checklists)

http://www.camacdonald.com/birding/usalaska.htm (good general introduction)

http://www.birding.com/wheretobird/Alaska.asp (lots of good links)

Of course we have several chapters of the National Audubon Society. Use them or the websites to determine if there are any birding events taking place when you plan to visit. For instance, we have a mountain pass near Chikaloon that is a great point to watch migrating raptors as they return to Alaska in Spring; we have several shorebird and eagle festivals.

I hope this information is of value to anyone planning a birding vacation to Alaska. If anyone knows of other good books that would be of interest to bird watchers in Alaska, please let me know.

Joe H

Last edited by Joe H : Friday 22nd October 2004 at 03:21.
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Old Sunday 24th October 2004, 22:10   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joe H

Though I have not yet found a copy, V. E. Flint‘s "A Field Guide to Birds of the USSR: Including Eastern Europe and Central Asia" is supposed to be available under the title, "A Field Guide to Birds of Russia." I believe it was first published in 1968 so it may be out of date, but English language identification guides for this region are unusual, so if I find a copy I’ll update this post with my impressions.

While not an identification guide, anyone considering a trip to Alaska should absolutely consider investing in George C. West’s "A Birder’s Guide to Alaska." I’ve used this book to plan bird-specific trips in several portions of the state and have found it accurate and invaluable. With this book, a rental car and a good field guide or two, you’d be more than prepared for a do-it-yourself birding tour of the state.


Joe H

Thanks, Joe for this "advance" info. I absolutely agree that West's book is a must. It was extremely helpful for planning my recent trip.

For a first overview, the ABA guide Birdfinder: A Birder's Guide to Planning North American Trips by Jerry A. Cooper had also been helpful. It helped to more quickly find my way around in West's book.

As for the book by Flint: it got published as a paperback by Princeton UP in 1989. The color illustrations on those 48 plates are usually rather basic. Nothing to rave about, but at least there IS a illustration. No flight pictures (except for some b&w geese and swans in the text) whatsoever.

Robert
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Old Sunday 24th October 2004, 22:36   #3
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Another point that I think should be considered: When you say that you had not seen a string pertaining to Alaska birding. After my return and raving about my trip, I usually got replies along the line that the US were not considered to be an attractive destination these days. We did not have any border problems, but I must admit that I hated the idea that I had to reenter the US in order to return to Switzerland from Canada (the alternative would have been so much more expensive).
Once in the country, one does not usually experience any problems. Though we had that disconcerting experience that we were asked what we were doing when we were just standing near the headquarters of Caterpillar in Peoria taking each others' picture with the Swiss flag that was supposedly raised because of our visit. What I mean to say is that there is some feeling of surveillance state that we all can do without during our holidays. And for many this means not wanting to go through the paranoia at the border to begin with.

It was thus a refreshing, somewhat nostalgic experience to fly from the Pribilofs to Anchorage without any security checks. (Though I'd rather have checking under any other conditions these days.)

Robert
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Old Monday 25th October 2004, 00:49   #4
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I would like to see a Spectacled Cormorant. But that will never happen, the bird is sadly extinct since 1850´s.
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Old Tuesday 26th October 2004, 06:18   #5
Joe H
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Thanks Robert and O Uzel for your replies.

If I left the impression that this excellent forum had no information on Alaska I clearly miss-typed; there is a wealth on material on birding in Alaska here. I know that in the US (at least the "lower 48") Alaska is considered a great destination for those wishing to add to their ABA life lists. While Attu is no longer easy to visit, there are still lots of great and fairly simple to reach locations and I wanted to identify some field guides that I've found of value.

I've got in-laws who are serious birders visiting next summer. Some of the considerations involved in the multiple entry visa requirements (if Canada is used to transit from Alaska to the rest of the US) will be a factor during their visit. For what it's worth, I recently flew from Anchorage to a popular salmon fishing town (I won't identify the city or airline to prevent the crazy terrorists from taking advantage of this information) and was pleased to learn that there was no security check, no metal detector, nothing. It was just like flying 25 or 35 years ago. It was strange, surprising and nice all at once.

My dream bird is the Eskimo Curlew - last seen around the time I was born. I must say I'd never heard of a Spectacled Cormorant before I read the post above. I did a google search and saw that only seven specimens are known to exist - thanks for that interesting suggestion!

Joe H

Last edited by Joe H : Tuesday 26th October 2004 at 06:23.
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