I’ve spent quite a few hours lately reading and paging through my recently arrived field guide, Birds of Europe. With a planned trip to Germany in October I want to be prepared to identify everything I see and hear…which isn’t too likely but I can dream, can’t I?
Having never birded outside of the U.S. or Canada before I was unprepared for what I would find in the pages of a European field guide. Sure I’d read that Europe’s warblers are not as distinctly-colored as the wood-warblers of the Americas but holy cow! These European birds are absurdly alike!
One example: the Marsh Warbler and the Reed Warbler, two brown birds with dark wing-tips, dark-and-orange beaks, and lighter underparts. If they aren’t singing you have to go to the “off-white tinged yellowish” underparts of the Marsh Warbler versus the “rich buff” underparts of the Reed Warbler. Or how about the “warm brown” back of the Reed Warbler versus the “grey-brown” back of the Marsh Warbler? At least the illustration of the Reed Warbler contains this warning: “note: very similar to marsh.” And the picture of the Marsh Warbler comes with this one: “note: imm. Marsh and Reed Warblers are extremely similar.” Well, thanks for that, Killian Mullarney, Lars Svensson, Dan Zetterstr, and Peter Grant. Fortunately, the introduction to the warbler section breaks them down into genera and helps the ignorant reader (me!) figure out how to do the same. I figure once I get the genus of a bird I’ll just guess the specific species…
You can tell these birds are confusing because it took the four men I thanked above over fifteen years to create the field guide. One of the four, Peter Grant, died during the process.
The guide itself is well laid-out, with range maps and descriptions on one page and illustrations on the facing page. I’m going to go out on a limb and say the illustrations are accurate (at least the ones of North American vagrants are). Who would have thought a Red-breasted Nuthatch could end up in England? Actually seeing the list of North American species that have shown up in Europe was very interesting and makes me wish that the winds over the Atlantic blew to the west!
The guide is small enough to fit into my large pockets and has nicely-coated paper that should make it water-resistant. It includes “722 species found in Europe, 23 introduced species or variants, and 103 very rare visitors.”
Seeing as this is the only field guide of European birds I have ever studied I can honestly say that it’s the best I’ve ever seen. Kidding aside, I think it will be a great resource to help me figure out as many European birds as I can.
I should be able to identify this bird, right?
-Should be a fun trip-just watch out for that German beer or you’ll misidentify everything.
Well, if they’re German birds maybe the German beer will help…in fact it’s my understanding that Marsh Warblers will only appear if they smell fresh hops.
My parents took me to europe when I was 16. I was not really in a birding mode there but I do remember 2 birds that were everywhere (3 counting pigeons…) and very distinctive – Magpies, and Alpine Choughs. If you go to the Alps look for them. I remember thinking that if I could be reincarnated I would want to come back as a Chough…they can just spread their wings and hop off a wall and they are able to soar over the alpine glaciers and meadows – what a life.
I can fully support the statement that Marsh Warblers are best viewed with a certain hop product in your hands, but that goes for every species as far as I am concerned.
Lucy, an Alpine Cough in Germany would be amazing, they haven’t been recorded there for many, many decades, but they are very neat birds and there are plenty of other species to look at. And I did have to cough a few times in the Alps, which is pretty close to seeing one I’d guess.
And finally Corey, don’t get discouraged by the Acrocephalus Warblers, they are the Empidonax curse of Europe, focus on the lovely finches and tits! The field guide is a very, very fine one and a great tool, so you’ll manage a few decent bird IDs. But don’t be so sure about the Pigeons, there are a few Stock Doves around as well. And it’s never easy.
Sweet…I have a goal now. I will find an Alpine Cough in Berlin. Now I just need an aircraft carrier, a flight suit, and a “mission accomplished” banner for my triumphant return!
I thought we saw them in the Bavarian Alps, but it is possible I am mistaken and only saw them in Switzerland. I admit it was long ago and far away…in my mind an Alp is an Alp I guess.
Anyway – it was a nice reverie. Seeing them in Berlin would be a stretch.
Don’t forget to photo-document your triumph(s).
Maybe Lucy was confusing Alpine Choughs with Blackbirds? They’re similar looking. I love that Europe field guide. On my one trip to Germany in 2003, I was with a group and couldn’t really do any birding. What a loss. My recent trip to Belgium last fall yielded about a dozen new species for me in the city parks of Brussels.
Drink plenty of beer. I hated beer until I went to Germany. It’s the law to brew good beer there. Jochen can probably recommend some good ones, but Franziskiner (sp?) Weissbier was my favorite.
Last time I was at Mittenwald, I found Alpine Chough common and confiding.
The Collins Guide will stand you excellent stead on your trip: wish we had anything as good over here!
My late mom always talked about the CORN CRAKE bird symular to rails and in fact they had a saying STOP YOUR CRAKING meaning KEEP QUITE since my mom came from NORTHERN IRELAND those birds were very common in the grain feilds. AND IF I RETURNED AS A BIRD IT WOULD BE A WESTERN KINGBIRD