Book Report

National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of Western North America, 6th edition. 447 pages. $19.95.

Watching birds is a soothing pastime for me. The more I watch them, the more I want to know about each species and their habits. I have three bird books and a laminated chart in my bookstore, El Caballo Blanco. All of them are good, and each is formatted differently. For me (no expert), the National Geographic guide has been the easiest to use.

The book includes every species west of and including the Rockies, has a full color visual index, and thumb tabs for quick access. It also has full color pictures of more than 750 birds and range maps. Although too large and heavy to carry around in most pockets, it is a resource that is compressive, easy to use, and has a quick reference that novices and experts alike will appreciate.

Baja birds include scavengers, desert birds, sea birds, coastal California birds, and we also have a few tropical birds. Loreto claims to have endemic birds that are found only in those mountains. I know so little, and there is so much to learn!

It is wise to read the book's introduction first. (I often don't, and am usually sorry afterwards.) Doing this will help you use the guide more quickly and efficiently. Begin with pages 6 and 7, which explain bird families, giving their scientific names and subspecies. The next two pages offer basic tips on identifying birds. Turn to pages 10 and 11 for line-drawing illustrations showing the parts of a bird. Pages 12 and 13 adds to the basic information, including tips on how to be a better birder.

I am much more of an observer/admirer than an accurate observer/identifier of birds. But I would love to have a bit more expertise and confidence in identifying (correctly) the birds I see here in my Loreto garden, as well as the sea birds I watch when I walk on the malecon. The time I've spent researching and writing this report really has helped me, but I also realize how ignorant I still am about birds of Baja, and how very much more there is to learn.  Perhaps with more research and observation, I can someday be an observer/admirer who can also accurately identify local birds!

Being no expert now, I decided to see if it was easy for someone like me to find information on the one bird I am CERTAIN I identify correctly. I was more than a little excited, years ago, when on our first trip to Coronado Island, I saw and identified a bluefooted booby. And yes, it was by his blue feet. I decided to research that bird for this book report, turning to the index of the guide for help. I found information fairly easily, including a detailed description, and notes about variations that can be found in juveniles. The next paragraph listed the range, with a small map showing areas where my bird might be found, and a sad statement, ("absent in U.S. most years; formerly occurred somewhat more regularly."). The book also described and showed pictures of a brown booby and a red-footed booby, neither of which I knew anything about previously.

An interesting section at the back of the book is titled "Rarities from Asia, Mexico, the Pacific Ocean.”  There are twenty pages, with color photos of geese, albatrosses, petrels, owls, warblers, woodpeckers, buntings, humming birds, and many more.

The front cover of this guide has a foldout page that’s a visual index for bird families, which is continued on a foldout back cover page. Range maps are easily read with colors and all symbols explained, and the covers are laminated and sturdy. All in all, I found this book quite easy to use, even for me.

Do you think I can actually become a knowledgeable birder when I grow up? This guide will certainly help.

You can find National Geographic's Field Guide to Western North America (yes, Baja is in North America), at my shop, El Caballo Blanco Bookstore in Loreto, or online. Write me about your birding experiences at