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The Sibley Guide to Birds, 2nd Edition Flexibound – March 11, 2014
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About the Author
Artist, writer, and naturalist David Allen Sibley is the author and illustrator of a series of successful guides to nature, including the New York Times best-seller The Sibley Guide to Birds. He has traveled extensively throughout North America and abroad as a birding tour leader and lecturer. Sibley has contributed art and articles to Smithsonian, Science, The Wilson Journal of Ornithology, Birding, and North American Birds, and he wrote and illustrated a syndicated column for The New York Times. He is the recipient of the Roger Tory Peterson Award for Lifetime Achievement from the American Birding Association and the Linnaean Society of New York’s Eisenmann Medal. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts.
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I have purchased the second printing of this second edition and I am very happy with the corrections. The richer colors add new life to Sibley's paintings, the text is clear and easy to read and the layout is much improved. Page space is better utilized in this edition, allowing Sibley's beautiful illustrations to take center stage. The only caution I add is that, to my knowledge, there is no way to know what printing of the second edition you are purchasing when ordering through Amazon.com.
The second printing has been released and should be available at brick & mortar book stores as well as a number of online stores. Hopefully Amazon will make a distinction between the first and second printings so that its customers can order the correct one. In case there is no way of knowing which printing you are buying from Amazon, I offer the following 2 options:
1) Go to a brick and mortar book store and physically purchase the guide. You will want to turn to the copyright page and look for "Second printing, July 2014". If it says "Second Edition, March 2014" then you are holding the first printing with the off colors and light font.
2) Go to an alternative online source such as Buteo Books, where the second printing is in stock, available for shipping and it is specified as the second printing. They even have the option to buy the first printing if one is so inclined.
When I obtain the second printing, I will update this review. So far, I have heard good things: the font is readable and the colors are more representative of what one would see in the field. I'm looking forward to this second printing!
A very annoying feature of this guide is the font. Not the size necessarily, but where many of the bird illustrations are WAY too dark, the font is way too light and lacks contrast. I keep tilting the book to get a better angle as if the text is catching or reflecting light but it's not. I have great eyesight, but I find the text a strain to read. Many of the birds are too dark and the colors are simply wrong. This shouldn't be a matter of opinion. The book betrays itself with statements like "brilliant red" on the scarlet tanager when it's obviously showing dark red; "flaming-orange throat" on the blackburnian when it's dark orange; "bright orange-red bill (never as dark red as many Caspians)" on the royal tern, well it's not bright and when you flip to the Caspian it's almost the same color! The orange-crowned warbler is green, the hooded warbler has a highlighter-yellow face, the baltimore oriole's orange is more like an american robin's red and there are many more disappointments. Some of the bird's faces are so dark that you can barely discern any detail. Sibley set the bar and his second edition does not measure up.
Update: Thank you to R. Matz for providing a link to an article from birdforum.net in which Sibley has stated in a Facebook correspondence "There are a few images (like the male Scarlet Tanager) that are obviously not OK and will be corrected in the next printing, but I think that involves a very small number of images. The font is another issue, and it's clear that too many are finding it hard to read. Tests are already being done to find a way to fix that in the next printing."
Improving the readability of the text will be a major improvement. Along with the male Scarlet Tanager, I hope Sibley will fix color issues with the following birds:
- Eastern and Western Bluebirds (too dark)
- Orange-crowned Warbler (too green)
- Blackburnian Warbler (make the orange "flaming")
- Baltimore Oriole (brighten the orange)
- Lighten some of the birds on which the facial features cannot be discerned
I look forward to the next printing (which should be available this September)and the fixes it will offer. A "Thank you" to B. Walker for contacting Knopf to find out that a fix is in the works and that we should have a new print available to purchase by late Summer.
But like many others who have anxiously awaited the publication of the second edition, I too struggle with some of the illustrations and --much more importantly to me-- with all of the text: both because of its diminutive size and because of its light color. Hopefully there's some remedy for this in future printings. (I would have gotten by quite nicely with the illustrations staying the same size as in the previous edition, so that there would be more space, and thus a larger font, for the additional text in this edition.)
One other thing annoys me: the relentless "need" for new editions of such guides to change the sequencing of species, based on the latest prevailing theories of DNA sequencing and evolutionary relationships. Has anyone else noticed how the section on falcons is now found nearly 200 pages after the one on hawks, eagles, vultures, etc.? The purpose of a field guide is to aid the process of identifying birds. And it does this best when similar-looking species are placed together (the closer the better) for purposes of comparison and contrast. And yet, in this edition, we have gulls, terns, shorebirds, owls, kingfishers, cuckoos, nightjars, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, etc., etc., etc. all inserted between the hawk plates and the falcon plates! Crazy!
Sibley meets my needs. My wife, who is a professional Wildlife Biologist, would not touch anything but Peterson, and only specific editions of Peterson (and, yes, that divergence does result in a very large collection of field guides...). Neither of us care for any of the other ones. But, since the other ones sell, they must meet someone's needs, maybe yours.
What I have found, is you tend to think and learn in terms of the field guide you are used to. Make sure you can handle the guide's organization and approach. Understand that Sibley's information format is more free-form than some of the others. I don't mind reading for the details, you might.
Interested to hear what others have to say about this - is it by design or should we hope for this to be corrected?