The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Book Review
Handbook of Texas Birds
Ro Wauer, April 1, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

Everyone interested in Texas birds must have this marvelous book. It is full of up to date information about Texas birds that cannot be found in one place anywhere else. And the 140 color photos of some common and especially rare species are excellent additions. Both authors - Mark Lockwood and Brush Freeman - know Texas birds and are privy to the most recent information about Texas bird records. They include a discussion of all 623 accepted (well-documented) species, 30 reported but non-accepted species, and even a few “exotics and birds of uncertain origin.”

The heart of this book is the annotations of the 623 accepted species. These are full of good information that anyone interested in birds will sooner or later refer to when trying to better understand their own yard birds or species seen in a various other locations throughout the state. For instance, the paragraph on our own buff-bellied hummingbird includes the following: “Uncommon to locally common summer resident in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and along the coast north to Victoria County. This species appears to be expanding its range northward up the coast and inland into south central Texas. In recent years, there have been numerous records, primarily during spring and summer, from as far east as the Louisiana border and inland to Bastrop and Washington Counties. Most Buff-bellied Hummingbirds retreat southward during the winter and are rare to uncommon and very local at feeders and ornamental plantings in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and along the coast as far north as Calhoun County. There are scatted winter records father north along the coast and inland to Austin and Travis Counties.” An excellent summary!

Another example of a local but less common favorite is the green kingfisher. Lockwood and Freeman wrote: “Uncommon resident from the Edwards Plateau south to the Lower Rio Grande valley. Green Kingfishers are found north along the Coastal Prairies to Victoria and Jackson Counties. They are rare along the Rio Grande to Brewster County and along the lower Pecos River drainage. Green Kingfishers are rare to locally uncommon east to Bastrop County where nesting records exist. They have occurred as vagrants during the summer north to Randall County in the Panhandle and east to Washington County. This species is very sensitive to cold weather. During colder than normal winters, northern populations retreat well to the south and often do not return for several years.”

I found equally worthwhile information in all of the annotations I read. Even those on several of the species found only in the Big Bend Country were well documented. I found current information about all the West Texas species that I was once involved with, such as Lucifer hummingbird, thick-billed kingbird, Colima warbler, and black-vented oriole. And I found additional and often fascinating data about several species that have been recorded only once or a few times only in the state. These examples include such rarities as jabiru; greater flamingo; snail kite; crane and roadside hawks; double-striped thick-knee; black-tailed, mew, Iceland, slaty-backed, yellow-footed, and kelp gulls; ruddy quail-dove; mottled and stygian owls; masked tityra; Aztec thrush; and so on. Handbook of Texas Birds truly provides a treasure chest of information about any Texas birds that the reader might want to better understand.

The photos are for the most part quite good, although a few are not as high a quality as others. However, there is a good reason for this because the authors selected some photos that represented the very first time a species was documented in Texas. The Eskimo curlew photo is a good example; the caption states that “these may be the only Eskimo Curlew ever photographed in the wild and are the last documented in Texas or anywhere else.” Photos of the crane hawk, gyrafalcon, ruddy quail-dove, snowy and stygian owls, greenish elaenia, piratic flycatcher, masked tityra, Yucatan vireo, gray silky-flycatcher, and slate-throated redstart are of equal interest.

Handbook of Texas Birds, prepared under the auspices of the Texas Ornithological Society, is by far the finest overview of the status and distribution of Texas birds ever produced. The 15-page “Selected References” and extensive index also are of value. Published by Texas A&M University Press, it is available from the publisher (979-845-1436) or upress@tamu.edu or from any good book outlet elsewhere. The paper edition sales for $24.95, while the cloth edition is available at $50.00. This book is a must buy for anyone interested in Texas birds!

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