A Guide to a Great State

July 7, 2024

A review by Meg Scherch Peterson

 

Birds of Arizona, by Richard Cachor Taylor

R. W. Morse Company, 2022

494 pages, paperback

ABA Sales–Buteo Books 15336

Richard Cachor Taylor’s latest guide, Birds of Arizona, distills the essence of two mega data sources, the Arizona/New Mexico Birding Listserv and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s eBird, into a birder-friendly format.

And on that count, this pocket guide delivers. Measuring a neat four by six inches, this guide will tuck easily into the pocket of your birder’s vest or the glove compartment of your car. It’s meant to be used—and useful—in the field. I plan on bringing it along on my next birding trip to Arizona. May that be soon!

Seasoned birders will appreciate that recent Mexican specialties, regardless of abundance, are included. Handy one-inch range maps show not only regular geographic and seasonal occurrences, but also “color dimes,” small circular dots on the map that record a bird’s sighting outside its usual range.

New birders (and even non-birders) will appreciate that Taylor supplies an answer to the question, “Hey, I’m here, so what birds are here?” Common birds are conveniently grouped into four simple categories: Widespread, Water Birds, Desert Birds, and Mountain Birds. But if you want more, there is more. The guide zeroes in on 11 habitats defined by elevation and water availability. You’ll learn about species variability from valley scrub to pecan fields, from foothill groves to foothill thornscrub, and from mountain interior chaparral to Madrean pine-oak woodlands. And an elevation chart will let you know which species of hummingbird can be found at which elevation. The guide covers the 17 hummingbird species found in the state.

Perhaps best of all, the chief identifying characteristics of a bird—those that most help distinguish it from other similar birds—are at your fingertips. Confused by sparrows? Not to worry. Highlighted in boldface are key features: the gray bill and yellow lores of White-throated Sparrow, the orange bill of White-crowned Sparrow, and the black crown and flesh-colored bill of Harris’s Sparrow. Color photographs display crucial features. But what I like best is how the photographs are paired. Photos of species that are easily confused (say, Hepatic and Summer tanagers) are displayed on a single page so comparison is relatively straightforward. No need to switch back and forth between species on bird apps. Each entry includes a section labeled “Noteworthy” with the kind of detail you might get on a bird walk with an experienced birder. Some entries read like insider stuff, totally unique to Arizona.

Recently, I listened to an Arizona State Parks and Recreation podcast that featured Taylor. I was amazed by how down-to-earth the author was, how willing to share information about birds, and how over-the-top enthusiastic he was when talking about Arizona sightings of Ruff, the territorial expansion of Crested Caracara, the iridescence of hummingbird feathers, and the first record of Elegant Trogon in Arizona in 1886.

Taylor, in fact, conducted an eight-year study of Elegant Trogon and authored Trogons of the Arizona Borderlands in 1994. He also wrote two more guides: A Birder’s Guide to Southeastern Arizona (published by the ABA and updated in 2018) and Birds of Southeastern Arizona in 2010. So, he knows his birds.

For me and no doubt for thousands of birders, the lure of birding in Arizona continues to beckon. Species diversity dazzles. The Arizona Bird Committee of the Arizona Field Ornithologists lists 571 species as of January 2023. As writer Mel White put it in Audubon magazine back in 2016, “Eventually, every birder must visit Arizona. From the Chiricahua Mountains in the southeast to the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest in the north to wetlands along the Colorado River, the rewards are practically endless.” I can’t wait to return.

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Meg Scherch Peterson has been an avid birder for 40 years. She is active in conservation organizations and has authored numerous articles on wildlife and environmental issues. Her website (megscherchpeterson.com) highlights excerpts from her memoir, Bird Woman Bird.