Bay Nature magazineOctober-December 2004

Book Review: Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide

October 1, 2004

Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide, by John Muir Laws, California Academy of Sciences/ Heyday Books, 2004, 64 pages, $9.95 (www.heydaybooks.com).

Sierra Birds cover

Jack Laws, Bay Nature’s own “Naturalist’s Notebook” illustrator and a research and education associate with the California Academy of Sciences, debuts this year with the Sierra’s answer to the Sibley Guide to Birds. Birders and amateurs alike will welcome this slim, pocket-sized guide. The color-coded thumb index allows readers to flip quickly to waterfowl, hawks and owls, or passerines, with detailed colored-pencil sketches in place of stock photography. Each species’ profile calls out key morphological traits, depicting adult-to-juvenile plumages and color phases. When necessary, Laws flavors the pages with sketches of flight patterns or nests. But what makes it worth stretching our coverage area for this book is Laws’s unique ability to pencil life into each illustration, catching birds in familiar poses with a slouched wing or a tilt of the head—a welcome quality in the world of field guides. Sierra Birds is merely a teaser for Laws’s ambitious upcoming project, a comprehensive field guide to the Sierra Nevada’s wildflowers, trees, shrubs, lichens, fungi, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, rocks, and constellations. Given Laws’s attention to detail in this first avian installment, one can only imagine what the complete guide will have to offer.

About the Author

Matthew Bettelheim is a freelance writer and a wildlife biologist with URS Corporation.

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