Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide, by John Muir Laws, California Academy of Sciences/ Heyday Books, 2004, 64 pages, $9.95 (www.heydaybooks.com).
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.
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Big Break, near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, is a hotspot for birds. A great way to see them is by kayak.