“Birds of the Gulf Coast” by Jim Stevenson, 2020, 300 pages, $33.40
Jim Stevenson’s “Birds of the Gulf Coast” is a unique regional field guide crossed with a how-to for entry level birders.
Unlike the typical ID books, this reads more like a personal travel log around the 1,500 miles of Gulf coastline from the Florida Keys to Mexico. The author pulls from his personal experiences more than half a century studying the birds in his backyard, whether that be in his formative years in Florida or his 25-plus years here in Galveston.
Jim’s photos capture not only a representation of a bird species, but a peek into their day-to-day lives. In most cases, multiple photos are showing various seasonal or age-related plumage patterns. There’s also an emphasis on similar species and common misidentifications that make bird identification books so useful.
The text is written from the perspective of an ornithologist specializing in the birds encountered in the southern tier of the eastern United States with a keen ability to include the “why” and “how” in addition to the expected “what.”
The species descriptions include natural history, ecology, biology, biochemistry, physics and conservation status, all while providing easy-to-decipher clues to determine what you’re seeing and hearing in the field. The author instills a personal touch with his historical perspective on habitat changes that have taken place over the decades and the plight of birds to overcome the challenges they experience.
The range that this book focuses on offers an interesting twist in capturing the migration paths of the eastern half of the United States with emphasis on those coastal hotspots that offer refuge to trans-Gulf migrants, as well as the ebb and flow of circum-Gulf migrants as the seasons dictate in your particular region. By devoting the entire volume to the snapshot we see along the migratory pathways, we’re treated to more useful information than having the species’ entire seasonal patterns included.
As a developing birder here in Galveston, this book offers the exact guidance someone like myself can use to hone ID skills and learn about the birds that visit us throughout the year. Unlike other ID books that are focused solely on species identification, I found this book to be an entertaining and informative read from cover to cover.