Reviews-Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide

These published reviews give you an insight into the impact of Sierra Birds, A Hiker’s Guide. You can purchase this book from my store.

Law Textbooks Reviews May 3,2009 by Robert C. Ross

John Muir Laws published an absolutely beautiful guide to the Sierra Nevada, The Laws Field Guide to the Sierra Nevada. Reviews all over the country, including here on Amazon, have been glowing. Laws writes on his website that “the draft of the bird section of the guide was so enthusiastically received (the reviewers did not want to part with their drafts) that we published it separately as a stand alone book. It is remarkably easy to use and is now carried by everyone from environmental educators to back country rangers.” Amazon doesn’t allow people to look inside Sierra Birds, but you can see 27 of the pages, many in full color, by searching for the book on Google Books. You’ll see immediately how easy the book is to use for everyone from kids to experienced birders. The book actually reviews itself. And, even better, as he writes: “A virtual exhibit of my work is now on line at the Sierra Nevada Virtual Museum. Enter the site, click on “Galleries”, click on “Natural History”, scroll down to “Plants” and there it is.” You’ll be very happy you did. And, if you have any interest in birds, you’ll enjoy this little guidebook, even if you only hike in the Eastern mountains and dream about the Sierra Nevada as I do. Novice birders often distinguish birds by color and size. Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide is a unique book that assumes no prior birding knowledge on the part of the reader and is organized for quick and easy reference. Color-coded keys eliminate the time-consuming and frustrating necessity of having to thumb randomly through a hefty guide, hoping to stumble upon the right species…before it disappears! A cross-index of bird families is also included for more advanced birders. All this in a format that is simply organized, light-weight, and small enough to tuck inside a pocket.

Berkeley Daily Planet July 27-29 2004, Pocket Bird Guide Informs Sierra Hikers, by Joe Eaton

It’s my firm conviction that you can’t have too many field guides. They’re indispensable to anyone who’s intrigued by the names and relationships of living things: birds, trees, dragonflies, mushrooms, whatever. Although you can find guides for almost every group of organisms (with some gaps; I know a park ranger who was so frustrated by the absence of a guide to freshwater invertebrates that she wrote and published her own), the bird books far outnumber the rest. Roger Tory Peterson invented the genre to allow the identification of birds with binoculars rather than shotguns, and he’s had worthy successors like David Sibley and Kenn Kauffman. There are bird guides for every level of sophistication, novice to advanced; for different geographical regions; for specific bird families (hummingbirds, warblers, hawks); even for nests, eggs, and nestlings. So is there a place on this crowded shelf for yet another guidebook? I think so. Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide is intended to fill a special niche, and succeeds admirably. John Muir Laws, an artist-naturalist in the tradition of Peterson and Sibley, has produced a visually appealing, hip-pocket-sized book covering the resident and migrant birds of the Sierra Nevada. It’s ideal in some ways for beginning birders or hikers with only a casual interest in birds, but seasoned watchers will also find it useful. Unlike some guides—the National Geographic’s North American Birds for one—Laws’ book doesn’t assume a knowledge of bird taxonomy: Birds are grouped by appearance as well as by relationship. The red males and streaky brown females of the three red finches—house, purple, and Cassin’s—are illustrated together, but the females are also shown with other streaky brown birds like sparrows, pipits, and female blackbirds. Laws shows the age-specific plumages of gulls and eagles, and there are handy visual keys to identifying birds by family and by predominant color. Although Sierra Birds is heavy on pictures, light on text, Laws uses pointers to indicate key plumage features, and has concise notes on habitat, voice, and behavior. There are other sources for those who want more detail, like Edward Beedy and Stephen Granholm’s Discovering Sierra Birds, or David Gaines’ Birds of Yosemite. A chart of seasonal occurrence would have been useful, as would range maps (since some birds have very local or patchy distributions within the Sierra, or are confined to either the east or west slopes). The new guide is the product of what seems like a natural partnership between the California Academy of Sciences, where Laws is an educator, and Berkeley’s Heyday Books. It’s the first of a projected series of guides covering Sierra natural history, from mammals to rocks. It’s fitting that a namesake of the Range of Light’s greatest celebrant has taken on the job. And why stop with the Sierra? I’d like to see the same approach to California’s other regions (how about the North Coast? the Mojave Desert?) and ecosystems. Disclaimer time: I took Sierra Birds with me on a recent trip to Mount Lassen, where it helped convince me that the gray-and-yellow songbird I saw at Hat Lake was a Nashville warbler rather than a McGillivray’s warbler. As unlikely as it may seem, I ran into Laws (who prefers to be called Jack) at the park’s Summit Lake campground. He says he was inspired to create the kind of guidebook he always wished he had along on Sierra backpacking trips but could never find. Laws is field-testing the mammal and fish segments of the series and doing the illustrations for the wildflower guide. He seems like the ideal person for this ambitious undertaking: young, enthusiastic, curious about all aspects of the natural world. And he agrees that you can never have too many field guides.

San Francisco Chronicle June 5, 2005, Nature, page by page- Books to bring you closer to state treasures.  Paul McHugh, Chronicle Outdoors Writer

Bird lovers are used to avian identification books that are hefty tomes. They hold a ton of info but should carry labels warning of wrist sprain if you try to tote them afield. That’s why this slim key is such a charmer. As handy for a beginner as an expert, it sorts birds by color (usually the first thing anyone notices) and also provides flight shapes and some natural history notes. Vividly illustrated by its artist/scientist/author, this light volume slips easily into a pocket or pack. After you ID the warbler, you can go home and look up all the other stuff in one of the huge books.

San Francisco Chronicle November 14, 2004, Books for the Holidays- Home and Garden/ Our recommendations of the most interesting and entertaining works for gift giving.  Lynette Evans, Laura Thomas

This book by John Muir Laws, a naturalist at the California Academy of Sciences, will be part of a bigger guidebook on nature of the Sierra Nevada. Intended for the novice birder, it relies principally on illustrations done by Laws and a color-coded reference system. If you see a bird and can describe it by color, you can flip to the page with all birds of that color and identify it. Laws said, “That’s what happens when a dyslexic makes a field guide.”

Sierra Club Newsletter Angeles Chapter  By Sherry Ross

or both the novice and experienced birdwatchers, Sierra Birds: A Hiker’s Guide would be a useful resource. The book’s organization is user-friendly and its slim, lightweight size makes it easy to tote around in a full day pack or on multi-day backpacking trips. The book first introduces water birds and raptors (hawks and owls), followed by all other birds based on the predominant color of their plumage: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, brown, and gray/black/white. Pages are correspondingly color-coded at the edges to help the reader flip directly to the section they want. Birds are arranged in order of size under these color-coded groups. A brief introduction at the beginning of the guide helps the beginner in identification basics like overall size, proportion of body parts in relation to each other (beak, neck, tail, legs, etc.), body shape, posture, behavior, and plumage color and pattern. Cross-referenced pages in the beginning of the guide refer the experienced birder directly to the section he/she is interested in without thumbing through the color-coded pages. The author’s large, full-color illustrations emphasize features that help in identifications. Descriptions are brief and simple, noting the types of habitat the bird is found in and specific behaviors to watch for. Overall, it’s a handy addition to enrich your Sierran experience. Author John Muir Laws is a naturalist, artist, and educator with a master’s degree in wildlife biology. He has taught classes on ecology, biology, and illustration at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

California Wild Fall 2004 David Lukas

Don’t be deceived by this book’s slim build. It’s a heavyweight among Sierra Nevada natural history guides and packed with great information. The concept of creating a hiker-friendly field guide stripped to the bare essentials is brilliant and executed to perfection under the aegis of Heyday Books. Here, in a minimum of pages, is the information you need to easily identify 200 birds found in the Sierra Nevada, with nothing more than clear, simple illustrations and helpful tips on what to look for in each species. I was lucky enough to test a draft copy of this guide last summer. I found it provided excellent coverage for all the birds I ran across, making Sierra Birds a very satisfying book to carry. Depending on your point of view, however, the book’s scheme of grouping birds by color could be more bane than bonus. In general it’s better to conform to standard taxonomic order so that readers can easily cross reference other field guides. Sierra Birds at least does a decent job of making the color scheme easy to follow. Featuring species with several dominant colors in multiple sections removes the hassle of deciding which color to focus on. Meticulously researched and illustrated by Academy associate John Laws, and fact checked by bird experts, this book is well worth its weight in any hiker’s load. Keep your eyes open, because this remarkable book is the first installment in what promises to be a series of revolutionary new hiking guides from John Laws and Heyday Books.

Napa-Solano Audubon Society Newsletter September 2004

Whether you’re an experienced birder or just beginning, this pocket size guide is a perfect addition to your birding library. The 4.5″x7.5″x1/4″ demensions make it easy to stick in a back pocket or a backpack for a handy reference while walking in the Sierra Nevada. The book is easy to use too. It is arranged by bird color and size, with color tabs on the pages for fast and easy reference. The full color illustrations are accurate and I appreciated how the distinctive features are identified. This is an excellent book for quick reference use in the field. My sister and I used it while kayaking on the Napa River to identify a young Black-crowned Night-Heron. Over 200 species are represented.