Having spent a week intensively birding in Maine a few years ago, in all its varied habitats, I looked forward eagerly to reviewing Birds of Maine.
Although I never met Peter Vickery I knew of him by reputation and a greater advocate for the State of Maine and its birds never lived. Sadly, Peter died of cancer before the completion and publication of the book, and it is due to his dedication and commitment that we have this magnificent work before us today. If it is possible to achieve perfection in a work of this nature, I think this is it. Even those who have little interest in Maine specifically should get their hands on a copy to see how it should be done!
Peter's wife, Barbara, and the eminent author and ornithologist, Scott Weidensaul, took on the responsibility of completing the book, sensitively embracing Peter's vision throughout, and the results speak for themselves.
By carefully reading all of the sections leading up to the species accounts, one is provided with a wonderful review of Maine's rich ornithological history, avian distribution, habitats, current status and conservation, and a glimpse into what the future might hold, faced with rising sea levels and the impact of climate change. How many coastal marshes will disappear? How might rising temperatures affect forest cover and the birds that depend on it? Which species will no longer find the conditions they need for their very survival? Many of these questions have disturbing implications, but the issues need to be faced. One cannot plan for a future without understanding what it will look like.
I have long held the art of Lars Jonsson in high esteem and I can think of no better artist to provide the coloured plates which grace the book so well. A Swede by birth and by choice, Jonsson has great experience with the birds of a northern landscape such as Maine, and is especially adept at rendering the seabirds of northern latitudes in evocative detail.
The line drawings of Barry Van Dusen are no less inviting and make it a pleasure to turn each page.
The species accounts, the meat and potatoes of the book so to speak, are well laid out, filled with information, frequently accompanied by range maps. Below the common and scientific name each species is introduced by a short sentence, often whimsical in nature, great fun in a serious tome. A couple of examples will illustrate the technique. For the familiar and much-loved Red-winged Blackbird, "A loud, flashy harbinger of spring." And for the less admired brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird, "A stealthy, ubiquitous, and successful brood parasite from the Great Plains".
This book is a huge success from every vantage point. In the interests of a balanced review I searched for typos, for editorial sloppiness, for incorrect facts, for a picture incorrectly labelled, for maps that were unclear - I found none!
Of all the books that have come my way in recent years, this is about as good as it gets!
The Birds of Maine - Princeton University Press
Author: Peter D. Vickery, illustrated by Lars Jonsson and Barry Van Dusen
Hardcover - US$45.00, £38.00
Published: 3 November 2020 (USA)
12 January 2021 (UK)
664 pages - 8.75 x 11.75 inches - 150+ black-and-white drawings and colour plates