National Geographic

How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd by Todd Henson

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The cover of  How to Know the Birds  by Ted Floyd

The cover of How to Know the Birds by Ted Floyd

I received my copy of How to Know the Birds from the publisher, National Geographic Books, through a giveaway at goodreads.

How to Know the Birds: The Art & Adventure of Birding by Ted Floyd is packed full of interesting and educational info on a range of different birds, and on many of the topics relevant to the birding world. I wasn’t sure at first how much I’d enjoy it, as it is broken into 200 one-page lessons, with each lesson largely focusing on a single topic and typically using a single bird as an example of that topic. I just doubted a lot of little sections would be all that interesting.

But the more I read the more I enjoyed it. Each lesson can to some extent stand on their own. But reading it straight through I also found lessons building on one another. Think of it as a fun primer on birding put together by a great group of local birders, getting together each week to continue learning. It felt like the sort of book that would be great for the beginning birder, which I would consider myself. But it delves deep enough in some topics I suspect more knowledgeable birders would also enjoy it.

How to Know the Birds is a storybook for bird lovers. It is not a field guide in the traditional sense. Many of the accounts go into some detail about the way birds look and, just as important, the way they sound; but many others barely scratch the surface in that regard. What you will find in the accounts—and I’ve endeavored to emphasize this in every single one of them—is a big idea, a method or technique or resource, about bird study in our age. A number of the accounts conclude with an open-ended question or, at least, some measure of ambiguity; that’s a reflection of the intellectual health and scientific rigor of modern birding. An even 200 accounts, or lessons, fill the pages of this book.
— How to Know the Birds, page 21

The book is broken into 6 parts, each corresponding to several months of the year, and to an over-arching theme that each lesson in that part will contribute to.

Spark Bird!

Part 1, titled “Spark Bird!” covers January and February and is composed of lessons 1-36. The title refers to the idea that many birders have a specific species of bird that first got them interested in birds and birding, their “spark bird.” I don’t know that I have a spark bird, myself. I came to birding largely through photography, and it has slowly grown from there.

This section starts us down the path of how we first start identifying birds. We see them, we recognize them, but what bird is it, what’s it called? How can we identify a bird? Slowly we learn more about physical characteristics of birds (color, patterns, size, shape), about bird song and sounds, behaviors, and habitat. We learn that sometimes females and males look very different, as can juveniles and adults, as can the same bird seen at different times of the year.

After the Spark

Part 2, titled “After the Spark” covers March to May and is composed of lessons 37-74. After we begin learning how to identify birds we begin to realize there are many birds we can hear but can’t identify. We learn about bird song, how to identify birds through their song, what their song is for, and many other topics. We also learn about bird migration, how some birds can only be seen in some areas for part of the year. Where do they go and why?

Now What?

Part 3, titled “Now What?” covers June and July and is composed of lessons 75-115. We love watching birds, but sometimes we feel like there must be more to do, right? Is there a way we can contribute to the birding community? We learn about citizen science projects, such as bird surveys. We learn about different groups, projects, and online resources. There are also lessons on many aspects of breeding and habitat.

Inflection Point

Part 4, titled “Inflection Point” covers August and September and is composed of lessons 116-141. Some birds change their appearance during the year, and some change their locations. They molt and they migration. This section provides many lessons on these two fascinating topics. The migration lessons even go into more modern issues affecting birds in migration, such as the confusing lights of cities at night and the problem of birds smashing into large buildings covered in reflective windows.

What We Know

Part 5, titled “What We Know” covers October and November and is composed of lessons 142-169. We’ve learned a lot so far. But where did this knowledge come from? We learn about many of the resources, old and new, available to birders, from books and CD’s, to online resources, apps, organizations and events. We also learn about many of the things some birders do, such as compiling lists, chasing after a specific species, looking for as many species as we can in one day or one year, traveling, bird banding, and many other activities.

What We Don’t Know

Part 6, titled “What We Don’t Know” covers December and is composed of sections 170-200. Despite all we’ve learned so far there is still so much more to learn, so much we don’t yet know. And isn’t that a wonderful and exciting thought? That we can still go out and learn more about these wonderful creatures we’ve spent so much time watching and studying.

I thoroughly enjoyed How to Know the Birds, by Ted Floyd, who also happens to be the editor of Birding magazine. This is one of those books that’s fun to read through the first time, but is also enough of a resource that you return to it again and again, rereading sections as you encounter a bird you remember reading about, or when you want to explore a new aspect of birding you recall being mentioned. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who already considers themselves a birder, and to those just getting started, who like watching and learning about birds, but don’t really know much else about them. This is a great step down the path of life-long learning.


National Geographic Dawn to Dark Photographs: The Magic of Light by Todd Henson

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The cover of  National Geographic Dawn to Dark Photographs: The Magic of Light . Robbie George. Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

The cover of National Geographic Dawn to Dark Photographs: The Magic of Light. Robbie George. Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina.

I own a number of these hardcover National Geographic books, and I love them all for the inspiring photography within their pages. They say photography is all about the light, and there is no better demonstration of that than National Geographic’s Dawn to Dark Photographs: The Magic of Light. It is organized by time of day, with each section showcasing photographs taking advantage of the unique light available in those hours.

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Jason Teale. Gyeongju National Park, South Korea. Pages 10-11

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Jason Teale. Gyeongju National Park, South Korea. Pages 10-11

Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.
— George Eastman

Dawn

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Robbie George. Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina. Pages 20-21

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Robbie George. Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina. Pages 20-21

Dawn’s soft touch is sweet and benign: beauty, harmony, anticipation.

Rise early to create photographs at dawn. It’s a time when the world is often still, when the light is soft and full of mystery.

Sunrise

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Michael Melford. Lake Placid, New York. Pages 96-97

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Michael Melford. Lake Placid, New York. Pages 96-97

First a gleam, then a burst, then a bundle of flame so bright we must look away: Sunrise establishes the dominance of day.

At sunrise we begin to see the texture around us, illuminated by the low angle of the sun. Landscapes take on a warm glow as the sunlight travels through the layers of the atmosphere. People begin to stir and prepare for the day ahead.

Morning

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Melissa Farlow. Chicago, Illinois. Pages 134-135

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Melissa Farlow. Chicago, Illinois. Pages 134-135

Morning is the springtime of the day, and morning light washes the world in living colors.

Morning is when the colors around us begin coming to life, when long shadows begin moving across the landscape, when we can see the details of the world.

Midday

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Atanu Paul. Burdwan District, West Bengal, India. Pages 194-195

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Atanu Paul. Burdwan District, West Bengal, India. Pages 194-195

Brilliant, hot, brash, blinding: Midday exposes all blemishes.

Midday is when many photographers stop shooting, when they feel the light is too harsh, the scenery full of too many contrasts. But no light is bad light, and midday still has the potential of great photography.

Afternoon

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Reza. Jerusalem. Pages 246-247

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Reza. Jerusalem. Pages 246-247

Light is ample, revealing, and generous, and yet now we find ourselves closer to night than to morning, closer to an end than to a beginning.

Once again shadows lengthen, the light begins to take on a warmer glow. There is still plenty of light to show beautiful colors, but also enough angle to the light to create silhouettes.

Sunset

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Marc Adamus. Kofa Mountains, Arizona. Pages 298-299

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Marc Adamus. Kofa Mountains, Arizona. Pages 298-299

It is the time when light meets land, when fire touches earth and sets off an exquisite explosion, a divine display.

Sunset is the last light of the day. We often watch as it sets, sometimes setting off amazing displays of color. It’s a time for quiet reflection of the day we’ve just lived and the one yet to come.

Twilight

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Michael Melford. Thira, Greece. Pages 312-313

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Michael Melford. Thira, Greece. Pages 312-313

Look well, act fast, seize this last lingering light, for soon the dark will be upon you.

The sun has set but there is still a glow on the horizon, a small bit of light left to photograph with. There may be a warm glow, or a cooler shade of blue. Don’t put away your camera yet.

Night

National Geographic Dawn to Dark . Paul Nicklen. Svalbard, Norway. Pages 388-389

National Geographic Dawn to Dark. Paul Nicklen. Svalbard, Norway. Pages 388-389

Night’s a time of wonder, of dreams and fantasies, fears and fulfillment, magic, romance.

When the sun sets you need other forms of light to create photographs. These may be natural, such as flashes of lightning or the glow of the moon. Or these may be artificial, such as camera strobes or the lights of a city.


As with the other books in this series, Dawn to Dark Photographs is just over 10 inches square and over 1 inch thick. It is just under 400 pages long and full of photography. Some images span 2 pages, some a single page, and some a page and a half. The photographer, location, and a brief description accompany each photograph. Each section is preceded by a short introduction.

If you are ever in need of inspiration, or just wish to lose yourself in beautiful photography, you may find what you’re looking for in the pages of National Geographic Dawn to Dark Photographs.


A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel: My Journey in Photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt by Todd Henson

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A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel  by Annie Griffiths Belt

A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel by Annie Griffiths Belt

Annie Griffiths Belt spent much of her life as a National Geographic photographer, traveling the world, telling stories about the peoples and places she visited. In A Camera, Two Kids and a Camel she tells her story. She tells of growing up in the Midwestern US in the 1950s and how early on she had no thoughts of being a photographer; she didn’t even own a camera until her junior year in college. She thought she’d be a novelist.

But the job that might have begun training Annie for her eventual career with National Geographic was that of a waitress in a small town. She felt that job taught her more than any classroom ever had. She learned how to relate to people, how to communicate and get along, the gift of gab and putting people at ease; great skills for a future journalist.

When she did finally buy a camera in college Annie was hooked. All she wanted to do was shoot assignments for the university paper. After college she worked for another paper, one where she was largely on her own to find and tell stories, with little oversight or direction. This was perfect training for National Geographic.

One day while working at the paper Annie answered the phone and found herself speaking to Bob Gilka, the Director of Photography at National Geographic. He was looking for hail damage photographs and knew her area had just experienced a large hail storm. And so began her relationship with National Geographic. Within a year she was working her own assignments for them.

It was also at National Geographic she would meet her future husband, Don Belt. He was a writer for the magazine, and they would eventually go on assignments together as much as possible. When they had kids they decided to take them along, as well. This proved a fantastic education, allowing the kids to see the world, learn about the cultures, people, and places firsthand.

National Geographic sent her all over the world. She visited many of the countries in the Middle East, learning about the different cultures and making friends with many people. This was an interesting time. There is so much tension between so many of the cultures in that part of the world, yet she was able to befriend people everywhere she went. She eventually travelled to other parts of the world: New Zealand, Australia, England, Morocco, Japan. She visited South America, Europe, Africa, every continent but Antarctica.

Each section of the book tells a part of her story and showcases photographs from that period of her life. Scattered throughout are also short pieces about specific stories, describing her experiences and displaying photographs from that story. Many of them are very personal or emotional, as is often the case with National Geographic stories, taking you into the lives of the people.

The book is full of photographs from all over the world. Most are her photographs shot while working various assignments. Some are of her family while with her on these assignments. If you’ve read National Geographic then you will be familiar with this type of photography. These are story-telling photographs. Ones that draw us into the lives of others.

This is a book that not only tells the story of Annie Griffiths Belt, but also tells the story of the cultures of the world. It demonstrates it is possible for people of different cultures to get along, to even learn from one another if we stay open to it. The book seems especially relevant today, with so much hatred and violence in the world, so much misunderstanding, so many people judging an entire race or culture because of the actions of the few. This book is evidence it doesn’t have to be that way. It is possible to learn to respect and appreciate those who are different than ourselves.

As a photographer I have learned that women really do hold up half the sky; that language isn’t always necessary, but touch usually is; that all people are not alike, but they do mostly have the same hopes and fears; that judging others does great harm but listening to them enriches; that it is impossible to hate a group of people once you get to know one of them as an individual.
— Annie Griffiths Belt

I hope you will seek out a copy of this book and read through it. Maybe you’ll get something out of it, as I did.