Niagara Birds


(This 1020th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 10, 2010.)


A major ornithological event will take place on October 16: John Black and Kayo Roy's new book, Niagara Birds, will be introduced to the public. This 702-page volume is about the 368 species of birds that occur in the nearby Niagara region of Canada.


In one sense "Niagara Birds" relates only to a tightly restricted enclave: the Niagara Regional Municipality of Ontario. That region extends from the Canadian side of the Niagara River as far west as the townships of South Grimsby along Lake Ontario and Wainfleet along Lake Erie. That's an area of just over 720 square miles compared with the 1227 square miles of Erie County here in New York. Clearly that would be scarcely more than a dot on any map of the vast areas of Canada and the United States.


Don't be fooled. First, to ornithologists of this region on both sides of the Niagara River this is an important publication. The Niagara Birds coverage is nearly contiguous with the western half of the region surveyed by the Buffalo Ornithological Society (BOS) and it updates that section since the publication of Clark Beardslee and Harold Mitchell's Birds of the Niagara Frontier Region in 1965 and the supplement to that book by Mitchell and Robert Andrle in 1970. Farther west, it incorporates and updates records gathered by Roy Sheppard of Hamilton, Ontario.


Many stateside birders contributed to this book. Mike Hamilton, Bob DeLeon and Richard Stockton were among the 25 authors who wrote chapters and Mike Morgante wrote species accounts. Dozens more United States birders reviewed materials and, of course, even more provided records. BOS "Hotline" monitor and record keeper Dave Suggs and BOS statisticians Andrle, Fran Rew, Tim Baird and Morgante are singled out by the authors for special praise.


Clearly, every serious birder of this region will want a copy of Niagara Birds.


But remarkably, that is not all. I have read an advance copy of this book and I find it one that should be in the home of everyone who loves birds in particular or the out-of-doors in general. I have reviewed hundreds of natural history books and in many ways this is the finest I have ever seen. It will serve non-specialists as well as it will specialists.


What is truly exceptional about Niagara Birds is its artwork. From that lovely cover painting of the Ross's gull flying over the Niagara River with New York State that dim blur in the background to the brilliant goldfinch photograph that is the last of the over 500 color photos that grace this book, the artwork is spectacular.


Canadian photographers and artists stepped forward to contribute their work to this all-volunteer project. I find it very difficult to pick out a favorite. There is the calling red-necked grebe taken by Raymond Barlow; Brandon Holden's snowy owl winging toward you through a snowstorm just inches above the ground; Harold Stiver's tiny blue-gray gnatcatcher singing up another kind of storm; an alert spotted sandpiper perched on a water-soaked log by Barry Cherriere; Jukka Jantunen's radiant blackburnian warbler; and many many more.


Every photograph and painting speaks to the quality of these professionals, but they are extremely well served by designer Judie Shore, who has worked them seamlessly into each page. Jean Black and Arleane Ralph's copyediting contributes as well.


Of course this book has species accounts and you will learn much from them, but it has much else. Among the essays is a history of regional ornithology (including Audubon's painting of passenger pigeons and another painting of early settlers shooting these now extinct birds), a description of this interesting region and information about its natural history clubs. There are other essays about Kay McKeever's Owl Foundation together with its problems with the devastating West Nile disease, about the problems with birds in the region's vineyards, about hawk migration and peregrine falcon hacking, about radar tracking of birds, about the wintering gulls in the Niagara River gorge, about the April, May, October and Christmas bird counts in the region and about where to look for birds.


This book will, I predict, win international awards for both its art work and the quality of its exposition. For more information about the book and how to purchase a copy visit the Niagara Birds website.

-- Gerry Rising