Watching Sparrows, 2d edition
Blue Earth Films (2010) www.birdfilms.com
This second edition of Watching Sparrows by Michael Male and Judy Fieth retails for $29.95, is available at www.birdfilms.com, covers 46 species (including 6 species of towhees but not Snow or McKay's Buntings), and I recommend it to everyone with an interest in birds or birding. It is also the fourth in, currently, a series of four such works. Watching Sparrows is an excellent vehicle to introduce the neophyte to this group of often under appreciated birds. As with its predecessors in this group, it requires little for even the casual birder to appreciate the effort needed to secure the footage and recordings used.
The footage, which took three years and many thousands of miles to create, shows mostly male birds singing on territory, with a discussion of some notable subspecies (the Florida race of the Eastern Towhee and the four Fox Sparrows subspecies which may soon become separate species). Watching Sparrows also shows where the footage was shot, some sense of the effort involved to find and shoot the species, and nice background sounds such as other singing species and water sounds. The recordings also demonstrate the variety and beauty of the songs of the covered species.
The narration, which has improved since Watching Warblers, describes and shows the habitats and ranges of the covered species, the latter with the aid of satellite maps. It also notes how individuals of the same species can sing very different songs in different parts of their range.
As with the other second editions in this series, there are additional tracks. In this case. five of them: "Movie with Natural Sounds," "Alphabetical Index," "Chorus", "Fun with Songs," and "Extra Features."
"Movie with Natural Sounds" is the same as the main track (which is entitled "Movie with Narration") but without the narration. "Alphabetical Index" is an alphabetical list, by family, of the covered species providing hyperlinks to them. "Chorus" offers brief song segments of the covered species. "Fun with Songs" shows slow motion footage with various species including slowed renditions of their songs. "Extra Features" contains two short segments from the authors' internet series "Little Nature Show" and a short from the first edition. The first two are "Fox Fun", an extended segment on the Fox Sparrow; the second is "From the Moon to Montana" which shows the authors attempts to find and shoot McCowan's Longspur. The last is a segment on the Sharp-tailed Sparrow complex with a scientist who works with this group. It also includes a brief ad for other offerings in this line of products.
On a scale of 0 (truly worthless) to 10 (beyond the limit of human ability), I rate Watching Sparrows 9, and recommend it to everyone with even a marginal interest in birds or natural history.
Michael R. Hannisian