Spring Migration

David Allen Sibley is for the birds

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

It’s that time of the year again, when millions of birds are on the wing.

The night skies are filled with flocks heading north, empty roosts are filling up again and our local wildlands and neighborhoods are reignited with the songs of our feathered friends taking up residence in their seasonal homes.

Spring migration is underway, and many different avian species are either passing through on their way to points farther north, or else arriving in the Fourth Corner with intentions to stick around for the summer.
Mating, nesting and rearing young are the order of the day, and regional birding list servers have sprung back to life with news of exciting arrivals. Favorite locales for local birders—lakes Padden, Tennant and Terrell, Semiahmoo, Drayton and Blaine harbors, Whatcom Falls, and Scudder’s Pond—are alive again with the clucking, whizzing, kawing, peeping, hooting and other distinct music of the bird world in full frenzy.

Just in time for this annual event, David Allen Sibley has published a brand-new edition of his ubiquitous bird guide, The Sibley Guide to Birds. He’ll be presenting from the book, and leading a local bird walk, Sun., April 20 at Village Books.

Sibley’s field guides have sold more than 1.75 million copies, inspiring frequent comparisons that he is the Audubon of our times. He hand-paints every species in his books—more than 900 in the new edition—often several times, displaying them from different angles (perched vs. soaring), engaging in different behaviors (hunting vs. mating) and in different phases of life (juvenile vs. adult).

Whereas other field guides strive for representational, life-like accuracy, Sibley is noted for depicting birds as our eyes might actually apprehend them: their postures and personalities, suggestive shapes that convey their place in the natural world.

“I want to paint what you would see through binoculars from 100 feet away,” Sibley says, “where the details blur together.”

For the just-published second edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds, the author and illustrator had a chance to revisit his 13-year-old bestselling tome and update it.

“I made minor corrections and touch-ups to about 50 percent of the art, and major revisions to maybe 15 percent of the original images,” he says. “I added about 600 new images—a lot of those illustrate rare and exotic species—changed the layout, and rewrote all the text with a slightly different focus, so it’s a little more user-friendly, a little more novice-friendly now.”

Novices and experts alike are invited to join North Cascades Institute’s annual Spring Birding weekend June 6-8. Expert birder and field instructor Libby Mills will lead an exploration of both the Skagit and Methow valleys to survey bird life of the North Cascades.

Meanwhile, Sibley continues sketching, painting and thinking about birds. Even with this monumental update to his guide, Sibley is already scheming ways to improve upon his life’s work: “I see all kinds of things I would like to change. I look at it and think, ‘It could use another three years.’”

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