Carrol Henderson and I have a love for old bird books. The other day, he showed me this gem: Birds Through an Opera Glass by Florence A. Merriam. Even before Roger Tory Peterson, this woman was starting the trend to observe birds through optics as opposed to the "double barreled" method.
The book came out in 1897 and look at that, Houghton Mifflin was the publisher! Many of us are familiar with their Peterson Guides and Kaufman Focus Guides. From the start, HM has been there to provide great natural history guides.
This early field guide uses much different names for the birds we know today. For example, the bird above which many blog readers see is called a Chewink. Can you guess what that is? The drawing is a little misleading, that makes it look like an Oregon junco, but it's not. (Special hint to Sharon's mom--you told me these just showed up behind your condo). It's a towhee! Other fun names include Yellow Summer Bird for Yellow Warbler--it makes sense. Many of use see yellow warblers in summer and they are yellow.
The language is much more colorful than what we would see in today's field guides. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the blue jay's description:
"The blue jay comes with a dash and a flourish...And so he flashes about, and screams and scolds till we crawl to the window to look at him. Ha! what a handsome bird!"
For a fun giggle, reread the above but exchange blue jay with Nathan Lane.
Not for the faint of heart: a page of roaches! Did you really want to know how many species would be finding ways to infest your abode? Actually, the book is a perfect addition to the birder book shelf. Let's face it, there are days when the birding is slow and you notice more bugs than you do birds. This guide is in an easy to search format to the common insects we would find across North America. It's not a complete field guide--otherwise it would be as large as the multi volume Bent series but it will answer most bug id questions.
There's even a whole section on honey bees! One feature I really like about the book, is that not only does it identify the insects themselves but also shows their evidence and for some, what they look like in their habitats. This a good general guide that would appeal to adults with interest and budding young naturalists.