Birds of Western Colorado, by Robert Righter et al.

Review by Virginia McConnell Simmons

Wildlife – February 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine

Birds of Western Colorado – Plateau and Mesa Country
by Robert Righter, Rich Levad, Coen Dexter, Kim Porter
Published in 2004 by Grand Valley Audubon Society
ISBN 0-9743453-0-X

SETTING A NEW STANDARD of excellence among books about Colorado’s birds (or about many other subjects, for that matter), this volume will be indispensable for birders in our state, whether or not they live west of the Continental Divide. Like birds, birders disregard political and geographic boundaries in the course of their wanderings. Moreover, it will be useful for birders who are exploring areas surrounding western Colorado, such as the Upper Arkansas River Valley, the San Luis Valley, Utah’s or New Mexico’s nearby landscapes, where habitat types, migration routes, and bird distribution overlap.

Birders in Central Colorado can read here about common summer species like Mountain Bluebirds, not-so-common species like Western Bluebirds, uncommon migrants like White-winged Scoters, casual visitors like Ovenbirds, and the endemic Gunnison Sage-Grouse that is a permanent resident in Gunnison and Saguache counties as well as in only six other isolated places in or near western Colorado. The book includes 374 species in all.

The volume’s 224 pages contain authoritative information about the various avian species that occur in western Colorado. Accompanying them are range maps for individual species and bar graphs showing their seasonal elevations and abundances. In addition there are sections of general text about habitats and the history of ornithology, lists of best birding locations and birds of special interest. An extensive bibliography and an index round out the book.

Unlike many bird guides that concentrate on getting their job done in the least amount of space so they can be carried in a pocket in the field, this book is handsomely designed on 8┬Ż x ll-inch paper. Many pages offer illustrations of individual species, a few full-page plates, and some pages are graced with exquisite, small paintings of habitats and landscapes. All of the book is printed in four colors. The cover, the large format, and overall attractiveness might suggest that this is merely a pretty coffee-table book, but the graphics and the clearly written texts offer the kind of information and tools that hardcore birders will turn to again and again. Most pocket-sized guides, some quite good, have handy little pictures of all the birds but provide considerably less information about them and our own region.

The authors of this volume are among Colorado’s most respected ornithologists. Robert Righter has authored and co-authored work published by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Rich Levad and Coen Dexter, two retired teachers, are avid birders who live in Grand Junction and Nucla respectively. Levad monitors birds for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. Kim Potter, a field biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, lives in Rifle. Numerous experts in related fields were consulted regarding such subjects as habitats and vegetation types, along with birds per se.

The book’s illustrator, Don Radovich, is professor emeritus at Western State College and owner of Canyon Creek Gallery at Ouray. He has also contributed illustrations to a guide to birds of the West Indies, published by Princeton University. It seems likely that people who are introduced to his beautiful watercolors through Birds of Western Colorado Plateau and Mesa Country will want to visit his art gallery, too.

Local communities with interests in environmental education, scientific literacy, and ecotourism might take a cue from this publication. The authors name the sponsors, “who had the foresight to recognize that western Colorado is not only dramatically unique in charm and beauty but also rich in diversity of birdlife.” In addition to the Grand Valley Audubon Society, they included the Bacon Family Foundation, Ruth P. Hutchins Charitable Lead Trust, Grand Junction Rotary, Pfizer Foundation, and Western Colorado Community Foundation.

Birds of Western Colorado Plateau and Mesa Country is available from the Grand Valley Audubon Society, P.O. Box 1211, Grand Junction, CO 81502 or at bookstores for $29.95.