Author of Bird Songs field guide to speak at Lyric

Posted on Apr 20 2017 - 8:01am by Jyesha Johnson

Square Books will host Nathan Pieplow, author of the “Peterson Field Guide to Bird Songs of Eastern North America” this Thursday at The Lyric.

The “Peterson Field Guide of Bird Songs of Eastern North America” offers a way for readers to easily identify bird sounds. This book features a spectrogram that readers can use to distinguish different bird sounds by just listening carefully and following the graph. The guide focuses on five key aspects of bird calls: speed, repetition, pauses, pitch pattern and tone quality.

“The spectrogram is a computer-generated drawing of the sound,” Pieplow said. “It’s like reading music. It goes from left to right – the high notes at the top and the low notes at the bottom. If you can learn how to read a spectrogram, then you can learn how to visualize the sound, and that it makes it easier to learn.”

Pieplow makes it possible to learn the basics of visualizing bird songs in as short as an hour.

A spectrogram hasn’t always been easy to read. In the past, many birders, including Pieplow, have referred to the “Golden Guide,” a book from the 1960s. Pieplow said he sought to duplicate the success and avoid the mistakes of the “Golden Guide” in his book. Considering technological advances, Pieplow’s book contains a spectrogram that is bigger, easier to read and has greater detail.

“I was trying hard to find the simplest ways to explain so someone who didn’t have any experience in birding could still understand it,” Pieplow said.

Pieplow spent 14 years collecting thousands of bird sounds in order to create his book. He said the project was challenging at times, considering he had to go through the process of obtaining recordings, getting permission to use them and digitizing them.

His birding experience dates back to his childhood.

“My grandparents had a book that talked about bird watching, and it said that you should write down all the birds that you see and make a list. When I was in fourth grade, I started doing that, and I’ve been doing that ever since,” Pieplow said. 

This was only the beginning of Pieplow’s study of birds. Pieplow has traveled to Mexico, where he was the first to photograph and record the Cinereous owl.

Pieplow continues to advance the art of birding as he employs new methods of visualizing bird sounds, which makes it like reading music or learning a new language. i think we could get rid of this and close with the cinereous owl sentence