Watching Waders Review by Michael Hannisian for the New Jersey Audubon Society

Watching Waders, by Michael Male and Judy Fieth is among the best instructional products on the market (along with their 1996 Watching Warblers). It is 95 minutes long, covers 20 species including Wood Storks and Sandhill and Whooping Cranes, and is well worth its retail price of $39.95. I strongly recommend Watching Waders to everyone with an interest in birds or birding. It is hard to imagine anyone who would not enjoy this tape strictly for its aesthetics. As with Watching Warblers, it requires little for even the most casual birder to appreciate the effort needed to secure the footage used. (Frankly, I can hardly wait for their next offering; perhaps it will be Watching Waterfowl.)

Much of the footage involves intimate looks at birds courting, mating, nesting, and raising young, treating us to many beautiful views of some gorgeous birds ( Wood Storks and most young excluded). The only thing missing (fortunately!) is the smell of the heronries. I also suspect that many people, birders included, may not appreciate how striking some of the birds are in breeding plumage. Granted, it is relatively easy to see the "Lime-sherbert" lores of a breeding plumaged Great Egret, but how many of us have seen the brilliant orange-red lores and toes of a breeding plumage Snowy Egret? Likewise , the footage of the Glossy and White-faced Ibises show the differences between these easily confused species in a manner no field guide can duplicate. The vocalizations are also notable. Granted, waders are not songbirds, but they can make some interesting noises. While many birders know the calls of American Bittern and Limpkin, how many of us know the nesting call of the Snowy Egret?

Among the more noteworthy segments of Watching Waders are the close-ups of Roseate Spoonbill showing its gular (throat) pouch, showing how closely ibis chicks resemble rail chicks, the blue iris of breeding White Ibis, slow-motion footage of parents of many species feeding their young, the beautiful incandescence of Glossy Ibis plumage, the pink toes of breeding Wood Storks and their use of artificial nest platforms at Harris Neck NWR, the problems Great Blue Herons have mating because of their long legs. How Snowy Egrets use Black Skimmers to help them hunt, the "pied" plumage of second year Little-blue Herons, and the "drunken sailor" feeding behavior of Reddish Egrets.

This is not to say that the outstanding video is all there is to Watching Waders. The text is also quite good. For example, in the Snowy Egret segment, Mr. Male and Ms. Fieth explain that one of their subjects is acting atypically and compare this to more typical behavior, why a nest might contain more eggs than one bird is likely to have laid (egg dumping), and why some species hatch more young than they are likely to be able to raise.

Likewise, Watching Waders is not perfect. It was, after all, created by mere (albeit very talented) mortals. As with Watching Warblers, I must be picky because Mr. Male and Ms. Fieth have left themselves little room for improvement. Again, while they are excellent avian cinematographers, they are not quite as good narrators, although they are improving. The only factual shortcoming I detected is the statement that Snowy Egrets have yellow feet. In reality, they have yellow toes. (Birds stand on their toes, not their feet. This explains why birds' "knees" bend the wrong way, since they are their ankles. Their knees are higher up their kegs and usually not visible.)

Again, these are minor points, but with a work of this quality, there is little room for improvement.

On a scale of 0 (truly worthless) to 10 ( the outer limit of human ability), I rate Watching Waders 9. I do not rate it 10 ( and this is admittedly picky) for the three reasons just noted. Regardless, I whole heartedly recommend Watching Waders to everyone still capable of breathing (with or without assistance).