A mystery birder - a man who likes to spot birds without being spotted himself - has claimed responsibility for the most comprehensive guide ever produced on the birds of Vancouver Island.
Keith Taylor, known mostly by reputation, has produced an online book The Birds of Vancouver Island, a Field Guide to the Birds of Vancouver Island.
It's free for anyone who wants to click on it (picasaweb.google. com/pat.mary.taylor). And according to Taylor and other local authorities, it surpasses anything else devoted to birds found on Vancouver Island.
In total, he estimated, the process took him 30 years. And Taylor, a retired curator formerly with the Royal B.C. Museum, has done it almost entirely on his own, save for the 76 people who granted him the use of photos, and whose names are included.
"I don't belong to any society - I don't volunteer," the 67-year-old Victoria man said in a telephone interview. "I actually avoid birders as often as I can.
"That's who I am. I'm a loner." Although other books on the birds of Vancouver Island have been published, Taylor's online work is the first to take a comprehensive field-guide approach.
Most bird watchers, or birders, as they call themselves, will carry one - and sometimes more - reference books, called field guides, when they head out to spot birds.
These field guides carry names such as the National Geographic Society, Roger Tory Peterson or David Allen Sibley. Typically, each bird gets a picture, either an artist's rendering or photo, a few paragraphs, a map showing range of distribution or habitat, and calendar information to indicate when a bird is likely to be in a particular area.
With Taylor's online effort, each page is available from a computer gallery. Each is devoted to one of 416 species of birds ever seen the Island.
There's a picture, written information, a Vancouver Island map and calender information to indicate when the bird typically shows up.
Taylor's online field guide is already getting some positive reviews. "The work is amazing and there are few people who are interested in Vancouver Island birds who won't enjoy it," said Ann Nightingale, co-president of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory and past-president of the Victoria Natural History Society.
"It's a huge effort and will be used by many birders to refine their local knowledge."
But she also said she knows little about Taylor - outside his reputation for diligence in tracking down rare birds, and his penchant for privacy.
"Most people in the birding community have heard of Keith Taylor, but most of them wouldn't know him if they ran into him on the street," Nightingale said.
"He's very much a solo player."
For example, Nightingale said she was contacted as president of the Rocky Point Bird Observatory for information about certain bird records. But nobody was told why the records were being requested.
"This is a project that has been undertaken more or less secretly," she said. "People were not told that it was in the works."
This secrecy is a factor in Nightingale's admittedly small number of critiques of Taylor's online field guide.
She said if Taylor had communicated with other birders in the creation of the book, he might have been able to make his field guide a little more comprehensive, including an extra species, for example.
Nightingale also said that she didn't see how it could work as a field guide, because the small size of information on the online page makes it difficult to read, and she and others weren't able to enlarge the pages or type.
After the first telephone interview, Taylor could not be reached for comment.
For other information about Victoria-area birds, go to the Rocky Point Bird Observatory at island.net.com/~rpbo/.
For the Victoria Natural History Society, including its rare bird alert hotline, go to vicnhs.bc.ca.
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