by Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop & David Tipling
Princeton University Press/WildGuides. 2016. Paperback. 3,200+ color photos
560 pages. $35.00 (Buy Now)
Wow! How field guides have changed – even just in the last ten years! There are some people who prefer to see drawings or paintings of birds, but I have always chosen to look at photographs first. For me, there is nothing better than a good photograph to convey the texture of each bird’s plumage.
This new guide gives comprehensive photographic coverage of every bird recorded in Britain and Ireland to date. Not only are the species there, but so too are many races – so for example, Siberian Stonechat is shown with images of three different races. So the team has tried hard to be really up to date.
Using photo-montage techniques, this is the only British guide to show all plumages likely to be encountered, and to achieve this it uses over 3,200 color photographs from around 100 photographers. The book focuses on using simple steps to help you find and identify any bird you see – for the accipiters there is a great page showing Sparrowhawk and Goshawk in flight at the same scale, with 12 images in total. When you then turn to the actual pages for these species there are 8 and 6 additional photographs.
The text is fairly short but easy to follow, with the key field marks shown in bold. Male, female and juvenile plumages are described, but they are a bit too succinct in places. For example, a juvenile Sparrowhawk is described simply as “rusty-brown”. I was particularly pleased at the relatively large number of flight shots used. The voice is also described except for vagrants. Various codes indicate the latest BirdLife status of each species and also those that are Red or Amber listed in the UK. Color maps indicate distribution in Britain and Ireland, and these are mostly very good, although at this size it is hard to be really accurate. Corn Buntings are shown breeding on the Isle of Wight (they left in 2003) and Montagu’s Harriers are not shown for Wiltshire (they breed every year). Migration routes are suggested for many species.
So is it the best photographic guide to buy? In my view it is the best in terms of coverage. The book to compare with is The Crossley ID Guide – Britain & Ireland (also published by Princeton). I certainly prefer the labelling in this new book – everything is clearly marked. The Crossley ID Guide is a bit more pleasing on the eye but it only covers 300 species (compared to almost 600 in the new guide). This book weighs 1.2 kg which is a quite a lot for one with a relatively small page size.
Overall this is a great book. Each page is full of images and packed with useful tips. It is hard to open a page and not find something that you’ll find useful.