Thursday, 4 August 2016

Book review - Britains Birds (Wildguides)

There are two of the 'Wildguides' series (Britain's Butterflies and Britain's Dragonflies) on my bookshelf and they are superb reference guides! I was asked some time ago to contribute images of Yellow-legged Gull for a forthcoming new book in the series - Britains Birds!! The same style was planned, with images tasteful montages on a page but covering the British (and Irish) Lists, as of March 2016, including all subspecies and main plumages likely to be encountered. Wow, I thought, hat was certainly going to take some doing!  A complimentary copy was being offered despite my late involvement, I duly sent the images off and let Brian Clews have my postal address........

I returned home recently to find a bulky packet on the mat and having forgotten I'd be receiving it, smiled as this Robin sang out from the unwrapped cardboard!

The book si the same page size as other 'Wildguides' (roughly 6" x 8") and with 560 pages, packs a weighty punch (1.2kg) - it isn't a 'pocket' guide but that's not the intended use! The team of Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling have created a complete identification guide masterpiece. 

Using the Contents or Index it's easy to navigate and the order of species accounts utilises a very sensible system: eg Water birds, Wetland birds, Sea Birds...... Groupings within each section ensures families are intuitively found and then, when searching for 'similar species' they are on facing pages, so no flicking is necessary.  Whimbrel vs Curlew, Willow Tit vs Marsh Tit etc etc are admirably covered with excellent images denoting the key id pointers. A notable exception is Chiffchaff vs Willow Warbler where a thumbnail is used but that's only because a two page spread is devoted to the three races of Chiffchaff and Iberian Chiffchaff! If you are a beginner or intermediate agonising over a good bird identification guide - look no further?

Where this book really scores, is with the  montages of birds - not just portraits but flight and water shots either creating a surreal but often very natural 'scene' for comparison or simply hammering home an id pointer. There are a few other guides out there well illustrated with superb drawings but sadly a few which aren't! Photo-guides haven't always found universal appeal but surely this is a landmark achievement? The quality of the images and the awesome presentation just took my breath away.....

With the Scilly pelagic season in full swing, all the likely candidates are in the Seabird section and I'm just brushing up on the key id pointers and descriptive jizz. You never know what might turn up - Fea's Petrel last year and the possible Scopoli's Shearwater of 2013! They are both featured, amongst the more likely birds to be seen, with complete coverage from Fulmar to Red-billed Tropicbird!

Photographs have surely never been used so effectively within a book to convey the bird's appearance and identification. With more than 3,200 to drool over, my hasty snapshots here just don't do them justice. There are specialist publications out there covering specific bird groups or families in more depth. However, with the major rarities popping out of the page to satisfy the needs of big lister, plus straight to point descriptive coverage to suit the needs of beginners, this is a book for every home library! And it won't break the bank either - one for the bookshelf and car seat methinks?

I just hope enough copies have been printed to satisfy the demand? I've just scratched the surface here - this is one of those books that comes around just once in a while! Buy one for yourself so you can see what I mean, you will keep picking it up.......