Europe & Middle East
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WorldTwitch Book Awards 2003
2003 was another outstanding year for nature books. The long anticipated
antbird volume of the Handbook of Birds of the World finally emerged and
was even better than expected. Completely unexpected was the Natural History
of Madagascar, which sets a new standard for comprehensive, single-country
natural history surveys. A variety of important field guides, bird family
studies, and bird-finding guides were published, including the first modern
field guides for Chile and for much of Africa. With the usual disclaimer that I
haven't seen every good book released during the past year and accordingly
reserve the right to grant further awards if appropriate, here are the 2003
WorldTwitch Book Awards.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Reference Book
del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott & David Christie (eds.) Handbook of
Birds of the World, Volume 8, Broadbills to Tapaculos. 845
pages. 81 color plates plus 477 color photographs. Lynx Edicions
This superb volume covers more than half of the
suboscine passerines -- pittas, broadbills and asities in the
Old World, and furnariids, woodcreepers, antbirds, gnateaters
and tapaculos in the New World. It incorporates taxonomic
revisions and new information discovered since the publication
of Lambert & Woodcock and Ridgely & Tudor volume 2, along with
color paintings of birds not previously illustrated. As always,
the species accounts have been written by leading experts and
incorporate the latest reports from the field. The family
summaries are lucid and illustrated with excellent photographs,
including rare photos of the possibly extinct Bahia Tapaculo and
several newly-described species.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Natural History
M. Goodman & Jonathan P. Benstead (eds.) The Natural History
Details. 1,760 pages. Color and black-and-white photos.
University of Chicago Press 2003.
This is an exceptional and comprehensive
reference which enables any reader to obtain an overview and
catch up with the latest discoveries and developments in
Madagascar natural history. It is more than twice the size of
the only other comparable country reference, Daniel Janzen's
Costa Rican Natural History (University of Chicago Press,
1983). 140 pages are devoted to birds, including detailed
accounts of poorly-known species such as Madagascar
Serpent-Eagle and significant articles including "The Radiations
of Passerine Birds on Madagascar" by Tom Schulenberg. While I
may never read every page of this mammoth volume, opening it at
random invariably turns up something interesting, from a new
mouse named in honor of the late Karl Koopman, to the bizarre
giraffe-necked weevil, to 201 endemic tiger beetles, to case
studies of critical habitats.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - Africa (2 Awards)
Sinclair & Pete Ryan. Assisted by Patrice Christy & Phil Hockey.
Birds of Africa South of the Sahara: A complete illustrated
field guide to the birds south of the Sahara. Illustrated by
Norman Arlott, Peter Hayman & Alan Harris. Struik & Princeton
University Press 2003.
Details. 760 pages. Covers 2105 species with more than 2000
images on 359 plates.
The authors have used the fine new edition of
Birds of Southern Africa, winner of a 2002 WorldTwitch book
award, as the basis for this field guide covering all of
sub-Saharan Africa. For home study, Birds of Africa
provides instant access to all African species, with acceptable
to excellent color plates, range maps, and essential text. In
the field, it fills in the many gaps between the regions for
which modern field guides are available. Recommended by Jon
Hornbuckle for use in
van Perlo. Birds of Western & Central Africa.
HarperCollins & Princeton University Press. 384 pages. 2003.
Ber van Perlo probably has painted more species
of birds than anyone else over the past 15 years. This is by far
his most impressive effort to date. Comparing this volume with
his first guide, Birds of Eastern Africa (1995),
the improvements are obvious. For example, awkward illustrations
of warblers on plate 73 in Birds of Eastern Africa, such
as Short-tailed Warbler, Hemitesia neumannni and Brown
Parisoma, Parisoma lugens, have been replaced by much
better paintings of the same species in Birds of Western and
Central Africa. At least until the Borrow & Demey field
guide comes out, this is the book to carry in the field in West
Africa, while the heavy but authoritative Borrow & Demey
Guide to the Birds of Western Africa remains in the car or
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - Australasia
Pizzey & Frank Knight. The Field Guide to the Birds of
Australia. Edited by Peter Menkhorst. HarperCollins, 7th
edition 2003 (1997). 576 pages. 6" x 9". ISBN: 0207198217.
Annotations to the 3rd Edition. [The first two editions
refer to a completely different book, Pizzey & Doyle 1980 & 1991
(Pizzey I), which had much more detailed texts but mediocre
illustrations by Doyle. The third edition actually was the first
edition of Pizzey & Knight (Pizzey II), published in 1997, while
the fourth, fifth and sixth editions were reprintings of Pizzey
II with corrections.] The seventh edition constitutes the first
substantial revision to Pizzey II, with 26 revised color plates,
nearly 500 revised range maps, and numerous changes to the text.
Screen shot of plates by Andrew Isles Natural History Books.
There now are four excellent guides to
Australian birds -- Pizzey & Knight, Morcombe, Simpson & Day and
Slater. Morcombe, a large format guide, contains the most
information and offers outstanding usability, but the color
plates would rank last among the four books. Nearly as large as
Morcombe, Pizzey & Knight has the finest illustrations and the
most detailed distributional information. Slater is the smallest
of the four and for that reason the book most birders carry in
the field, while Simpson & Day falls in the middle, with
excellent color plates in a field guide for people with large
pockets. New editions of all four guides with new or revised
color plates have appeared or will appear in 2003-2004.
Frank Knight's superb color plates are reason to acquire this
book, even if you have no plans to travel to Australia. For the
new edition, color intensity was deliberately increased.
Overall, the brighter plates are even more attractive than the
lighter plates in the "third edition", though unavoidably some
dark birds are now too dark. The revised maps in the 7th edition
take into account the results of the New Australian Bird
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - South America
Jaramillo. Birds of Chile. [Also covers the Falkland
Islands and South Georgia.] Illustrated by David Beadle and
Peter Burke. 240 pages, 96 color plates. Helm & Princeton
University Press 2003.
This is the best field guide published thus far to the birds
of southern South America. It should enable most birders to
identify all or nearly all the land birds that regularly occur
in Chile, which is far enough south to limit the number of
confusing tyrannids and nondescript hummingbirds. The facing
plate text is succinct, and additional taxonomic information is
included in an appendix. As in the case of all other Neotropical
bird guides, the material on gulls and tubenoses is simply not
adequate for identification of all forms. However, the author
clearly made the appropriate decision as to where to draw the
line on coverage of seabirds, all of which cannot be identified
with 100% reliability using any existing book. I would question
the description of the voices of Metriopelia as "silent",
as a song of Black-winged Ground-Dove has been recorded and is
Birds of the Ecuadorian Highlands by Krabbe et al.
Worldtwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - Central
Lee Jones. Birds of Belize. 317 pages plus 56 color
plates by Dana Gardner with facing plate text.
View sample plates on Dana's website. University of Texas
Press & Christopher Helm 2003.
Belize has become one of the most important
tropical ecotourism destinations, but until now there was no
field guide dedicated to its birds. While Howell & Webb's
excellent Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Central America
(Oxford 1995) covers Belize, the regional guide is quite heavy
and includes many species that do not occur in Belize. Birds
of Belize is about two-thirds the size and weight of Howell
& Webb. It simplifies identification by omitting species not
found in Belize and provides detailed distributional information
and range maps for Belize. I particularly appreciate the
multiple voice descriptions for many species, which in some
cases represent different calls and in others different
individuals' attempts to describe the same call.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - North America
K. Wheeler. Raptors of Eastern North America: The Wheeler
Guide. 437 pages. 540 color photographs. Princeton
University Press & Poyser 2003.
K. Wheeler. Raptors of Western North America: The Wheeler
Guide. 544 pages. 603 color photographs. Princeton
University Press & Poyser 2003.
Brian Wheeler has assembled an outstanding
collection of color photographs of North American hawks, showing
a great variety of alternative plumages. A caption under each
photo describes the field marks illustrated. The accompanying
text is crammed with useful facts, including extensive
identification information, and multi-color maps for each
species show seasonal distributions.
There is substantial overlap between the two volumes, mainly
in the color plates. However, you will need both volumes for
coverage of all North American species. Since these are
reference books, it would have made more sense to prepare a
unitary work and divide it into two sequential volumes for
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - West Indies
Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith & Janis
Raffaele. Birds of the West Indies. 216 pages, 94 color
plates. Helm & Princeton University Press 2003.
Travelers to the West Indies will appreciate
this compact field guide, which has been extracted in
substantial part from the authors' comprehensive guide. The
field guide adds new and improved illustrations, all arranged
opposite essential facing-plate text. The single island endemics
have been moved from appended plates into the main order. Common
names have replaced numbers on the plates, greatly enhancing
field usability. Range maps are included for some, but not all
species. It would have been useful to include bolded island
abbreviations for birds without range maps or geographical
common names to facilitate ruling out impossible species at any
The additional illustrations include endemic subspecies, such
as the distinctive and threatened Bahamas race of Greater
Antillean Oriole, now split from Black-cowled Oriole. Some of
the illustrations could be improved; see for example Plate 82,
where the Eastern and Western Chat-Tanagers have different
shapes, postures, proportions and bills. However, so few species
occur in any particular spot in the West Indies that the
possibilities for confusion are minimal.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Book - Asia
Grimmett & Tim Inskipp. Birds of Northern India. 320
pages. 119 color plates. Helm & Princeton University Press 2003.
This regional guide has been extracted from the
authors' huge subcontinent guide. As in the other regional field
guides to South Asia by the same team, the bird paintings have
been enlarged substantially from the original book, and the
species accounts have been reduced. As a consequence, this book
is much easier to use in the field than the heavy subcontinent
guide. Birds of Northern India covers all of northwest
India, from Gujarat across to Uttar Pradesh and points north,
and at this time would be the most useful field guide to carry
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Family Books (2 Awards)
Alström & Krister Mild. Illustrated by Per Alstöm & Bill
Zetterström. Pipits and Wagtails (of Europe, Asia & North
America). 496 pages, 30 superb color plates, 240 color
photographs, 298 sonograms, 36 maps, 89 text figures. Helm &
Princeton University Press 2003.
This is one of the finest of the bird family
books. Like Sylvia Warblers, the premier example of a
family treatise, it covers a limited number of confusingly
similar species in great detail. World birders will also
appreciate the color illustrations and photographs of the
newly-described Mekong Wagtail.
Urquhart. Illustrated by Adam Bowley. Stonechats: A Guide to
the Genus Saxicola. 320 pages. 14 color plates and
more than 100 color photographs. Helm 2002 and
Yale University Press 2003.
Stonechats also follows the successful
format of Sylvia Warblers, covering a few species, the
Saxicola chats, in great detail with plenty of good
illustrations. It should facilitate field identification of all
or nearly all of the confusing forms. Thus, for example, the
author provides a 14-item checklist of "Main identification
criteria of Siberian Stonechat compared to European Stonechat"
and 10 pages of information on the poorly-known Jerdon's
Bushchat of Asia.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Bird Finding Guides (2 Awards)
Harrap & Nigel Redman. Where to Watch Birds in Britain.
624 pages. Helm & Yale University Press 2003.
This is a reorganized and expanded new edition
of Birdwatching in Britain: a site-by-site guide (1987).
The authors present essential information on what they consider
to be the most productive and readily accessible birding sites
in Britain, with maps, directions, and bird lists. Unless you
are absolutely certain of your itinerary, it probably would be a
mistake to travel to the UK armed only with more detailed, local
site guides. If, for example, you learn from local twitchers
that the best current spots for birds on your "want list" are in
counties other those covered by the local site guides you
happened to bring, it will be most helpful to have the
countrywide book available for reference. (For almost guaranteed
Black Grouse, illustrated on the cover, follow the directions on
page 453 to Langdon Common during lekking season.)
|Adrian Thomas & Peter
Francis. Best Birdwatching Sites in Sussex. Buckingham
Press 2003. 192 pages.
Buckingham Press has produced a superb site
guide for Sussex -- located on the coast directly south of
London -- in the same format as last year's award winning site
guide for Norfolk. While Sussex would not be a first choice
destination for a birding trip to England, it is quite
convenient when traveling to London on business to stay near a
suburban station in Surrey or Sussex and commute by train to
London Bridge Station. Some of the sites covered by this guide
could be birded in early morning before heading for the City. In
addition, during breeding season one could go out at night for
Nightjar in Ashdown Forest, which is not far from the Surrey
Bo Beulens has posted a more detailed
review, with which I wholly concur.
WorldTwitch 2003 Best Value Natural History Book (2
|Jeffrey C. Miller & Paul C. Hammond.
Lepidoptera of the Pacific Northwest: Caterpillars and Adults.
FHTET-2003-3, December 2003. U.S.D.A. Forest Health
Technology Enterprise Team. 324 pages. Side-by-side color photos
of caterpillars and adults of 239 species. Free. Request copies
from rreardon [at] fs.fed.us.
Stein, Denise Binion & Robert Acciaviatti. Field Guide to
Native Oak Species of North America. 165 pages. USDA Forest
Service 2003. Covers 50 species, with illustrations of the
leaves, bark and acorns, and range maps showing occurrences by
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