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Old Friday 6th February 2004, 21:15   #1
Swissboy
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Australian Field Guides

Now that a new edition- with new plates- of the Pizzey field guide has come out, it might be time for an assessment. Are there any Australian participants of this forum who can tell us which guide has which advantages or drawbacks? From the sample plates I found on Worldtwitch, the new Pizzey book might be a new step ahead. But that's a judgement from afar.
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Old Friday 6th February 2004, 22:42   #2
Bob Gosford
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Swissboy - I have the new Pizzey & Knight (7th ed.) and think it's great. Been some criticism of the "brownness" of some playtes but I think it is an improvement over the previous editions and (still) the best Australian field guide. Shame though that it, like almost all Australian ornithological literature, has no information about indigenous knowledge of Australian birds.

My advice - buy it and then come here and see the birds.
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Old Saturday 7th February 2004, 07:23   #3
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I'd vote for Pizzey and Knight also. Probably the Slater book next.

Nothing much wrong with any of our field guides. They all do a grerat job.
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Old Saturday 7th February 2004, 12:13   #4
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There was a thread on this site a few months ago on the same subject. I guess you could dig it up in the archives, it went into qute a bit of detail as I remember.
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Old Saturday 7th February 2004, 18:58   #5
Edward woodwood
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As a visitor to Australia I used Simpson and Day in 2000 and found it to be very good indeed....it has a new edition now as well I think
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Old Sunday 8th February 2004, 21:53   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nancy
There was a thread on this site a few months ago on the same subject. I guess you could dig it up in the archives, it went into qute a bit of detail as I remember.
Thank you all for your feedback! I'll try to dig up that old thread too.
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Old Monday 9th February 2004, 12:20   #7
Edward
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I'd recommend Pizzey and Knight, superb illustrations and an authorative text. The only handicap is that it's fairly big and you'll need a rucksack to carry it around. Can't wait until October when I can use it again in the field!! If there's a new edition I think I might just buy it before I go.

E
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Old Friday 27th February 2004, 20:03   #8
Swissboy
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[quote=Edward]I'd recommend Pizzey and Knight, superb illustrations and an authorative text. The only handicap is that it's fairly big and you'll need a rucksack to carry it around. Can't wait until October when I can use it again in the field!! If there's a new edition I think I might just buy it before I go. [quote]


Well, I must have misunderstood something. I just received my copy of Pizzey & Knight, and it says "Reprinted 2002". It does not give an actual edition number, but it seems that the last update was in 2001. So my reference to a "new edition" was wrong. Sorry about that.

Now for the book: I agree that it is too large to take to the field. Just OK to have in the car or at home. That is a shame. The book is in the same size league as the original Sibley guide for North America.

I have no immediate plans to visit Australia. Rather, I bought the book for its allegedly superb illustrations. Now, I can't comment on their accuracy, but I am rather disappointed about their variable quality. One would certainly not think that all the plates were done by the same artist. Just compare pages 115 and 117, for example. Overall, on some plates the birds seem to come alive, whereas on others they are very two-dimensional. I.e. they appear very flat. Some birds like the lesser noddy appear overly slim. And, while some bird pictures are rather smallish, there are some that are rather too large. The storm-petrels on page 93 are a case in point, giving the plate a crowded appearance. But those drawings are otherwise of superb quality.

I emphasise these differences of the plates because there is usually considerable criticism when a new field guide comes out that has its plates done by several artists. Here, we find similar differences within the work done by the same artist. It is clear that doing all the artwork for such a book is a monumental task. And even a good artist is not always equally disposed, I would assume. And then, there is probably the pressure of a publishing schedule. However, what counts in the end are the pictures we all have to look at and work with for years. Thus, spreading the task does not seem to be such a bad way to do it, after all. That is, as long as you have several good artists with the available time. But it also means that it is a sensible solution to use the same good illustrations for several books, as has recently been done in the field guide to the Birds of Africa South of the Sahara.

One thing that keeps puzzling me - not only with respect to this field guide - is the fact that there is contents included that does not help in the field at all. Thus, we find here a lengthy chapter called "family introductions", the kind of info one would expect in an "encyclopaedia" type book. Also, what good is a long literature list in a field guide?
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Old Friday 27th February 2004, 21:26   #9
Edward
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Shame that you aren't entirely happy with your purchase, Swissboy. Perhaps we've been spoilt in Europe by Mullarney and Zetterström in the Collins guide but I personally think Frank Knight's plates are of a consistently high standard and I can't think of a guide to another part of the world which has as attractive plates as Pizzey & Knight, certainly not Sibley (check his weird petrels out!), SASOL Southern Africa or a couple of the new Asian guides I own to name a few. Judging plates is all very subjective (some people love Sibley's plates!) and as I can't even draw stick men perhaps I'm not the person to judge. But when I was in Brisbane choosing which book to buy (there were 3-4 on offer) this is the book which immediately grabbed my attention. Good job you didn't go for the Morcombe guide, that's all I can say!
My one main criticism of this book is that the maps don't show seasonal distributions.
Although some top guides don't even have maps (e.g. Robson - SE Asia).

If and when you visit Australia Swissboy, you'll have no choice but to take it out into the field with you. The new birds come so thick and fast there that even with copious note taking you won't have a prayer when you get back to the book in the car!

I recently bought Menkhorst & Knight's Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia and he does a great job there too although the book is depressing reading - every mammal in the country seems to be on the verge of extinction.

E
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Old Sunday 29th February 2004, 21:07   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Edward
Shame that you aren't entirely happy with your purchase, Swissboy. Perhaps we've been spoilt in Europe by Mullarney and Zetterström in the Collins guide but I personally think Frank Knight's plates are of a consistently high standard and I can't think of a guide to another part of the world which has as attractive plates as Pizzey & Knight, certainly not Sibley (check his weird petrels out!), SASOL Southern Africa or a couple of the new Asian guides I own to name a few. Judging plates is all very subjective (some people love Sibley's plates!) and as I can't even draw stick men perhaps I'm not the person to judge. But when I was in Brisbane choosing which book to buy (there were 3-4 on offer) this is the book which immediately grabbed my attention. Good job you didn't go for the Morcombe guide, that's all I can say!
My one main criticism of this book is that the maps don't show seasonal distributions.
Although some top guides don't even have maps (e.g. Robson - SE Asia).

If and when you visit Australia Swissboy, you'll have no choice but to take it out into the field with you. The new birds come so thick and fast there that even with copious note taking you won't have a prayer when you get back to the book in the car!

I recently bought Menkhorst & Knight's Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia and he does a great job there too although the book is depressing reading - every mammal in the country seems to be on the verge of extinction.

E
You are certainly right that we are very lucky in Europe with that "Collins Guide" by Svensson et al. And I fully agree with you that the Sibley book is not of the superb standard it is usually praised to be. It is a very good book, however. And the same goes for the Pizzey & Knight bird guide, to clarify my opinion. But when I say this, I qualify the book from the point of view of its usefulness as a field guide (which is certainly excellent, except for the size). Thus, my complaint is more on the level of bird art. In addition, I wanted to point out that even a book illustrated by only one person can have rather variable plates. By the way, I also own that mammal guide you mention, and there the quality of the illustrations is more consistently high. In fact, I have no "complaints" at all with regard to that book's illustrations.

My overall favourite non-european bird guide is the one by Stevenson and Fanshawe for East Africa. I just love those plates. And the book is considerably more compact than the other ones we have discussed here. But it is clear that judging plates is a very subjective matter, I fully agree on this with you.

As for a book that I thought I might take to the field in Australia (if I ever make it there, that is): the Slater Field Guide is extremely compact. This holds at least for my 10 year old copy.
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Old Monday 1st March 2004, 12:24   #11
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Yup, if you want pocked-sized, Slater is the ony game in town. It's very old now, but I don't think that really matters, especially for a short-term visitor. You;ll have so many new birds to discover that the odd inconsstency with the latest lists simply won't matter. And Slater, Slater & Slater put together an excellent guide. Overall, the majority view is that, for Oz, Pizzey & Knight is the best. But, as I doubtless wrote in that other thread, they all have their strengths.

My own favourite is Michael Morecombe's, and Simpson & Day is excellent too. If I'm away for more than just a day trip, I'll always take both Morecombe and Pizzey & Knight. If I'm away for several days, I'll add Simpson & Day, plus possibly Slater and even the wonderful but needs-two-hands-to-hold-it-sized Readers Digest guide as well. (Which is why I wind up with a great big box of books in the passenger side footwell: there are mammals, reptiles, fish and frogs to take as well. I've given up trying to ID flora - car is not big enough!)

I don't have much time for the two photographic guides. For ID, drawings are immeasurably superior.

In the end, some birds are hard to ID, and no single field guide can help you pick all of them. Look in your favourite guide first then, if in doubt, look in the others as well. Quite often it is only the second or third view of a bird that makes the ID clear, and I've found this to be true no matter which guide you pick up first.

Oh, by the way, there is a new edition of Pizzey & Knight out. Yours is a 6th edn, by the sound of things. The 7th edition, now that Graham Pizzey has died, is edited by Peter Menkhorst, but retains the Pizzey feel and Pizzey's touch. It's even better than the 6th edn. (But, yes, a fraction larger. And don't feel bad: the 6th edn is just fine.) Peter Menkhorst will already be familiar to you as the editor of the Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia.
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Old Monday 1st March 2004, 13:57   #12
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Glad to get an authentic Aussie view from you, Tony, instead of amateur Poms with a deep interest in Australian avifauna like me always putting in their two pennies! What changes are there in the new edition of Pizzey & Knight? Does it take in new splits such as the Kalkadoon Grasswren as in the Morcombe book? Are many of the plates new? I'd be interested to know how much is different from the sixth edition. I'll no doubt buy it in Brisbane in October, it takes VERY little to persuade me to buy new bird books. I'll take the Morcombe with me as well as a back-up, but I think we've discussed that to death on another thread (great format and text, HIDEOUS illustrations).

PS Swissboy, I love the Fanshawe Stevenson guide to East Africa too although I haven't been fortunate enough to use it in the field (though I have read slightly negative reviews of it by birders with experience in Africa). Those bee-eaters are truly incredible and worth the price alone. I'll go one day, I keep promising myself. Its layout is an example to other guides with a lot of species (e.g South-east Asia).

E
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Old Monday 1st March 2004, 21:09   #13
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Thank you, guys, for your most interesting input. I have not made it yet to east Africa, either, but I enjoyed South Africas eastern region in July/August. Used the Sasol and Newman guides for that area, of course. But I am also one of those people whom you don't have to persuade very much when it comes to getting another field guide.
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Old Monday 1st March 2004, 21:19   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tannin
Oh, by the way, there is a new edition of Pizzey & Knight out.
Looks like that edition has not really made it to the Northern hemisphere yet.

But I am already familiar with that situation. That fine book by Forshaw and Cooper on the Turacos also took a considerable while before I finally saw it announced on NHBS. I had found it accidentally when I tried Google to see whether Cooper had illustrated any new books (I like his plates, so it's again birds as art that made me get that book. And it was a particular delight to find some of those Turacos last July.)
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Old Friday 2nd July 2004, 00:54   #15
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As a dane that had his first visit to Oz last year, bringing Pizzey and Knight in the Collins version copyright 1997, my two pennies worth is that gray shrike-thrush in Victoria was impossible to ID from this plate (pg 439). The ID came in house when I later browsed through one of the other field guides in a book store. Most other birds were easy to identify from plates and text.

I later met a birder with the small field guide (Slater?) that had just seen a swift parrot. He was not sure, because of some differences between his illustration and the bird - there, P&K was much better and he became fully convinced.

Cheers
Niels

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Old Sunday 4th July 2004, 23:13   #16
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Pizzey and Knight, for my money. I'm still using the 1st edition, bought because my Slaters was too incomplete. But I second Tannin; when I'm off on a trip, I pack both the Pizzey and the Morecombe. Morecombe's illustrations aren't in the same league as Knights, but his in-plate text and id pointers (and the layout of some of the illustrations) are extremely helpful. On a full blown trip, my father and I usually have all four field guides, the Bird Atlas (sometimes both editions) and, if wader watching, the relevant editions of HANZAB (we've been known to id waders by scoping them and then reading through the relevant page-long plumage descriptions, checking over the bird feather tract by feather tract).

But then again, I tend to judge a field guide more on the effectiveness of its text in helping make an id, than on its illustrations - Pizzey and Morecombe are equal first, with Simpson & Day and Slaters a far distant second. This was one of my big criticisms of the Collins Europe Field Guide: gorgeous pictures, sure; but the text was inconsistent between species and often not aligned with the illustrations and/or maps (I took the paperback version, which may account for the poor layout).

All the up-to-date aussie field guides (I wasn't at all impressed with the Slaters update which failed to fix the things I didn't like - having said that, I think that Slater's pictures are among the best of all the field guides) are on the large side, but if I need one in the field, they fit into my jacket pocket in winter, or I just leave my belt a hole more open, and wedge the book into the small of my back (very useful for mudflats and mangroves)

Oh, and if you don't want the family accounts etc... in the back of the book, just take a razor to it and cut them out. In the Pizzey, it'll only save about 25 pages, so it's hardly worth the bother, but it would remove a significant chunk of the Simpson & Day.
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Old Friday 9th July 2004, 12:54   #17
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There's a review of the latest Simpson and Day on fatbirder.com
http://www.fatbirder.com/reviews/index.html?article=150
Sounds good but the reviewer makes one of the bizarrest statements I've ever seen,
"Morcombe probably has the best illustrations." EH?
Good text though as Mike says.

I'll be taking P&K and Morcombe with me in October and I'm sure I'll buy the new edition of P&K when I'm there.

E
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