Australian field guides - a bit of a review. (1 Viewer)

Swissboy

Well-known member
My Simpson/Day edition dates from 1986. ....... I wonder whether newer editions still have only numbers? ......


Just found the answer to my own question. NHBS shows a few sample pages on their fine website. Thus, the names are now on the plate page as well. Certainly an important improvement over my old edition. Also, some of the pages look basically unchanged whereas others look redone. There are limits for comparing as the samples are not very large. Sufficient to give a good overall impression though.
 
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pshute

Well-known member
I've got the compact version of Morcombe, which is actually a few grams lighter than Slater.

In addition to some of the remarks above, I like the "quick index" inside the back cover, which takes you to the first page of each "family", e.g. honeyeaters, quails, etc. I feel that a lot of the damage to field guides comes from thumbing back a few pages to find the index. Having this in the back cover eliminates a lot of that.

It also has a glued in ribbon to use as a bookmark, which I find very useful, and more reliable than the other bookmarks I have in there, gum leaves, feathers, etc. that were lying around at the time.

An interesting difference between Morcombe and all the other guides is that the text and pictures for each species are together in a block on the one page. The others all have the text on the left page, the pictures on the right. It's also the only one to annotate the pictures, which saves a lot of time in the field when you're trying to to work out which field marks to look for.

I've had little trouble with the pictures, but I'm aware others have complained about them, and always keep another guide in the car to double check, usually Pizzey. It's my impression that every guide has some problems and strengths, so I think it's wise to check at least two if there's any doubt. I've got them all, and regularly check them all if I'm having trouble identifying something.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
..... I like the "quick index" inside the back cover, which takes you to the first page of each "family", e.g. honeyeaters, quails, etc.

It also has a glued in ribbon to use as a bookmark, which I find very useful ....

An interesting difference between Morcombe and all the other guides is that the text and pictures for each species are together in a block on the one page .... annotate(d) ... pictures ..... saves a lot of time in the field ........

I've had little trouble with the pictures ....... always keep another guide in the car to double check .... I think it's wise to check at least two if there's any doubt. I've got them all, and regularly check them all if I'm having trouble identifying something.

Well, I'd pretty much agree with all of the sentiments above.

However, given the huge popularity of our hobby, the number of brilliant bird artists out there and seventy-odd years of experience in producing field guides, isn't it just a bit outrageous that, in well birded countries, birders should ever feel the need for more than one book to confirm an ID? It's one of the disappointments of being an ornitho-bibliophile that, over ten years on, nobody elsewhere in the world has come remotely close to the magisterial authority and quality of the "Collins Guide",
 
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Chris Benesh

So much work, so little time...so let's go birding
Morcombe is definitely quite polarising - I know some who really like it and others who really hate it. Personally, I can overlook the duff bits of illustration for the useful ID pointers.
Here's another question - what elements of each would you combine to make the ideal field guide? I'd have the on-plate ID pointers and maps from Morcombe, artwork from Simpson and Day (corrected for orientation) and the text would be a combination of Morcombe and Pizzey and Knight with a smattering of the good bits from Slater.

Hi All,

Having done a bunch of trips to Australia over the years, I've picked up and used all of the available guides to the area. I think that colonelboris nailed it on the head with his summary above. S&D has the best illustrations (or at least, the most accurate and lifelike), but really suffers due to placement and orientation, making the brain work more than it should to process differences. I really like Pizzey & Knight, good artwork and species orientation, but there's a lot of wasted white space on the plates and far less info than in the original Pizzey. Morecombe's two guides have by far the best presentation of information, right on the plate with pointers indicating relevant field marks. There is no need to switch back and forth between text and plate. After years of using field guides to different places, I'm finding that this is just as important in a field guide as the orientation of the birds on the plate. I also think that Morecombe guides contain a greater amount of useful ID pointers than any of the other choices. Alas, aside from the original Pizzey, it also has the least consistent artwork.

As someone who knows the birds pretty well now, I was happy to see that Morecombe is available as an iPhone app now (maybe on Android too?). I will probably not take a printed field guide on my next visit to save on weight. But for a first time visitor, I don't think the phone apps make as good study aids. Maybe when the tablets, e-readers, etc. hit the big time, we can pack all of these along on our trips abroad.

Chris
 

Swissboy

Well-known member
...... It's one of the disappointments of being an ornitho-bibliophile that, over ten years on, nobody elsewhere in the world has come remotely close to the magisterial authority and quality of the "Collins Guide",

It's not only the authority that counts, but also the way it is presented. And after having thought about the pros and cons of various FGs, I realize that even the "Collins" (or better the one by Svensson et al, as there are many other "Collinses") would benefit from at least two features that are missing at present.

For one, the new FG for Panama (Angehr & Dean) always gives the page number in the text whenever a comparison with a species from another page is made. It is thus much easier to verify and to reinforce the info for oneself. I'm presently trying to prepare myself for an upcoming trip to that country. And I have come to the conclusion that such page references should become a standard part of every new FG as well as every new edition.

A second welcome feature is a alphabetical "quick-find" index as mentioned here by pshute. I know this feature from the National Geographic FG for the birds of North America, and I think it is much more useful than the few thumbtabs also found on that book. Thumbtabs only lead to an enlarged format, while they can never be as comprehensive as a cleverly done quick-find index. And the inside of the back cover is a good place for such an index; be that the cover itself or a flap attached to it as in the NG book. The one in the NG book is a very well thought out example with simple bold-face print indicating the start of names with a new first letter.
 
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John Cantelo

Well-known member
I found grappling with an entirely new avifaua extremely difficult on my visit to Oz. I'd managed fine when I first visited America (and subsequently), but then many groups there are fairly familiar to we Europeans. In Australia was extremely lucky to have the very best field guide of all, my old school friend and birding companion, Phil Gregory, at hand. Instant real time ID of all those puzzling squawks, squeeks and whistles (many of which weren't even avian in origin). Prompts given when needed and instant IDs when time was of the essence. A reference point for what should be where in yet another new habitat. All of which made a paper fieldguide (rather than an animated human one) a bit supurflous at times.

Once 'grounded' by a basic understanding gleaned from Phil using the guides and to sort out the birds became a lot easier. I also found it infinitely easier to learn the birds from real field experience than any amount of time staring at illustrations (however good). The point I'm struggling towards is that whilst not everyone might relish going on an organised trip, even experienced birds (unless they're preternaturally talented) will find a few days on arrival with a good local birder will help enormously
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
... the "Collins" (or better the one by Svensson et al, as there are many other "Collinses") would benefit from at least two features that are missing at present.QUOTE]

Sorry, I meant Svesson et al which is often just called the Collins Guide' in the UK. I absolutely agree with the points made about the two missing features,
 

colonelboris

Right way up again
I found grappling with an entirely new avifaua extremely difficult on my visit to Oz. I'd managed fine when I first visited America (and subsequently), but then many groups there are fairly familiar to we Europeans. In Australia was extremely lucky to have the very best field guide of all, my old school friend and birding companion, Phil Gregory, at hand. Instant real time ID of all those puzzling squawks, squeeks and whistles (many of which weren't even avian in origin). Prompts given when needed and instant IDs when time was of the essence. A reference point for what should be where in yet another new habitat. All of which made a paper fieldguide (rather than an animated human one) a bit supurflous at times.

Once 'grounded' by a basic understanding gleaned from Phil using the guides and to sort out the birds became a lot easier. I also found it infinitely easier to learn the birds from real field experience than any amount of time staring at illustrations (however good). The point I'm struggling towards is that whilst not everyone might relish going on an organised trip, even experienced birds (unless they're preternaturally talented) will find a few days on arrival with a good local birder will help enormously

I managed to pick up a copy of the UK edition of P&K a few months before moving out, which helped no end when I got to Australia. I must have read it cover to cover three times before I got out here.
 

Swissboy

Well-known member
...Sorry, I meant Svesson et al which is often just called the Collins Guide' in the UK. ..

No problem, I just tried to generalise a bit more, as the same holds for the US edition. And I'm sure the various forthcoming or already published translations will be in the same boat.
Also, Collins has the bad habit to call all the FGs the same in a way. Just adding the specifics kind of like an attachment. There is a German publisher (Kosmos) that does the same. So we get lots of Kosmos Naturf├╝hrer. I also still have a Collins Birds of Europe by Peterson et al. And then, of course Collins FG Birds of Mexico and Central America, and a few more such "Collins" ones.
But as long as we all know what is meant, I don't object for brevity's sake to just call it the"Collins" for the book in question here.
 

pshute

Well-known member
When I travel I always take the Simpson and Day because that is where I keep records of first sightings of new birds, using the check boxes.
Mike, have you written your name and phone number on your copy of S&D? I've heard of several people who do the same thing, but then lost the book on a trip. No idea what chance you'd have of getting it back that way, but the chances otherwise must be about zero.

I put my details in the front of every field guide and every notebook I start, with the words "PLEASE return ASAP!".
 

Videoman

Member
I have used S&D for several years, spending weeks, and sometimes months, in the outback etc.. The book stays with my vehicle, and is used to check my identification of species when I return to my camp.

If you can't identify a species using this book you probably won't identify it at all.

Having been brought up on Troughton's "What Bird Is That", and having for many early years to try and identify birds using the not too good, tiny pictures, I am very happy to be able to use any of the now available field guides, all of which are a great help at times.

I now use S&D and am happy to continue using it; it is easy and quick to find what I am looking for, although now and then I have filmed birds that I have not yet identified, and not been able to find in any book.
 

pshute

Well-known member
However, given the huge popularity of our hobby, the number of brilliant bird artists out there and seventy-odd years of experience in producing field guides, isn't it just a bit outrageous that, in well birded countries, birders should ever feel the need for more than one book to confirm an ID? It's one of the disappointments of being an ornitho-bibliophile that, over ten years on, nobody elsewhere in the world has come remotely close to the magisterial authority and quality of the "Collins Guide",
I haven't actually seen this Collins Guide, but I wonder if the problem is that you just can't fit enough pictures into a book small enough to be called a field guide in order to cover all the plumage variations. How many species does the Collins Guide cover?

I sometimes wonder if people's preference for one guide might reflect the fact that the particular plumage variations of the specimens that artist drew from might happen to match those in their local area.

That said, I'm not that impressed by some aspects of the layout of HANZAB. For those of you who don't know it, it's a 7 volume set (two of which are double volumes) costing several thousand dollars and weighing the equivalent of maybe 30 or 40 copies of Pizzey and Knight. I've often thought it would be nice if they released it as a set of illustrations only, as they cover many plumage variations and the resulting book ought to be a manageable size.

HANZAB isn't intended to be a field guide, but the plate pages are inserted in groups, so they are rarely near the associated text, and it's a struggle to find them, let alone refer to them while reading. The illustrations are also numbered, so you have to refer to a numbered list on the page next to it. This list doesn't have a line per illustration either, they're squeezed in several to a line, so it's hard to even work out which number you want to look at. A wonderful resource, but it makes all the field guides look good in terms of easy access.
 

Chris Benesh

So much work, so little time...so let's go birding
Speaking of HANZAB, I've always been very impressed with the artwork of Jeff Davies who contributed a lot of work to it. The Birds of Prey of Australia and The Owls of Australia feature his illustrations. The illustrations are superior to any of the main guides for Australia, IMO, especially the raptors. His seabird stuff and buttonquail/quail stuff from HANZAB is also much better than that found in the main guides. He would get my vote for chief illustrator of the Aussie dream guide.

Chris
 
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John Cantelo

Well-known member
I haven't actually seen this Collins Guide, but I wonder if the problem is that you just can't fit enough pictures into a book small enough to be called a field guide in order to cover all the plumage variations. How many species does the Collins Guide cover?
QUOTE]

I guess we're wandering off topic a bit and into generalities, but for your information the 2009 edition of the 'Collins Bird Guide' by Svesson et al covers 713 species in full plus 59 vagrants (all briefly described, most illustrated by a single portrait) with another 32 likely escapes/feral birds given similar treatement. Hence not that different from Australian guides.

Its, however, a 'standard' sized filed guide in the 'Collins' tradition rather than the preferred (to me) 'tall and thin' style utilized by Slatter and Morecombe. Incidentally this style was pioneered in the UK (as was 'block' treatment [as against plate/text segregation], multiple images and annotated illustrations) by the flawed, but much under rated 'Birdwatchers' Pocket Guide' by Hayman & Hume (particularly the more recent 'European' version). Sadly, the most recent editions of this book also illustrate what happens when publishers and/or designers seem to have the whip hand rather than authors/birders. One of the great strengths of Morecombe's book is that his publisher seems to have given him a free hand making it, arguably, the most user friendly guide I know,
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Tony, John,
I wouldn't describe myself as a field user of "field guides", preferring to travel light when going for a walk.
I too like to read these many times over to "know what my known unknowns" are.........

I have used Morcombe's one, and as has been mentioned by others, find some of the drawings a bit naff, although some of the descriptions, the graded distribution maps, and nest/hollow/egg information is quite good/useful.
I generally find most field guide drawings a bit lacking in "life" and some way too colour saturated.

Consequently, in books, I mostly rely on photographic types - two excellent ones are "Australian Birds" - D. & M. Trounson (whose classifications I find particularly helpful), and "Birds of Australia" - J. Flegg with S. Madge (a field guide), details of both here http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=2016235#post2016235
The limitations with these of course is with juvenilles and immatures.

When it comes to raptors I use two excellent reference books:-
Diurnal: "Australian Birds Of Prey" - P. Olsen, details here http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?p=2018486#post2018486
Nocturnal: "Owls, Frogmouths and Nightjars of Australia" - D.Hollands, details here http://www.amazon.com/Frogmouths-Ni...=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1294314605&sr=1-1

In a field guide size raptor book, I use the superb :t: "The Birds of Prey of Australia - A Field Guide" by Stephen Debus, mine published by J.B. Books Pty. Ltd. (2001 reprint) ISBN 1 876622 34 2 approx. A5 size, 152 pgs.
Chris, I have to agree, the illustrations of Jeff Davis in this book are very good.

For outstanding drawings, see the work of Humphrey Price-Jones (in Penny Olsens book above).
I believe he also has several books published, although I haven't laid peepers on any of these yet.......

So what's my ideal field guide? simple really.......none!
(If I'm ever stranded miles from anywhere with a busted up leg, or snake bite - I reckon a mobile phone's gunna be far more useful to me than a book!)
With the release of 7" smart phones my preference would be for apps that encompass complete sets of recognition info, photo's, video, bird calls (and matching voice recognition for that matter!), real time GPS data and distribution /freqency maps, matching seasonal and climatic info and of course a BirdForum link!.................now about that mobile phone reception....
Nah! actually that's all sounding a bit "matrix" - who wants all that EMF radiation flying around anyway.........
Think I'll stick with doing bird spirit, and soaring with the eagles......

Chosun ;)


_________________________________________________________________

Bought an "Alpha" off the net the other day, some bloke turned up and instead of bino's, I now have an old, but stylish, rusting red automobile with dodgy electrics.......... :p
 

Murray Lord

Well-known member
Another Australian field guide coming

Speaking of HANZAB, I've always been very impressed with the artwork of Jeff Davies who contributed a lot of work to it. The Birds of Prey of Australia and The Owls of Australia feature his illustrations. The illustrations are superior to any of the main guides for Australia, IMO, especially the raptors. His seabird stuff and buttonquail/quail stuff from HANZAB is also much better than that found in the main guides. He would get my vote for chief illustrator of the Aussie dream guide.

Chris

Chris you are in luck. CSIRO publishing has a team working on a new field guide to Australian birds and Jeff Davies and Peter Marsack (another HANZAB illustrator) will be the artists. There are three authors of the text and I have heard that the aim is to produce something of comparable quality to the European Collins Bird Guide. I don't know what the timing is - my guess is it's a couple of years away.

It's hard to believe that there will soon be five field guides available for a country with only 20 million people (and that's not counting the photo guides). It would be interesting to know how many copies they sell. From what I have heard it's in the six figure range.

Murray
 

Chris Benesh

So much work, so little time...so let's go birding
Murray,

Wow! That is really great news. I've always been impressed with the way that Australia invests in producing great natural history field guides. While I would rate all of the existing bird guides as very good, I look forward to something with those illustrators. CSIRO has done some great stuff over the years.

Chris
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Chris you are in luck. CSIRO publishing has a team working on a new field guide to Australian birds and Jeff Davies and Peter Marsack (another HANZAB illustrator) will be the artists. There are three authors of the text and I have heard that the aim is to produce something of comparable quality to the European Collins Bird Guide. I don't know what the timing is - my guess is it's a couple of years away.

It's hard to believe that there will soon be five field guides available for a country with only 20 million people (and that's not counting the photo guides). It would be interesting to know how many copies they sell. From what I have heard it's in the six figure range.

Murray


Sounds good - all the more reason to go back there in a few years' time! I do hope, though, that they pinch a lot of Morcombe's ideas vis a vis the size and shape of the book plus all those useful its design features already outlined here,
 

colonelboris

Right way up again
Hi Chosun,

Thanks for highlighting some of the other books out there - I'd struggle to justify buying any more books, so much appreciated.
 

colonelboris

Right way up again
Another mini-review to add:
What Birds Is That?, Revised field edition, 1991. Neveille W. Cayley
442 pages, 700 grams.

This is one of the oldest Australian field guides, originally written in 1931, but updated a few times since. I've heard of a few older birders using this and it was going cheap (RRP A$29.95 - cheapest cover price of the Aus. field guides), so now you get to hear about it.
As one might expect, it looks fairly old-fashioned in a nice way. The plates are separate to the text and while quite nice to look at, are not necessarily great for identification. As was usual for the time, some of the birds appear in 'museum poses', in that you'd probably not see a live bird doing the head-down, wings slightly held out posture that so many old museum pieces have. The swallows and swifts, especially, look very posed. Some of the paltes can be crowded and the pictures are often small.
For all that, the text itself has some very useful behavioural notes that I've not seen in the other guides. For all that, the behavioural notes in this field edition are much reduced compared to the hardback.
The book is kept somewhat up to date by revisions from Terence R. Lindsay, so that several vagrant species and splits are included. Island and territory species don't appear to be included.
The grouping of the species is not generally taxonomic, but by habitat. There are also no range maps, but written descriptions of distributions.
All in all, a fairly nice book and it may suit some people more than others, depending on how you like the species to be ordered.
The book is quite compact and more pocket-sized than Slater and only a shade heavier.

In brief
Positive: Light and compact; nice pointers on behaviour.
Negative: Artwork can look dated; no distribution maps; small pictures.
 

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