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

pshute

Well-known member
Australia
Another mini-review to add:
What Birds Is That?, Revised field edition, 1991. Neville W. Cayley
I haven't seen a recent edition of this. Mine is about 50 years old, and I'd say the biggest problem is the small pictures. I've heard people complain about their quality, but when you look closely, they aren't that bad. It's just that such tiny pictures were never going to turn out well with the printing resolutions of the day, and probably not even today.

I'm also not a fan of numbered pictures. Is it still like that? having to look them up in the key opposite can lead to mistakes.

Having all the birds on each plate drawn at the same scale can be useful, although it leads to some of them being unnecessarily tiny.
 

colonelboris

Right way up again
I haven't seen a recent edition of this. Mine is about 50 years old, and I'd say the biggest problem is the small pictures. I've heard people complain about their quality, but when you look closely, they aren't that bad. It's just that such tiny pictures were never going to turn out well with the printing resolutions of the day, and probably not even today.

I'm also not a fan of numbered pictures. Is it still like that? having to look them up in the key opposite can lead to mistakes.

Having all the birds on each plate drawn at the same scale can be useful, although it leads to some of them being unnecessarily tiny.

I picked up a new paperback copy in QBD at the weekend (although the colour they use makes it look faded). It still has the numbered plates and as you say, although the pictures are small, the detail is there. It's just some of the poses are not so good. I forgot to say about the scaling of the images and the scale at the bottom - useful features.

At some point, I might get round to a run-down on Birds of the Top End.
 

Azzy

Well-known member
I own both Simpson and Day, and Morcombe. I have had S&D for at least 5 years and it has been my constant travel companion and has served me very well, though at times I have wished for a second guide. S&D is nice, the illustrations are well done, but admittedly the plates are confusing with the orientation and placement of the birds, and there are flights views where I feel they're not needed and no flight images where I would really benefit from them. Towards the end of last year I invested in Morcombe, the additional text is a valuable resource and I've found myself comparing images between the two books. Morcombe's images can be a bit static, but I sometimes find that the simplicity of them makes for comparing ID features of similar birds easier at times, although it does depend on the bird and images. The layout of the images is much nicer, makes great use of space, plenty of flight images which is fantastic and very useful and the placement of the images next to the relevant text makes figuring out what bird you're looking at much simpler. It's a bit bulky for me for when I'm walking, I always carry S&D when I'm walking for quick ref. and I either carry morcombe in the car or just compare when I get home. When I was researching for a second field guide, I was preffering Pizzey and Knight from what I was seeing online, but then I got to the store, and flicked through both and Morcombe just made much more sense to me.

I've had the opportunity to use Slater on many Uni camps, but to be honest, the perfect layout of the illustrations always put me off for some reason, although I guess it is a good comparison, it just seemed to lifeless to me and I could never get the feel for it.

For most things, I find that one guide in the field is sufficient, especially now that I know my birds better, but I know for things that I don't know, like shorebirds etc, having an additional guide to compare to is really valuable.
 

Roaminoz

New member
Great thread. And to each his own. I've got all four guides. Pizzey/Knight; S+D/ Slater/ Morcombe. I use all four. But overall I guess Pizzey/Knight would be 'my bible'. Jude
 

Alf King

Well-known member
As the Morcombe compact guide is £50 in the UK I guess that I'll try to pick one up in Oz.

How much is it there?

I notice it doesn't feature alongside all the others on Lloyd Nielsen's web site.
 

MJB

Well-known member
As the Morcombe compact guide is £50 in the UK I guess that I'll try to pick one up in Oz. How much is it there? I notice it doesn't feature alongside all the others on Lloyd Nielsen's web site.

Last year it was Au$47.50, about £30, but any still on the shelf may be the last hard-copy issue - future issues will be electronic, by what I believe is called an "app".
MJB
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Last year it was Au$47.50, about £30, but any still on the shelf may be the last hard-copy issue - future issues will be electronic, by what I believe is called an "app".
MJB

So when you are out birding and your batteries run out, you just quit birding?

I don't like this at all. I often make notes alongside of particular species.

And of course, trying to look up something a few years later, will mean you are likely to start all over as the system has changed. :eek!:

So, I think while electronic versions may be most attractive for several reasons, the printed one should still be available.
 

Nermal

New member
I've been looking around at different field guides and I thank you for the wonderful review.
I thought I'd add a few things to Morcombe's app. This is AWESOME as it has the bird calls and tells you which species, male or female and why the bird is calling. I have found this to be a life saver when you cannot actually SEE the birds identifying marks. It is also good in that there is only the phone weight and the search section is good for a novice like me. You can select birds in your region, what the bird looks like, physical features, colour, exclusions and size.
You can record your findings on the app and it recalls all your sightings for easy reference (which can be emailed or text’d)
I live in the western planes of NSW and because of this great app, in the last 6 months I have seen/identified 110 individual bird species (with around 330 left to find).
There is also a compare section where you can click on two different birds and it will show them side by side.

Only drawback is the actual images can be a bit misleading (eg. Red Goshawk looks a lot stripe-ier than it is). I have a photographic field guide which is good but I’m looking at buying another guide…from this thread I’ve decided to get a Simpson and Day...now it is just finding one that isn’t going to cost me too much!

Thanks colonelboris for the review!
 

Hatch

New member
The Australian field guides are all good reading, and as mentioned above by other posts the larger range of species they cover, can 'sometimes' mean a slight loss in more detailed information, as they go for a quantity listing. But usually even then the information is enough.
All the above mentioned recommendations are going to serve you well, so to narrow them down is extremely hard, they are all top quality. As you move along in your research you may want to then reduce done to a certain species of interest, you can then head for a title specially on that bird. Sometimes it is good to go with a general field guide, as you never know what birds you will see out there! One (of many) I like is:
Know Your Birds
Good luck with it.
 
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Pat MS

Well-known member
I have read that the Pizzey and Knight guide is also available for iPad but can't seem to find where I can buy it online. I've got the lite (free) version of the Morcombe but would like to have a look at others before I decide which to buy. Are there any other electronic versions of Australian field guides becoming available in the next few months?
 

pshute

Well-known member
Australia
I have read that the Pizzey and Knight guide is also available for iPad but can't seem to find where I can buy it online. I've got the lite (free) version of the Morcombe but would like to have a look at others before I decide which to buy. Are there any other electronic versions of Australian field guides becoming available in the next few months?

It's not yet available, as far as I know. You can register your email adress to be informed when it is:
http://www.gibbonmm.com.au/tour/PKBA_PC.aspx

I've no idea how far off it is, or if any others are coming soon. I'm pretty sure it's the Morcombe app or nothing at the moment.
 

Dimitris

Birdwatcher in Oz
The Morcombe Illustrations are atrocious especially for shorebirds and petrels. Considering that these are the toughest groups to id in Australia I consider this to be a great failing for a field guide.

The text is fantastic though.
 

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.

Murray

Well, that was posted in Jan 2011 and a couple of years have gone by .... any further news of this opus?
 
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chowchilla

Well-known member
The Morcombe Illustrations are atrocious
The text is fantastic though.
Can't argue with that.... I mostly have the Morcombe app on my phone for the calls which is really very useful indeed even if I still get caught out from time to time, such as a very atypical call that Fuscous Honeys were making at Kaban the other week.
 

Murray Lord

Well-known member
I think it'll still take some time, but still in the works. I may be wrong though

Yes that's my understanding. The team are still at work; from what I last heard it's still far enough away that no one is talking about target publication dates yet. I have seen one sample plate but that's all.
 

pshute

Well-known member
Australia
I haven't heard anything. In the meantime, the Pizzey app has come out. Many consider that the illustrations are better than the Morcombe app, but that the call recordings aren't. I've got both, and I find Morcombe easier to use.
 

sicklebill

well-known Cretaceous relic
Australia
The new CSIRO Australian Bird Guide is out, it has now even reached north Queensland, after having been sighted in the UK and Japan some time earlier!
This is now the state of the art guide for Australia, being authoritative, more or else up-to-date with IOC taxonomy (5.4 was the cut off so they seem to think that did not include Hornbill Friarbird for some reason, I must check back as I think it did), and with very good illustrations by 3 artists.
It's a heavy beast, it weighs more than Pizzey and Knight, so not one to slip in the pants pocket unless you want to lose 'em.
Text is compact but good and opposite the plates, with the maps at the bottom of the text page- this causes some issues as they are necessarily very small, so reading and seeing which subspecies becomes hard, though it works well enough with monotypic species or those with just a couple of taxa.

Rarities from the various offshore islands (Christmas, Cocos etc) are scattered throughout but are not too intrusive, and do make for handy comparisons.

I found the omission of body length strange, we now have to learn how to compute relative size by wing length, all very scientifically rigorous no doubt but a pain in the butt in practical terms. I am sure this was discussed at length but it will take some getting used to....

So, it's up in the same general league as the Collins Guide for European species and the Sibley guides to North America, now the gold standard for field guides. Well done to the authors Peter Menkhorst, Danny Rogers, Rohan Clarke and the artists Jeff Davies, Peter Marsack and Kim Franklin.

Price seems to vary enormously, anywhere from AU$39.95 to about $60.00, so shop around!
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
I found the omission of body length strange, we now have to learn how to compute relative size by wing length, all very scientifically rigorous no doubt but a pain in the butt in practical terms. I am sure this was discussed at length but it will take some getting used to....

It seems doubly bizarre given that they include weight "as it gives a helpful index of the bulk of a bird" which, of course, is only true if you've some idea of the body length which they don't give! It's not as if there isn't room as it could easily be added (and I'd be tempted to pencil it in from other sources). Perverse!

I've also now had time to compare it with the Collins Bird Guide particularly those species (mainly waders) that they have in common. I'd say that the text is far better written in Collins; more concise & accessible. On this basis I also reckon that, although remaining as thick, the page size could have been a third smaller making it more of a field guide.
 
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