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

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
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 nor 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.

Thanks for your critical additions, John. It often takes a view from the outside to get past the local pride, I guess. ;)

I should add that Australia has had some very fine FGs before this new one has now been added.
 
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Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
I got my copy yesterday and have had a bit of a look through. It's obviously very good and a noticeable improvement on all of the existing Australian guides. I've always been puzzled by people who claimed that there was no big need for an improved Australian field guide. The existing ones all had their strengths but all had significant flaws, certainly in comparison to the Collins guide. This book definitely provides something that's comparable to the Collins and Sibley guides.

On first impressions I'd agree that it's maybe not quite as good as the Collins. The illustrations, while very good, don't always seem quite as believable as most of the Collins ones. They sometimes seem a bit too clean and static looking - very slightly like they're pictures of stuffed birds rather than living ones (particularly the raptors). A few (particularly those by Jeff Davies) look a little bit anaemic, although the ones by Peter Marsack (most of the passerines) seem more saturated. The text seems good but I'd agree that it's not quite as efficient and to the ID point as the Collins. Sometimes they seem to get a bit carried away with the space they have and mention things that aren't that relevant e.g. the breeding habitat of vagrant North American waders. In the few cases I've compared against the Collins, it's not as comparative in the ID descriptions i.e. it doesn't say as much about how to distinguish species x from similar species y. It does do this, but could perhaps do it more in some cases.

There are some very good things though. An obvious thing is that they really seem to illustrate a lot of plumages and variations. For example, there are 14 illustrations for Long-tailed Skua, across a very wide range of plumages. There's also fairly liberal use of more impressionistic, 'jizzy', in-habitat illustrations of how birds might look in real life - something I like to see and that the Collins pioneered. These aren't as frequent as in the Collins but they're much more regularly used than in the Sibley.

It's also worth pointing out that this book isn't just useful for those birding in Australia. The treatment of Asiatic shorebirds might be the best in any current guide. If you're into seabirds you should also get this book. By my reckoning there 86 species of tubenose described and illustrated over 45 pages, in most cases with 5-10 illustrations per species. They also cover a few 'emerging' species in this group (e.g. 'New Caledonian Storm-Petrel'), which is nice to see.

Anyway, it's really good. Well done to all the people involved.
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
England
I've always been puzzled by people who claimed that there was no big need for an improved Australian field guide.

I certainly asked the question 'is there the market for another Australian guide', I personally never said anything about the need or otherwise for an 'improved' one and I can't recall that anyone else did? The fact that it's not so long since the last one was published (2012), made me wonder how much better it could reasonably be.

I had no intention of buying another Aussie field guide but the glowing reviews convinced me and I have to say that I am more than happy that I bought it.


A
 
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Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
I certainly asked the question 'is there the market for another Australian guide', I personally never said anything about the need or otherwise for an 'improved' one and I can't recall that anyone else did? The fact that it's not so long since the last one was published (2012), made me wonder how much better it could reasonably be.

I had no intention of buying another Aussie field guide but the glowing reviews convinced me and I have to say that I am more than happy that I bought it.


A

Wasn't thinking of you in particular Andy, though I think something along those lines has been posted on several occasions over many years on here (I can't remember exact details though!).

One other interesting point to make about the guide is the ordering of species along, somewhat, habitat based lines i.e. starting with 'Marine and coastal' and then going through 'Freshwater' to 'Land'. It's actually still somewhat in a 'normal' order (the passerines are all still in the second half, even the ones that live in freshwater habitats). It does mean that some groups that might ordinarily be far apart in a field guide but close together in the field are a bit nearer each other in this book (e.g. rails and herons, skuas and petrels).
 

Jim M.

Choose Civility
There's also fairly liberal use of more impressionistic, 'jizzy', in-habitat illustrations of how birds might look in real life - something I like to see and that the Collins pioneered.

"jizzy" in-habitat illustrations are actually frequent in pre-Collins guides as well. I've misplaced most of my oldest guides, but still have my 1970 version of The Hamlyn Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe. It has numerous such illustrations, e.g. on the bottom of p. 131 is an illustration titled "flock of Sanderlings and Ringed Plovers on a beach." (The book was illustrated by the American artist Arthur Singer, who also illustrated the 60s era Birds of North America by Robbins & Brunn, afaik the first guide to put maps, text, and illustrations all on the same page).

More to the point of the present thread, I have the eighth edition of Simpson and Day's Birds of Australia. It utilizes in-habitat jizzy illustrations to a greater extent than any other guide I've seen (except the photo-based Crossley guides). Not sure if the pre-Collins editions of that guide did the same, but it wouldn't surprise me.
 

MJB

Well-known member
One other interesting point to make about the guide is the ordering of species along, somewhat, habitat based lines i.e. starting with 'Marine and coastal' and then going through 'Freshwater' to 'Land'. It's actually still somewhat in a 'normal' order (the passerines are all still in the second half, even the ones that live in freshwater habitats). It does mean that some groups that might ordinarily be far apart in a field guide but close together in the field are a bit nearer each other in this book (e.g. rails and herons, skuas and petrels).

That's what struck me, too, and I'll be using it in August and September when Pete Colston and I do an old farts trip to the Kimberley, but also stop off at Broome Obs!

Does anyone know if there will be an app version with sounds, anytime soon?
MJB
 

Murray Lord

Well-known member
Does anyone know if there will be an app version with sounds, anytime soon?
MJB

Not any time soon. The authors have said it has been discussed, but it will be a decision the publishers make once they have an idea of sales numbers for the book.

Mind you I am not sure if good sales of the book or bad sales of the book would make an app version more likely! Probably they wait until we've all bought the book version before asking us to pay for it a second time.
 

MJB

Well-known member
Not any time soon. The authors have said it has been discussed, but it will be a decision the publishers make once they have an idea of sales numbers for the book.

Mind you I am not sure if good sales of the book or bad sales of the book would make an app version more likely! Probably they wait until we've all bought the book version before asking us to pay for it a second time.

Hi, Murray - thanks for the info!

Any chance of you being up in the Top End, Kimberleys, or Broome mid-August to late September?
MJB
 

aegithalos

Well-known member
There are some very good things though. An obvious thing is that they really seem to illustrate a lot of plumages and variations. For example, there are 14 illustrations for Long-tailed Skua, across a very wide range of plumages.

Yes, that is a good aspect in that group. However, the range of illustrations for the large gulls, especially kelp gull and Pacific gull, is much less complete, and these are commoner species in Australia. Eight species of vagrant gull each get about as much text and illustration as each of the three breeding species. Using just this book, how would one tell that a subadult large gull was eg kelp rather than vagrant eg lesser black-backed? Comparisons within the text are mostly with respect to other ages of the species under discussion, rather than same age of different species. Much of the text in Collins is to do with comparisons with other species.

Keith
 

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