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Pocket Field Guide to Birdlife of Queensland by Michael Morcombe (1 Viewer)

sicklebill

well-known Cretaceous relic
Australia
Pocket Field Guide to Birdlife of Queensland by Michael Morcombe, Steve Parish $29.95 pp. 324

Nice to see a guide that is just for Queensland, and in handy pocket size for once, unusual in Australian field guides that for years have mainly had cumbersome sizes for many editions. The laminated covers are also good and save weight whilst adding protection from the elements.
Morcombe’s art style is original and not to everyone’s taste, so in terms of artwork this guide is not in the front rank, but it does benefit by having annotations for each figure pointing out the salient field characters, and the maps are right by the text and illustration, so it is a handy and concise pocket format. The maps show core areas of occurrence and also where less frequently sighted, and this latter does quite often seem very optimistic to me- when was Painted Honeyeater last seen in far N Queensland for example? Jacky Winter is shown all over but is in reality nothing like that, and Mangrove Golden Whistler and Broad-billed Flycatcher are way too optimistic. I would also have had a map just showing Queensland and not venturing into a corner of the Northern Territory. He delimits subspecific ranges, which is useful, and deviates from standard taxonomic orders to have plates that allow comparison with similar but unrelated species.
The taxonomy is something of a sticking point however, as he seems somewhat out-dated or idiosyncratic, though it is nice to see Hornbill Friarbird included, oddly omitted from The Australian Bird Guide despite claiming to follow IOC taxonomy. Pacific Swallow is accepted here, though no records are as yet accepted, but good to flag the likely occurrence. Great Reed Warbler caught my eye, but he means of course Clamorous Reed Warbler, split long ago from this species, Buff-sided Robin gets relegated to subspecies, as does Frill-necked Monarch, so unfortunately and confusingly once again New Guinea endemic Frilled Monarch appears in an Australian guide. The split of Spotted and Black-eared catbirds is also not followed. Regrettably Yellow Oriole reappears too, this being a South American species with our bird being usefully renamed Green Oriole by more up-to-date texts, which also happens to be more appropriate for colour anyway. I regret Australian Magpie being subsumed into Cracticus on genetic grounds, as the morphology is so different that retaining Gymnorhina seems far better.
There is a more detailed photomontage for some 38 core Queensland species at the very start of the book, with good photos and a short very general section on where they may seen; I would have liked a checklist for Queensland birds rather than just tick boxes for the chosen 38 however.
There are short vignettes or quickguides for families, often grouped together and just giving a small picture and the name of each species in the family. The index seems good, and there is a handy colour-coded ready reckoner on the inside dust jacket so families can be readily found, a very useful feature. I also liked the short one-third plate showing the different bower structures for the bowerbirds.
Overall I like the guide, it is idiosyncratic in art style like Morecombe’s books always are, and far from perfect, but in a nice handy format. It is good to have what is actually only most (see later) Queensland species in one place, and other states are due to get their own versions, though the author, rather bizarrely, states that many species that are spread widely across all states are omitted. This is curious and perhaps unique for a field guide, and means they are simply ignored in the book! I could not see much that is widespread missing in the Queensland version apart from some migrant seabirds, shorebirds and some of the terns, whilst omitting vagrants and far distant island species is very sensible. All the omitted species are promised for a later volume it seems, but this undercuts being a convenient size pocket guide if you then have to carry two books, so the logic of this appears strange and lessens the appeal of the guide. Still, I have bought it and will make use of it, so recommended with the caveats above.
 

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