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Review - Field Guide to Birds of North Queensland –Phil Gregory & Jun Matsui (1 Viewer)

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Field Guide to Birds of North Queensland –Phil Gregory & Jun Matsui Pub. New Holland Dec 2019 ISBN –9781925546255 Paperback. 432Pp 150x210cm A$50.

I must first make a confession and admission; I’m not a great fan of conventional photo-guides and the author is an old friend (I’m in the acknowledgments and was given a copy of the book). Keep this in mind as you read my post. However, as I’ve not seen the guide reviewed (or even mentioned) elsewhere I thought I’d flag-up its existence by writing a short review.

Given the author’s long association with the famous “Cassowary House Birders’ B&B,” the photo of a Cassowary on the front cover is an apt as well as striking choice. (In fact, I’m pretty sure that it's of ‘Gertie’ the female bird that often visits Cassowary House). The back cover tells me it covers “more than 420” species with only extreme vagrants (from other Australian states and elsewhere) being omitted. Two regular visitors to Boigu and Saibai(islands just off Papua New Guinea) are described (and one is also illustrated) but rarer visitors to these geographically anomalous islands are omitted. The book doesn’t give the number of photos but I estimate there to be just over 1,440 (remarkably over 1,350 of these are by Jun Matsui himself). This is a more generous allocation than many such books. Hence over 85% of the species are illustrated in four photographs, 8% in three, somewhat fewer in two and for the remainder, a single photo must suffice (or in the case of some species, mostly buttonquails, artwork). Each species (apart from common Myna and Mistletoebird which share a page with the two oddities from the straits) are afforded a full page each. The area covered, described and shown in a map in the introduction, is essentially the finger of land that is the Cape York Peninsula plus its base down as far as Townsville.
This is very much a conventional photo-guide with photos below and beside the texts for each species. Unlike an increasing number of such guides, images of the birds have not been digitally isolated and manipulated to mimic artist illustrated guides. Given the inevitable additional costs involved, this is understandable if a book with a relatively small publication run is to remain affordable. I found the photographs of a good quality, well-chosen and those few that weren't as sharp as might be hoped were generally illustrating a distinctive feature (particularly in flight). The photos generally did a good job of capturing a species’ jizz (I particularly like the photos Frill-necked Monarch on the back cover and in the species account for example). The bottom line is that most species, most of the time would be identifiable from these images alone.

The text is concise, well written and makes good use of italics (but remember I may be biased!). Reading through the various accounts it's obvious that the author knows the species described very well and has focussed on the best features to allow confident identification of birds well seen and carefully observed. Describing bird vocalisations in written form is always tricky but the author has done an excellent job in doing so. It’s also plain that PhilGregory is very well aware of taxonomic developments in Australianornithology signaling, as he does, potential splits with the text anticipating, for example, the division of Graceful Honeyeater into two species (Cryptic Honeyeater now being the name for the southern form). A short description of status/distribution is also given which seems to me to have been well done (I lack the knowledge to be certain!). Personally, as I told the author, I’d have liked to have seen distribution maps rather than a written description but I gather adding them would have added enormously to the work involved and delayed the publication. Perhaps this could be considered in later editions (I’ll help Phil!).

As I confessed at the start, I’m not a fan of photo-guides but on my recent long stay in Queensland to my surprise found myself turning to this guide more often than the alternatives at hand. Being roughly the size of the familiar (to European birders) Collins Guide it's far easier to take into the field than the gargantuan ‘Australian Bird Guide’. If you’re visiting Cairns (as many birders do) and exploring to the south, north and east then you would be foolish not to consider getting this book, particularly if, unlike me, you’re a fan of the photo-guide genre. Congratulations to Phil & Jun for putting together such a useful guide (I know I’m biased but they deserve it!).


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Not well publicised or distributed at all John, Phil, I can't find a single copy for sale in the UK or Europe but it was only a very quick Google though using both title and ISBN.

What was the print run Phil?
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Indeed so, Andy. New Holland doesn't seem to have made much of an effort to publicise this useful guide which is why I thought I'd flag it up.
Not well publicised or distributed at all John, Phil, I can't find a single copy for sale in the UK or Europe but it was only a very quick Google though using both title and ISBN.

What was the print run Phil?

Phil's off on his travels so probably won't see your question, Andy, but I suspect that, given how incommunicative many publishers are, as the author, he has no more idea than anyone else!
Only a year late, but thanks for a nice review JC; New Holland have been awful in paying royalties and and I have no idea of the print run, but I do know it is not being distributed in the UK for some bizarre reason which is very frustrating, and the covid disaster has wrecked it all anyway. I was well annoyed it was not available at the 2019 Birdfair, seemed a huge missed opportunity.
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