Considering how many tourists are attracted to the southern African region by its bird-rich Okavango Delta, Namibian endemics or larks of Karoo, this new aid in bird identification is a most welcome sight. Unlike its South African namesakes (namely Newman's and SASOL), this new edition has one major advantage: it's a pocket-sized book that successfully avoids the bulkiness of its predecessors. Not only the text, illustrations and maps of distribution are of decent quality, but the size of volume is also of importance in the eyes of an average tourist - most likely, his or her bags are already overfilled.
The text is brief, covering Southern Africa in the wider sense. This volume includes not only South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia - but also Angola, Zambia and Malawi. That means there was little space left to explain the preferred habitat of each of the 1,200 or so species covered, but text sharply focuses on major identification marks of our birds: the feather colours, the body shape, the bill length or whatever else is important for a particular bird.
The most important part of every bird identification guide, however, is its illustrations. The bird plates show in full colour every single species, plus a difference between the sexes, the adults and the young, the breeding and non-breeding birds, etc. Some plates with more than ten, even closer to twenty species tend to be overcrowded. The colours tend to be somewhat too bright, too strong - probably a printing error - but it's not that much of a problem as the opposite (faded colours) would be. Generally, despite minor complaints the illustrations are fine enough for accurate identification.
The distribution maps are the least precise part of every guide, usually showing where birders were - that is, showing the current level of knowledge and not the real distribution. Despite this, the maps in van Perlo's are pretty accurate (except, perhaps, the bird distributions in Angola) which is not a surprise since the southern African region is the most researched part of the continent. With the number of species per plate, it was not possible to place the distribution maps on the opposite page, as usual in a majority of similar volumes, so the maps are at the end of a book. It is not practical to waste your observation time turning too many pages to check if the suspected bird lives in particular area, but there is no alternative. This is, perhaps, van Perlo's book's greatest weakness.
If you either briefly visit the southern African region, or live there and want to have a second, brief and concise field guide, look no further: Ber van Perlo fulfilled your need.