on 28 July 2012
This is the revised edition of "Seabirds - an identification guide" by Peter Harrison. The author, who actually looks like an old fashioned sea captain, and his wife Carol spent seven years on the world's oceans to gather information for this field guide to end all field guides. Gee, don't these guys have day jobs? Maybe they do, after a fashion: Harrison worked as a deckhand aboard trawlers and crayfishing boats to more easily study and sketch seabirds. I wonder what his crew mates made of that!
As you might have guessed, "Seabirds" is illustrated by deckhand Harrison himself. Personally, I'm a bird book-watcher rather than a birdwatcher, so I tend to buy bird books for aesthetic reasons. I admit that Harrisonian aesthetics weren't really to my liking, but then, I'm a Jonsson aficionado. The selection of species is also somewhat arbitrary: very few shorebirds, but a whole lot of pelicans, cormorants, loons and grebes. Even grebes that don't live anywhere near the sea have been included. The exceedingly rare Atitlan Grebe can be found only in one lake in Guatemala (if you're lucky). That's a seabird? As for ducks, a representative selection has been included, but only in an appendix with illustrations in black-and-white. Do crayfishers have a secret conflict with eiders?
Otherwise, "Seabirds" looks like most field guides are supposed to look like. There's an extensive colour plate section, and in the main text section we get information on distribution, juveniles, various plumages, similar species and some special tips concerning identification. A problem is that the maps are tucked away in a third section at the back of the book. The colour plates don't indicate distribution. I was somewhat surprised to learn that both the Northern and the Southern Giant Petrels are confined to the South Atlantic, and that the "southern" species have a more northern range! Any explanation? Or just one of those "odd jobs"?
Still, I don't doubt that this is the field guide if your favourite haunts include South Georgia, Kerguelen, Antarctica or...Lake Atitlan. Four stars!