on 11 October 2013
I am a big fan of photographic guides - especially Kenn Kaufman's North American series and WILDGuides pioneering UK-centred field guides. I have also enjoyed Crossley's excellent eastern North America guide and love the new Warbler Guide. I've almost worn the cover off my copy of Howell's Hummingbirds of North America. So I was naturally excited when Princeton University Press kindly sent me a review copy of this photo guide to the birds of the UK.
The book is aimed at beginners and intermediate birders. It covers Britain's commonest 300 birds, so beginners will not be confused and daunted by a host of extralimital European species and vagrants. Species are arranged in an order that groups broadly similar-looking birds together to facilitate comparison. Computer-manipulated photographs are the mainstay of the book - those familiar with Crossley's previous work will know what to expect: multiple individual bird images are shown in their typical habitat.
The supporting text is very good: written by an acknowledged expert, it is short and pithy (although to my mind text and plates could be better integrated and more mutually supportive). Population figures are a welcome feature and can help separate commoner species from rarer lookalikes (e.g. Marsh Tit is now ten times more common than Willow Tit in the UK). The accompanying maps are the perfect size and easy to interpret.
At 16 x 24 cm, this is not a field guide - although the authors make no claim that it is: Crossley states that his guides are "a halfway-house between traditional field guides and being in the field". Photographic quality varies from excellent to (occasionally) inadequate, and some images are tiny or blurred. Some common species, like Garden Warbler, do not have a really representative photo and good comparative images (showing similar species under comparable light conditions and in the same pose) are generally lacking. Photo editing is less than state-of-the-art and has left some of the birds at odd angles, in an unnatural perspective, with disconcerting shadow effects, or truncated legs. I wonder how beginners will tackle Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff using these plates?
I find gauging size to be one of the major drawbacks of the book, even though the authors deliberately set out to convey size. The comparative plates in the introduction are confusing, even though they were "carefully measured": oddly the Mistle Thrush looks about the same size as the Nightingale, Coal Tit looks similar to Nuthatch, Woodpigeon appears a bit slighter than Rock Dove, House Martin and Swift have comparable wingspans, and Little Owl is as large as Barn Owl.
A book like this is the product of decades of field experience and years of hard work, and the end result is never perfect, but I think that this book could have been improved by sourcing better photographs, improving the editing and manipulation of images, and by better combining the text with the plates. The Britain & Ireland book is not as well finished as the previous Crossley guides. Perhaps I have been spoilt by the likes of Kenn Kaufman, WILDGuides, Steve Howell, Stephenson & Whittle, and Crossley himself. Nevertheless, with hundreds of bird photographs collected in one place, this is a great book for armchair birding that will undoubtedly help birders hone their skills away from the field.
This "halfway-house" does leave the market wide open for a proper, well-executed photographic field guide to the UK's birds for birders of all levels...
Chris Sharpe, 11 October 2013. ISBN-13: 9780691151946
on 31 October 2013
Unique in its presentation, this book is not only a joy to behold, it will absolutely improve your birding skills. I highly recommend this book to both birders and non-birders. It is beautiful. The pages truly show birds in their natural habitats and gives ample comparisons which include age, sex, flight and behaviours. All of these combined make it a book you will want to keep, one at home and one in your car!
on 23 October 2013
I just bought this book and I simply love looking at it. It really makes sense, showing birds in their natural habitats, behaviour and lots of examples of different plumages. To my eyes, it's not really a photographic guide. As Nick Baker says, `it spans the gap between traditional guides with paintings and the newer guides with photographs'. The book is aimed at beginner and intermediate birders and this is who I am. Simply put, I think this will become the main guide for people like me in Britain. Just get it!
on 20 February 2014
The arrival in 2011 of Richard Crossley’s ID Guide to Eastern North American birds certainly opened the eyes of many UK birders to the way that photo montages could be used to great effect, and similarly his recent book on Raptors had us wanting even more. But were we ready for him to give “our” local birds the same digital treatment? A few people were in for a shock!
Let’s look at the book itself. An active UK birder is likely to encounter at least 200 species in a year, and some will get above 250, so the 330 featured in this book cover exactly what most people need. In this book we have all of the breeding and wintering species, plus all of the regular migrants and a few semi-rarities.
Just like the East North America book the layout mostly allows each of the commoner species a page of their own, while those that are rarer either get a third or a quarter page. Each full page species is described in around 150 words giving ID tips and general guidance on how to see it, plus there is a colour distribution map and seasonal abundance data. The rarer species are covered in about 80-100 words without a map or data.
The decisions as to which species go into each category are mostly sensible, but several less common breeding species have been downgraded to have no map - which is really unhelpful. These include Hawfinch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Woodlark and Goshawk - all of which are widespread even if uncommon. Other breeders that really ought to have a map are Honey Buzzard, Quail, Corn Crake, Eurasian Bittern, Stone Curlew, Storm and Leach’s Petrels, Red-necked Phalarope and Dotterel. Among the wintering species that also lack a map are Jack Snipe and Yellow-legged Gull. Abundance data is not given for any of these - and there seems to be no good reason for this.
Much use is made in the text of 5-letter and 2-letter codes (for example COMTE or CT for Common Tern). These were developed by the British Trust for Ornithology for shorthand use in surveys and ringing, but in this book I find them really annoying - especially when used to caption a page of flight shots. In fact the result was to slow down the speed with which I identified the birds - which is surely not what the authors aimed to achieve!
The Crossley Guide approach involves birds standing and flying against a habitat background, perhaps with groups of birds together both near and far. These are very realistic for families such as waterfowl, waders, gulls and thrushes, but less convincing for other non-flocking groups such as warblers. Some pages do look rather cluttered, but I think the secret is to focus in on each individual image rather than be overwhelmed by the page in its entirety.
I think that this book is going to surprise those birders that have not seen Crossley’s other works, but having tested out a few pages on friends the response has been very positive. Personally I like the way that many images have been used against a clear background, although I am less pleased by those that are positioned against “busy” habitat backgrounds where it is less easy to pick out plumage features. Clearly I am not alone in expressing that view, but many people are relaxed about it and feel that the montages really reflect the way that birds show themselves in the real world. Let’s face it, birds often present themselves in a rather unhelpful way - skulking around in hedge bottoms and generally trying not to be seen - so having a book that recognises that challenge is actually helpful.
This book is aimed at intermediate birders and I think it will be well received by most people. Those who like their bird books to present species all facing left as if in a Police identity parade will probably struggle with this new concept - but surely it is the way forward.
on 22 November 2013
A somewhat revolutionary concept into bird ID. A radical change from the common format of bird guides, be it photographic or artwork. The author states the book should be seen as a 'workbook', the more you look - the more you see, the reader is greater employed with every plate. As another reviewer has stated, a beginner still requires a formal, conventional guide to accompany this publication. The same reviewer states also, it's the best attempt yet, at conveying the all-important 'jizz' of the bird, in that I fully concur. This book I gladly include in my guide book 'arsenal'.
This book relates to birds of Britain & Ireland (only), so why the American spelling of practice with an 'S' - 'practise'? Also, in the text on owls, I note faeces spelt 'feces' - yet more New World spelling. We then go to the plate on the Great Black Backed Gull, its killing of live prey e.g 'AMCO', which is ornithilogical shorthand for bird species, in this case the American Coot. Now dear authors & publishers, where is that relevant to British (Irish) birders? That's a nod to Uncle Sam too far!!*
Try as I may, the right-hand column of page 18 (in the introduction) where the subject of size is to be discussed, its whereabouts makes no sense. I quote, "inside the front cover . . ." Er??? Indeed, that first paragraph reminds me of a cuckoo chick?
Don't let my minor criticisms put you off, an otherwise fine book.
on 15 October 2014
Great if you are a begginer and like both helpful images and some descriptive help in identifying and discovering some habits of birds you spot.
I found the photos very good and true to the real birds images.
It got frowned upon by an expert birder during a visti to a nature reserve, but personaly I have found it of use to get me started before I could navigate through much more complext and descriptive guides (as the birds have an habit of disappering before you leaf through 500 pages of tightly packed writing and drawrings)
Some of the facts describing the background of the species (migration, id, hunting/foraging habits) are even more informative than i found subsequentially in other books, so would say that the overal quality is very good.
on 25 March 2014
What a book, if you wish to own a Bird ID Guide then this has to be the one to own, superb book from beginning to end, you will never be disappointed. Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens, have produced one great book,.The book is easy to use, from the introduction, how to use the book, How to be a better birder, some good and interesting content in this section,Bird Topography is a great section as it covers the following Topography, Song Bird, Raptor, Duck, Gull, and Wader, all the bird details are clearly marked and is all well done,.So I am well delighted with this publication, and will definetly recommend that if you are going to buy an ID Guide,on the birds of Britain and Ireland then this is the one as it puts all the other bird guides to shame.
on 24 November 2013
A guide which covers most of the birds seen in the British Isles. Very different in that we have excellent paintings of the birds in their usual habitats which can be more useful than the solitary photo provided by most of the other guides.
on 11 April 2016
I have been bird watching for nearly sixty years and have accumulated umpteen books on the subject and this is by far the best identification book I have ever had. For a start it is illustrated with photos, so the colours are fairly true, but what is helpful is that on each page there are several pictures of the same bird but in different positions (e.g. in flight, on the ground, perched on a tree etc.). Where there are two different species that look similar, the author has helpfully included a picture of the other, so enabling you to distinguish between them. And sometimes a picture of another bird is included to give a sense of scale. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
on 31 October 2013
What a fantastic book. I realized at once what all the other recent books were lacking. This IS an 'ID' book, not an in-depth reference on bird data but a unique way of expressing straightforward ID in the field. It's perfect. The birds are shown in multiple backgrounds, with different ages and sexes and their real behaviour and habitats are shown on every beautiful plate. The pages are phenomenal and compelling for any birder or outdoors enthusiast. This is totally unlike any other bird book out on the market.