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The best bird guide to East Africa's avifauna there is
on 29 November 2001
There are four main field guides to East Africa's avifauna. The oldest, the Collins Guide to the Birds of East Africa, is annoyingly spartan with its pictures, forcing the reader to identify birds via the text. In any case, not all of East Africa's birds are illustrated. Bird distribution is described in the text, and not via more simple to use maps. It was with precisely these shortcomings in mind that Van Berlow set out to illustrate every bird in East Africa (in this case, Somalia, Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania). His volume, The Birds of East Africa, does indeed contain a full set of plates, and provides extensive distribution maps. The pictures, however, are often small and difficult to discern, and the maps, all located in the back of the guide, accessible only via a rather complicated plate and species number system. The third contender, Zimmerman et al.'s excellent Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania falls short of requirement - in this case - because of its limited geographical range (through no fault of its own!). Another concern is the location of its distribution maps all placed in the text, often well away from the illustration of the bird. When standing in the field with a small and unremarkable avian in front of you, having to flick between illustration and distribution map is increadibly annoying, particularly when the bird then flies off.
Stevenson and Fanshaw's new volume is the fourth guidebook to enter this market and is by far the best. The illustrations are clear, distinct and beautifully detailed; distribution maps (covering Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi) are located alongside each illustration, as is a short and succinct description, so no faffing about between illustration and text. The volume's hard cover makes it an excellent companion on tough birding safaris. I could not recommend this volume more warmly.