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4.6 out of 5 stars
Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on 31 October 2003
Bird watching in Africa as always been divided to 3 main regions; west, east and south. Consequently, our knowledge of birds in areas outside of these classic boundaries is much more basic. This book is the first time ever that a field guide is aiming for the whole region - from 20 deg N up to 200 nautical miles off the continent shores (including Socotra but not Madagascar, Seychelles and other Indian and Atlantic Ocean Islands). Thus, promoting a more ‘holistic’ view of the African Avifauna and showing species that are less likely to be found in the more traditional field guides.
Many of the plates have been taken from earlier publications (Birds of Southern Africa, Struik 2002 and Birds of Prey of Africa, Struik 1998); others were commissioned specially for this project. Generally, there is a feeling of browsing in one of the SA field guides but with a widen species list. The quality of the plates is always a matter of taste and as been said before, we the ‘birdwatchers’ are very hard to please! Like with other field guides, it is a very fragile balance between art and science and to catch a species ‘jizz’ is a very hard task indeed.
Most of the species have good illustrations that portray distinctive plumages, accurate and realistic and can easily meet the modern standards, some can almost ‘jump out’ from the pages - some Robins, Thrushes, Bulbuls and Canaries are just few examples for these. In some cases, diagnostic flight patterns are also displayed (Nightjars, Crakes, Ducks…). Still there are some that the illustrators did not manage catching the ‘jizz’ properly and missed out a good opportunity to improve earlier plates (some Swallows, Mousebirds, Larks, and Pipits can be examples for that).
With all that in mind, I still think that this book is an essential on each bird lover library. The ability to catch so many species in a compact layout and still stay relatively loyal for details is a major break through! Moreover, its continental scope is vital for the understanding of many conservation projects that are still to take action in the future in order to maintain this rich Avifauna region.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 15 September 2004
This book has taken on a monumental task by introducing the entire bird fauna of a huge region in one volume.
I was sceptical before seeing it, thinking that quantity would probably take priority over quality. It did not!
For a start, it is surprisingly detailed and well-organized. The editors have resisted the usual temptetion of cramming too many similar or small species on one page. Usually there are just 5-6 species on each page, sometimes 7 or just 3-4.
What this means is that illustrations are big enough to show detail, plus there are often 4 or more different illustrations for the same 1 species, showing different colour morphs, juveniles, females, birds in flight, head or wing details, etc.
It also means that the maps and text for each species could be placed on the page facing its picture.
The text itself is still amazingly detailed for a book of this scope, giving the essential information on distribution, appearence, habitat, status and voice.
Too good to be true? Well, some of the illustrations show important colour or pattern details wrongly, even contradicting description in the text - in these cases the text tends be more accurate, so have a look at that one, too!
But all in all, this book is a great value introduction to the bird fauna of Africa, though perhaps unsurprisingly, I found it a bit too bulky to carry on the field.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
When the first edition of this book appeared in 2003 it certainly made an impact! Never before had a single volume covered all of the species found in Africa south of the Sahara. Also within its pages were new splits that were unexpected and some new names that were unfamiliar, so perhaps unsurprisingly, opinions on the book tended to be polarized. In the intervening years between first and second editions I believe that fans of this book have outnumbered its critics, and while it covers too many species to compete effectively as a field guide, it certainly provides a very accessible resource for those who want to compare most of Africa's birds in one place.

In total the book covers 2129 species (an increase of 24 over the first edition). The northern cut-off is at 20ºN and while Socotra and the Gulf of Guinea islands are included, Madagascar or islands in the Indian or Atlantic Oceans are not. However seabirds found within 200 nautical miles of the continent are covered.

With a striking new cover design this edition also has over 500 new illustrations by Norman Arlott with much-improved plates for several groups including francolins, spurfowls, rails, pigeons, coucals, fishing-owls, scops owls, barbets, woodpeckers, larks, drongos, orioles, warblers and white-eyes. The addition of helpful annotations on the plates is very welcome but the removal of gender icons where only the male is shown is a backward step that could cause confusion. The text has been updated and often expanded with useful notes on identification, habitat, status and voice. Birdlife International's conservation designations for the most threatened species have also been added.

Small distribution maps are shown for each species but, as before, no attempt has been made to differentiate between the breeding and non-breeding ranges of migratory species. Similarly Palearctic species that winter in Africa are only shown at their winter range with no indication of likely occurrence on passage. The recent publication of atlas data from Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Malawi and Zambia has allowed the maps to be refined and this is particularly noticeable for some passerines such as weavers and sparrows. Extra-limital records have also been added in many cases.

With Peter Ryan being an adviser to the IOC World Bird List it is no surprise that the book mainly follows the nomenclature used by that project. There are exceptions and the authors have removed three species ahead of the IOC. These are White-crowned Cliff-chat (into Mocking Cliff-chat Thamnolaea cinnamomeiventris), Reichenow's Batis (into Short-tailed Batis Batis mixta) and both São Tomé and Príncipe Kingfishers (into Malachite Kingfisher Alcedo cristata). Species now lumped in line with IOC include Heuglin's Gull (in Lesser Black-backed Gull Larus fuscus), Bale Parisoma (in Brown Parisoma Parisoma lugens), Agulhas Clapper Lark (in Cape Clapper Lark Mirafra apiata), Damara Canary (in Black-headed Canary Crithagra alario, while Western, Eastern, Gabon and Sangha Forest Robins are all now lumped into Forest Robin Stiphrornis erythrothorax. Also deleted are Bulo Burti Bush-shrike and Degodi Lark - both of which are widely accepted as misidentifications of other species.

The authors confess in their opening chapter to a certain amount of "kite-flying" with the splits that they included in the first edition, and once again they offer more splits that will raise a few eyebrows, but most are already accepted elsewhere. New species added include Southern Royal Albatross Diomedea epomophora, Arabian Shearwater Puffinus persicus, Tropical Shearwater Puffinus bailloni, Socotra Buzzard Buteo socotrae, Archer's Buzzard Buteo archeri, Caspian Gull Larus cachinnans, Socotra Scops Owl Otus socotranus, Usambara Greenbul Phyllastrephus albigula, Rubeho Akalat Sheppardia aurantiithorax, Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus, Hartert's Camaroptera Camaroptera harterti, Atlas Pied Flycatcher Ficedula speculigera, Western Black-headed Batis Batis erlangeri, Dark Batis Batis crypta, East Coast Boubou Laniarius sublacteus, Somali Boubou Laniarius erlangeri, Willard's Sooty Boubou Laniarius willardi, Príncipe Whitye-eye Zosterops ficedulinus, Abd al-Kuri Sparrow Passer hemileucus, Jameson's Antpecker Parmoptila jamesoni, Lufira Masked Weaver Ploceus ruweti, Katanga Masked-Weaver Ploceus katangae, Vincent's Bunting Emberiza vincenti and Striated Bunting Emberiza striolata.

This is a monumental work, and it spends more time on my desk than on the shelf. However I have no intention of taking it into the field. For me it brings together in one place a huge amount of information in a design that allows rapid access, and for that reason above all others I recommend it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 1 December 2003
While I fully agree with the previous reviewer as to the variable quality of some illustrations, I still give this monumental work five stars. The mere fact that we now have a book that depicts all the species within the vast area covered in a decent way deserves praise. This would hardly have been economically possible without the recourse to the illustrations from previous field guides. At any rate, the book gives the intended most welcome overview. For those areas with good regional field guides, it makes sense, of course, to concentrate on those books.
By necessity, the texts in the present book are very short; but they are informative. The range maps do not differentiate by season; there are brief infos in the text, however.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 November 2008
Firstly the good points. The book covers the whole of Africa south of the Sahara including migrants. It weighs about a kilo but is still very useable as field guide. Its comprehensive coverage means it is the only real choice for somewhere like Zambia. The descriptions are brief but good enough and the distribution maps are fine. Illustrations of birds are by colour plates (far superior to photographs). The book is well laid out with the pages colour coded by species, importantly the text, distribution and plates are all next to each other for each bird.
After a couple of trips to Zambia I had made a few hand written notes in the book about accuracy of the colour plates. However, after a trip to Tanzania the number of comments I put in about inaccuracy increased significantly. Most plates are fine but there is a significant percentage that are not quite correct. Its not major things but details of the colours and tones. For example the most distiguishing feature of the greater blue eared starling is the prominent yellow eye, however, the plate shows this to be rather dull and not at all prominent. In Tanzania the guides were all using Fanshawe's East Africa guide and to be brutally honest, it is a far superior publication. I didn't notice any errors in the plates in Fanshawe's guide and also the number of plates per species is vastly increased (I recognise that this is not possible in a book covering a far larger area as it would be far too big).
So, if you want a single book to cover the whole of Africa or are going somewhere (eg Zambia) that is not covered by other guides then get this book. If you're going to East Africa then get Fanshawe's East Africa guide as its far superior. This book is good but it is let down by the accuracy of some plates.
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on 10 November 2012
I've been fortunate enough to safari throughout Eastern and Southern Africa regularly for the last 30+ years and have always gone armed with the appropriate bird book, some a lot better than others.
I came across a well thumbed copy of this book in the library of a lodge in southern Tanzania and was immediately impressed by the quality of the plates and the detail in the text alongside (it was sufficient to aid identification; not too detailed to lose this novice, but keen reader)
The new edition is the ideal one book for safari - if a bit heavier than the more localised offerings. It also has the advantage of freeing up space on my bookshelf (if only I could bring myself to part with the others!)
The only thing I personally am missing are arrows on the plates indicating the 'killer' identification characteristics, that help the novice (and others I am sure) to get to a rapid identification in the field
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on 26 June 2012
This is a lovely book although somewhat heavy to be used as a field guide.
I bought it for Malawi having recently spent some time there where some family members are building a hotel. There isn't a field guide which specifically covers Malawi so I was weighed down with several reference books. Having received some very helpful advice from a birder who conducts holidays in Malawi this is the book I chose and I'm delighted with it. It will be very useful for hotel guests in the future.
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on 1 February 2010
This excellent book tells you all you are ever likely to want to know on birds south of the Sahara.
It is obviously a labour of love by the authors and illustrators. The book may not satisfy the purists in minor details but this is of no consequence.
The birds are divided into 14 groups covering 2015 species.Each species has amap,illustration and description.
There is a first class quick referance on the inside front cover and very good maps are provided.
A book to be recommended.
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on 4 August 2010
This is an excellent and well researched book, probably the most definitive. The illustrations and species distribution maps are excellent. I can vouch for this having used the guide in Kenya this year.
Understandably a book on African birds concentrates on Africa. However if the authors ever update and revise the publication it would be lovely to have some detail on the migratory habits, particularly for those species that visit Europe and other non-African parts.
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on 14 March 2013
I love this book, this is without a doubt an important work for anyone who appreciates and is interested in bird watching.
it is a book that covers a huge area of territory, good information, supported by concise maps to a better location.
Very good pictures, this is undoubtedly an awesome book.
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