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Customer Review

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Coffee Table Guide, 13 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Birdsong: 150 British and Irish birds and their amazing sounds (Hardcover)
Birdsong is a lavish coffee table sized book, which features 150 British and Irish birds. Its USP is the incorporation of a speaker, so that the reader can also hear the bird they're looking at. This means the guide can be used for identification on two levels, so I was intrigued to see how well this book would help with my identification skills.

The contents are mainly divided into bird groupings as you'd usually expect e.g. wildfowl, waders, owls etc. These are prefaced with a brief introduction to birdsong, the key words used to describe birds (along the usual scientific terms lines) and how to operate the birdsong player. At the back of the book are useful lists of further references, bird sound websites and birding organisations.

The birdsong player is simple to use, though the call you'd like to hear can only be obtained by going through the calls available sequentially (either forwards or backwards) like you would have done on tape recorders of old. There's no way of selecting by the reference numbers given on the bird description pages. I was relieved to see it's possible to change the batteries once those supplied with the book have died.

Most of the book is devoted to the birds themselves. Each species has a double page spread, consisting of a photograph (whole page), followed by the descriptive text. This also has a colour drawing accompanying the common and Latin name titles. The top of the page shows the bird grouping along with the all important recording reference(s) - some birds like the Mute Swan merit more than one, both wing sound and call in this instance.

The book part oozes quality. The photography is superb, the drawings are great and the descriptions are well written. It's a shame the recording part - which is the book's USP - looks like a cheap add-on (though it probably isn't). The speaker quality isn't that great and in some cases the birdsong recording used isn't very long. As a practical guide it doesn't really stack up - there are no illustrations showing male/female or adult/juvenile differences where appropriate. This means many of the birds we actually see can only be identified using this book if they're an adult male or if their call is heard! It's also quite a large book - too unwieldy for taking out into the field to many of the habitats where the birds are found.

Therefore I'm reluctantly placing this book on the 'not for keeping' pile, despite its glossy coffee table good looks. I'll be making do with my Birds of Britain and Europe (New Generation Guides), plus my Collins Field Guide: Bird Call Identification (with Audio-CD) and the RSPB's bird identifier website. The latter has a great birdsong feature which makes me think that the time for this book has passed. The future has to be a bird identification App for phones and tablets incorporating Birdsong's features and more.

I see my evaluation differs from many of the reviewers and the birding/nature magazine reviews, but I stand by it in terms of whether the book is a practical guide and how it compares with the bird identification resources I usually use. It's beautiful to look at, but not very practical to use, except perhaps from my armchair.
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