on 6 August 2009
For those visiting this region in recent years there has been the challenge of taking two field guides. The lightweight Collins field guide Birds of Eastern Africa appeared in 1995 and included all of the birds you needed, but was basic in its level of detail with up to 24 species per page. Then in 2002 Academic Press (using the T & AD Poyser brand) published the outstanding Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa which was useful for the huge number of East African species whose distribution continued northwards but did not cover around 200 species only found north of Kenya. Neither book was ideal, but now we have been offered a great solution.
By taking many of the plates from the Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa and adding new material by two of the original artists this new book has over 2600 illustrations of the 1000 or so species found in "the Horn" - including migrants and vagrants. Interestingly the island of Socotra has been included on the basis of its strong zoological link to Africa.
In a number of families (such as the barbets) not all races have been illustrated, but care has also been taken to adjust some plumages to accurately reflect differences that occur in the region away from East Africa. That's a welcome sign in a publishing era where commercial constraints frequently dictate that one size fits all. Some families, including cuckoo-shrikes, tits, cisticolas and flycatchers have benefited from completely new plates. While the illustrations in the original Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa were a bit too bright, the colours in this book are much more life-like.
In line with the best field guides this has text on the left and labelled illustrations on the right. The text describes plumage characteristics, habitat, habits and voice. Frequently additional taxonomic notes are also given.
Whereas the Field Guide to the Birds of East Africa used distribution maps that did not distinguish between residents and migrants, the maps in this new volume are far superior using six colour and hatch variations to indicate status. So for some species (such as Red-rumped Swallow) you can see distribution of the local resident population plus those arriving for the winter. Each map includes the contours of the highlands of Ethiopia which really helps to identify precise locations, although given the small size of the maps that does make them appear rather cluttered. Although the maps extend beyond the boundaries of the region covered (and the contours of those areas are shown) any distribution in those areas is not mapped.
The taxonomy used generally follows the African Bird Club checklist which in turn tends to be in line with the seven-volume Birds of Africa. Thus it is far more conservative in its approach than Birds of Africa South of the Sahara by Ian Sinclair and Peter Ryan. However Winding Cisticola is shown as three possible species as is Tropical Boubou. Western and Eastern Olive Sunbirds are treated here as one species. Degodi Lark is excluded (acknowledging recent evidence that it existed entirely on the strength of misidentified Gillett's Larks), while Bulo Burti Bush-shrike is illustrated with a text note explaining that recent molecular work shows this is likely to be a black morph of Erlanger's Boubou. Illustrations of Toha Sunbird are also included, although the species has only been seen once and has not been formally described.
This is an excellent book that fills one of the few remaining gaps in the quality field guide market. Sadly continual border disputes and unrest make tourist travel to Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia an unlikely prospect for some time to come. However, many people visited Ethiopia in the late 1990s as it came into vogue for the first time. Perhaps, like me, they assumed that they would never make that journey again. And perhaps, like me, they will now realise that a follow-up trip is well overdue.
on 6 June 2010
The birds of this region have been rather neglected in the guides that concentrate, inevitably, on the popular tourist areas of East Africa. However, bird tourism to Ethiopia, in particular, has increased considerably in the last couple of decades. It seems, and is, a long time since the bulky two-volume Mackworth-Praed & Grant was the essential reference here.
This is a very impressive field guide, with excellent, large, new, and abundant illustrations. There is a wealth of views of raptors in flight, for instance. I was impressed with the layout of sunbirds, always a confusing group in the field, which are broken down into plates of similar-looking species. The value of the larger size of these illustrations (compared with the existing guides) and their depiction of numerous variants (male and female, obviously, but non-breeding and other variants too) is very evident. The region is blessed with a number of endemics, and these, the main attraction of this region for many naturalists, are well signalled, and highlighted in an appendix table.
It is unfortunate that Somalia and Eritrea still suffer from the political insecurity that inhibits any sort of tourism, and hindered its development in Ethiopia, espeially the north, for so long. It is to be hoped that this guide will encourage interest in their faunas, over time, and lead to similar tourist developments.
on 11 June 2009
Clear info, good illustrations, good maps, ...
I haven't found anything bad... yet ;-)
This book handles all the birds in Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Socotra Archipelago.
One thing they could have included is a (short)list of good (or promising) birding areas + description in the respective countries, or an overview and description of different habitats. This would make the book slightly heavier, however.
Some illustrations have lines in between the drawings, to simplify which bird is which drawing. This is a usefull feature more birdbooks could have.