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Customer Review

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Birds of Africa south of the Sahara (2nd revised edition), 2 May 2011
This review is from: Birds of Africa: South of the Sahara (Paperback)
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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