Friday, December 10, 2010

Going East

A dull day with no birding or ringing for me today, so I sat down to do a little work.

For our recent holiday to Cyprus it became a problem deciding which field guide to pack in the suitcase. Although our Cyprus break wasn’t simply a birding trip, no dedicated birder ever goes on holiday without doing a bit of preliminary research on the destination or thinking about unfamiliar birds encountered when exploring the destination. Then a day or two before the holiday I was sent a copy of the new and very recent second edition of Birds of the Middle East, authored by Richard Porter and Simon Aspinall. This good fortune allowed me to actually road test the guide on holiday.

Birds Of The Middle East

For anyone with the first edition of this book it is well worth pointing out that the second edition is completely revised. For the first time, the text and maps appear opposite the plates, and importantly there are more than 100 new species. It is a very detailed field guide covering all species found in the Arabian Peninsula including Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus and the Yemeni Socotra.

The guide covers over 700 species, both indigenous and migrants, with a concise text describing plumage and voice. The descriptions are easy to follow whereby salient features and differences to similar or closely related species are picked out in bold print for quick reference. There are 112 colour illustrations of all the species described with distribution maps opposite, complete with notes on status and preferred habitat. As you might expect from a guide of this quality the maps are well colour coded allowing easy interpretation of resident, summer, winter or migrant status for each species

The plates by artists John Gale, Mike Langman and Brian Small are of a high standard, and my only quibble is that the printing and production has made some plumages appear rather dark, plus brown and red tones are too intense. Having said that, any birder keen enough to buy this book or travel to some of the destinations mentioned above will make mental adjustments to any sketches that appear highly coloured; as a positive the sketches are very precise and stand out clearly against the very white background of the page. My particular favourite pages are those depicting wildfowl and shearwaters, with the warblers especially appealing. I must say that when faced with a “new to me” Cyprus Warble on a hillside in Cyprus I found the description and sketch of the bird absolutely spot on.

There are many good features about this guide. I particularly like the coloured page headers that denote the category of birds depicted on the page below, a very quick and easy way to thumb through the book when faced with an unfamiliar species. E.g. Smaller Falcons, Smaller Gulls, Larger Terns.

Other useful and innovative pages for gull enthusiasts are the two devoted to ”Large White Headed Gulls” where extra sketches are faced on the opposite page by a colour-coded chart that itemises identification, status and even moult sequences into an understandable, easy reference.

Strictly speaking this guide doesn’t cover Egypt which comes into the separate geographical category of Africa, but both sides of the Red Sea including the increasingly popular tourist hot spots of Luxor and Aswan plus Red Sea resorts like Sharm el-Sheikh and Hurghada share the birds described in this guide. Therefore this book is the one to carry for anyone visiting those increasingly popular places and the Middle East holiday or birding destinations like Dubai or Qatar. As I am due to go to Egypt in 2011 I have decided that this portable well written guide is the one I will take with me. For anyone travelling to the Middle East, whether on business or pleasure but with an interest or a passion for birds, this second edition of Birds of the Middle East sets the standard again, and I highly recommend it to readers of Another Bird Blog.

The book is available from Princeton University Press in the UK for £27.95 or in the US for $39.50 from

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