Friday, February 24, 2017

Review - Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

New field guides come thick and fast nowadays. No sooner have we invested in and digested a new one than yet another appears to tempt us. And rather like new cars that grow in size from the previous model and prove a tight fit in narrow lanes and car park spaces, so do the dimensions of field guides seem to outgrow their hoped for size. Fitting the latest ones into the average Barbour or multi-pocketed jacket requires a fair amount of ingenuity. Either that or the pristine volume lies forgotten in the glove compartment or sits at home waiting to be consulted upon our return home, thus defeating the object of a guide for use in the great outdoors. 

But now along comes a new field guide that promises not only 860 species and 2,200 photographs but undertakes to fit it all into a genuine pocket size of 190mm x 135mm and less than 30mm thick. For those of us brought up with feet and inches that equates to a handy and less than 8in x 6in x 1½in and weighs in to an acceptable 800 grams. 

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book under the spotlight today is “Birds of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East” by Frédéric Jiguet and Aurélien Audevard, two distinguished French ornithologists. The latter may be better known by British birders from his occasional articles in Dutch Birding and Birdwatch. The book has been translated into English from the original French Edition aimed at an International audience rather than a British one. 

I was grateful for the brief eight pages that comprised the Contents and Introduction. Anyone who buys a serious guide that covers Europe, Africa and The Middle East will surely appreciate minimal information about how to identify birds and the part played by habitat, weather and the various seasons of the year.

The brevity of the early pages allows the remainder of the 435 pages to be devoted entirely to the birds. And those pages are very good with every species mentioned depicted by way of very good quality photographs to help identification and where distinctive features are signposted to the reader.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

The book is bang up to date with the inclusion of species such as Scopoli’s Shearwater, Cabot’s Tern and a good range of single-record phylloscopus warblers that have appeared in Europe in recent years. It is very comprehensive in its coverage of the huge range of gulls which appear rarely in European waters from as far afield as the Azores and Arctic Northern Finland e.g. Baltic Gull and Azores Yellow-legged Gull. 

One of the things I did like is the inclusion of escaped or introduced species such as the Parrotbills in Italy, the Leiothrix in France & Spain, Weavers, Bishops, Mynas and Munias from Iberia, or the Iago Sparrow found in Holland. From experience we know how such species often find a niche, multiply and soon go on to become naturalised to their adopted country. There are also birds I’d not seen in other guides e.g. "Thick Billed" Reed Bunting", Grey-necked Bunting and “Ambiguous" Reed Warbler”.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

In fact the whole book really emphasises how we in Britain and the near Continent are in the centre of a huge Birding Universe where birds from North, South, East and West can and do occur, including as the book does, many pages devoted to North American birds. 

Students of taxonomy and sub-species may find the book’s treatment of their subject inconsistent by way of inclusion of for instance, the slightly different races of Mediterranean Spotted Flycatcher while omitting the sometimes noticeably different seven sub-species of the Common Linnet found across Europe.

I found the explanation and pictures of the two races of Greater White-fronted Goose, flavirostris and albifrons to be less than ideal while just two photographs of Common Redpoll fail to describe adequately the Lesser Redpoll as both widespread and commonplace in Britain and parts of Europe. But then as mentioned earlier, this is a book aimed at a cosmopolitan audience rather than a wholly English speaking one, and neither do the authors claim the book to be a treatise on taxonomy. 

The textual descriptions are of necessity succinct, simply to allow the number and variety of species covered to fit into the easily portable book described above. Likewise the number of maps and photographs allowed for each species’ ages, plumages and postures is somewhat compromised by the available space, but not enough to deter a serious birder looking to buy.

 Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East - Princeton Press

Overall I really liked the quality, look and feel of this book. The size, layout and composition makes for a truly usable field guide rather than a coffee table book. By integrating the three huge areas of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East it covers a range of species not previously seen in an everyday field guide. 

The Birds of Europe, North Africa, and The Middle East is available now from the publisher Princeton University Press or the usual Internet outlets. The price is less than £20.00 or $30.  I reckon that's a good buy.

Linking today to Eileen's Saturday.


Patrycja P. said...

I see that this book is very interesting and of good quality! I also would like to buy it, if it would possible... Greetings!

Prunella Pepperpot said...

So many beautiful species of birds, most of them I will only ever see in a book or in blogs like yours.
Have a fantastic weekend :)

Jo said...

Hi Phil, sounds like an amazing bird guide. Your review review is comprehensive and interesting. I appreciate pointers to diagnostic features such as is shown in this book. And when I enlarged on your photos of the pages, it seems as though the female of the species is shown. Great post, thanks for sharing. Have a great weekend. Jo

Linda said...

It looks like a lovely book, Phil, and the illustrations are beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing, and I hope you have a great weekend. :)

S S Cheema said...

Before I congratulate you for this blog entry, I must congratulate you for the beautiful picture of the Greater Short-toed Lark as the header. It is one picture I really stared for as long as I took to read the rest of the blog. Congratulations for such a beautiful shot and thanks for the blog. It was great going through it.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Phil! This looks like a fabulous bird guide. It seems like a large area to cover, I need to win the lottery. So I can travel to see these birds. Great review. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

David Gascoigne said...

A fine review of what appears to be a fine book. Well done, Phil. This is my final night in Hong Kong - off home tomorrow. Then it will be back to normal.

Hootin' ♥ Anni said...


I love perusing the books on birds. No matter the size/dimensions....they're all noteworthy. But, I understand wanting to take it along with you while out birding.

I actually think, YOU SHOULD have a book published on your experiences with banding/ringing them all that you have. *hint

I'd buy it.

Hootin' ♥ Anni said...

ps....yes, it WAS a Burrowing Owl!! You're so smart. What gave it away? I was so excited. lol

Mary Cromer said...

This book looks like it holds many beautiful photographs of birds galore and great information. Looks like a winner. Hope you are doing well my friend. We had 80' yesterday, walking down the lane in shorts and sandals. Today it is 29' and windy. Weird Winter all season here in KY, USA~

carol l mckenna said...

Wonderful post for 'birders' to keep them informed ~ thanks,

Wishing you a Happy Saturday ~ ^_^

KK said...

This book looks like a great gift for a children to get them interested in birds, Phil.

Lowcarb team member said...

It looks an amazing guide, and as you say 'bang up to date'

All the best Jan

Alcalabirder said...

An excellent review. However, one thing that ought to be noted is that the English language title is very misleading since many sought after species found in North Africa and the Middle East are not included. The original French title "Tous les Oiseaux d'Europe" (and that of other editions) is more accurate. The eastern boundary of the book is ill-defined but it covers all 'European' Atlantic islands and Cyprus. It's not clear either what criteria were used to determine how much space species were alotted; sometimes it clearly reflects variability, but not consistently so. At the moment it's the best European photoguide but watch this space as they say as a "Europeanised" version of the much superior 'Brtain's Birds' (Wildguides) is being planned ....

Carol @Comfort Spring Station said...

Beautiful book with great illustrations.

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