Vegemite Sandwich—Birds of Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica
Birds of Australia.—Ken Simpson, Nicolas Day, and Peter Trusler. 1999. Sixth edition. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 440 pp., 132 color plates, 1000+ monochrome and color drawings, 770 color range maps. ISBN 0-691-04995-5 $29.95 (plastic).
Birds of Australia, a Princeton Field Guide, is a wonderfully illustrated, beautifully designed field guide that uniquely combines an enormous amount of useful information with an economy of size. Apparently, this is a completely revised version of an earlier volume, but I am unfamiliar with the previous editions. Unlike other books in the Princeton Field Guide series, this one is a complete volume unto itself. Each exquisitely drawn color plate contains one or more color illustrations by Nicolas Day of the species in its natural setting and aspect. Sex and age differences are often included. Facing each plate are species descriptions (including size, plumages, voice, and habitat), color range maps, and often black-and-white drawings highlighting important diagnostic characteristics. Introductory material includes a brief section on how to use the book, suggestions on how to observe and identify birds, and a guide to bird families found in Australia. A “Vagrant Bird Bulletin,” which follows the species descriptions, is a series of accounts on 42 bona fide vagrant species that have been found in Australia. These 42 accounts follow the same format as the other species accounts, but also include citations to published accounts of the observations. A 122-page “Handbook” contains additional useful, though ancillary, information, including an in-depth discussion of how to identify birds, Australian avian habitats, Australian avian paleontology and evolution, and interesting, if brief, discussions of the ecology, behavior, and taxonomy of each bird family found in Australia. There are also checklists to birds of the various territorial islands of Australia (e.g., Norfolk, Christmas, Macquarie Islands). The book is plastic, which protects it from water and makes it more durable. The book is slightly too wide (16 × 22.5 × 2.5 cm) to fit in most pants pockets. Whereas the more traditional Field Guide to the Birds of Australia (Pizzey and Knight 1996, Harper Collins, Sydney), with its greater depth of information, is an essential reference book, Simpson et al. (1999) is invaluable for serious and beginning birdwatchers visiting or living in Australia.
The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand.— Hugh Robertson and Barrie Heather. 2001. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 168 pp., 74 color plates, 194 color range maps. ISBN 0-19-850831-X $39.50 (paper).
This condensed guide covers 381 species of birds found in New Zealand and its offshore islands, including the Ross Dependency, Antarctica. The vivid watercolor illustrations, by Derek Onley, include various views of some of the birds and show many within their typical habitats. Illustrations and descriptions are provided for the five species that have gone extinct in New Zealand in the past century. Each color plate, which generally includes five species, is accompanied by a short description of size, weight, appearance, vocalizations, and breeding season. Range maps are provided for half of the birds, but the maps are quite small and lack detail. The paperback book measures (16 × 22 × 1.2 cm) and comes with a clear plastic dust jacket. The format of the book makes it fairly well suited for taking into the field as an aid to bird identification, but more serious students of New Zealand's avifauna would be better served by the parent volume, The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand (Heather and Robertson 1996, Viking, Auckland).
Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume 5 Tyrant-flycatchers to Chats.—edited by P. J. Higgins, J. M. Peter, and W. K. Steele. 2001. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK. 1269 pp., 44 color plates. ISBN 0-19-553258-9. $250.00 (cloth).
This is volume five out of a planned seven-volume series containing comprehensive information on the birds of Australia, New Zealand, and Antarctica. Like its predecessors, this book is well conceived and beautifully executed. This volume covers 118 species in eight families between the tyrant-flycatchers and chats. The species accounts are quite thorough and many even include spectrograms of typical vocalizations. Color illustrations by six illustrators (P. Marsack, P. Slater, K. Franklin, M. J. Bamford, F. Knight, and D. J. Onley), are of superb quality and show different plumages and sometimes different poses. Particularly striking for their detail are some of the drawings of birds in flight. Unlike Birds of Africa (Fry et al. 2000), this volume does not have many pen-and-ink drawings of behaviors and natural history accompanying the accounts. What it does have, however, are spectrograms of typical vocalizations and fairly large-scaled range maps of some of the species. All of the drawings and spectrograms are of high quality and well produced. Accounts include such categories as field identification, habitat, distribution and population movements, migration, food, social organization, social behavior, voice, breeding biology, plumage, and external morphology, and most have an extensive list of references. Some species have rather extensive accounts (e.g., the Superb Lyrebird [Menura novaehollandiae] covers 32 pages of exceptional detail and includes 13 drawings, 15 spectrograms, 4 tables, and 1 range map), while others, with narrower distributions and less information available, have quite rudimentary ones by comparison (e.g., Blue-winged Pitta [Pitta moluccensis] covers three pages and includes one range map and one table). Although to carry the full set of seven books into the field would require an expedition of Elizabethan proportions, this and its sister volumes are indispensable companions to the library of any ornithologist or serious birder interested in birds from Down Under. Fans of the series may wish to note that Volume 6 (Pardalotes to Shrike-thrushes) is now available, and that a full list of species and families in each volume can be found at www.birdsaustralia.com.au/hanzab/index.html
Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife: Birds and Mammals of the Antarctic Continent and the Southern Ocean.—Hadoram Shirihai. 2002. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ. 510 pp., 35 color plates, 600+ color photographs, 157 color range maps. ISBN 0-691-11414-5 $49.50 (cloth).
I don't know whether this book is an excellent field guide, a superb coffee table book, or a guidebook for natural historians traveling to Antarctica. One thing is clear: the book was truly a labor of love for the author. This book is an excellent source of information on Antarctic birds, mammals, and the ecosystem. The 47 pages of introductory chapters provide good information on the Antarctic ecosystem, which is useful since it is so different from the temperate environments that so many natural historians hail from. There are sections on the physical and biotic environments as well as the conservation and history of exploration. The last 121 pages of the book are a fairly detailed series of sections on the various Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands of South America, South Africa, the Antarctic Peninsula, and the open sea. They include details on geography, avifauna, marine mammals, conservation, history, and tips for visitors. These sections are very useful to the naïve and experienced visitor (or visitor wannabe) to this fascinating part of the world. The middle section contains species accounts of all birds and marine mammals found in the region. The accounts offer minute detail on distribution, behavior, and taxonomy. Multicolored range maps often include several species on one map, but they are clear and detailed enough to remain useful. Of particular note are the exceptional photographs (many by the author) and color illustrations (by Brett Jarrett) that are sure to help field identification. The book is organized like a field guide, but bound more like a textbook (25.5 × 18 × 2.7 cm), making it too large to carry in a pocket or small field pouch. From its size to its 600 photographs to its somewhat overly extensive background material, the entire book feels more like a coffee table book or library reference than a field guide or travel guide. Overall, the book is exceptional, and packed with useful information, but it may have worked better if Shirihai had written two or three separate books rather than combine them into one.