Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Book Review - Birds of Chile, A Photo Guide - Princeton University Press

     I cut my birding teeth on conventional field guides and confess to having had until quite recently a preference for artwork versus photography. The premise was that a skilled wildlife illustrator (and there are many I admire) could render an image of the bird showing ALL relevant field marks, seldom possible in a photograph.
     And therein lies the rub. One is often hard pressed to see the bird as depicted in a traditional field guide, with imperfect angles, shading, distance and other factors needing to be dealt with in the field. A photograph, though not always definitive, presents a more realistic impression of the bird as seen in life.  And with the ubiquity of digital cameras (everyone has one!) many different angles are possible, and with access to the photographs of myriad dedicated birders, multiple shots of the same species are available. In this way sexes, age categories, moult and variations in seasonal plumage may be depicted.



     Birds of Chile is a splendid example of the new genre of photographic field guides. Two eminently qualified veterans of Chilean birding, Steve Howell and Fabrice Schmitt, provide not only a range of their superb photographs, they call upon others to fill the gaps where their own pictures are deemed inadequate or they have not managed to photograph a species. The result is a stunning collection of all the birds of this fascinating country with so many radically different faunal zones containing species uniquely adapted to each habitat.


     A section at the front of the book deals with Geography, Habitat and Bird Distribution and lists families typically found in the various zones. This is comprehensively done and a thorough reading of it serves to familiarize the reader with the regions he/she will be visiting before even going there, and knowing what birds to expect.
     Each group of birds is introduced to the reader with a succinct summary of relevant characteristics. I found the way that the birds are grouped both interesting and useful. For example, there are headings such as "Swimming Waterbirds" and "Flying Waterbirds." I can well imagine that for a novice birder divisions such as this would be immediately helpful in narrowing down the range of species to be identified. And if that is not enough there is also a section called "Walking Waterbirds!" 



     A system of arrows to highlight salient features hearkens back to the Peterson system, a technique that has never become redundant and is perhaps the most useful artifice of all time as it relates to identification markers.
     Many of the photographs depict birds in their habitat, further assisting observers in identifying the species they are confronted with.



     The taxonomy is up to date, generally in line with the IOC Checklist, and where there are differences or deviations, full explanatory notes are provided.
     When I birded in Chile a few years ago, I took with me the excellent guide produced by Alvaro Jaramillo and very capably illustrated by Peter Burke and David Beadle. It served me well, but I can only imagine how much better prepared I would have been had I had a companion copy of Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide.
     Produced in a 5 3/4" x 8 1/4" format it is ideal for carrying in the field and fits easily into the pocket of a vest or into the standard pouches many birders carry on their belt or across their shoulders. At 500 grams it is no burden to tote around.
     Chile is a fascinating country to visit, friendly and welcoming and the birding is superb. I recommend that you get yourself down there as soon as you can and don't forget to take with you Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide. It will serve you very well indeed.

Birds of Chile - A Photo Guide
Steve N. G. Howell and Fabrice Schmitt
Paperback/$29.95/24.95/240 pages/ 5 3/4 x 8 1/4
Publication date: 19 June 2018 
     

23 comments:

  1. Although I do not see many birds, I would like to hide such a small guide in my pocket. Regards.

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  2. This certainly sounds a must have for all those birdwatchers going to Chile.
    Thanks David.

    All the best Jan

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  3. A nicely balanced review David. I'm looking at Unnatural Selection at the moment. It is fantastic.

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  4. It looks like a very nice book to have, David.

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  5. The photos here are quite wonderful. I like seeing the birds in their own environments, rather than just an isolated close-up. Those have their value too. A mix is nice. Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. Debe ser una extraordinaria guía David
    Un abrazo

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  7. I am never likely to go to Chile, but I just love books and especially reference books. Have a good day. Diane

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  8. Hi David - sounds like you had a wonderful trip down south ... and would enjoy going again with this book in tow. It's great to have reference books for us to help in our identification techniques - now I need the time to sit and watch .. but thanks for highlighting the book - cheers Hilary

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  9. It sounds (and looks) like a wonderful book. You are so right about the illustrations sometimes making it hard to identify particular birds.
    I would love to see a book which combined photos AND illustrations - except that it would probably be too big to carry.

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  10. The Jaramillo Guide is great, so a fine photo guide is the icing on the Chile birding cake !

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  11. Interesting photographic guide, so I saw several photos to differentiate sexes, races and different stages of development, also in your native language. In my case I have a guide with much more information, very well achieved with excellent illustrations, only in Spanish, with the names known in Chile (in Spanish there is no international standard list of names of birds at the moment) and below the name in English. The authors were at the headquarters of Aves Argentinas in Buenos Aires and a friend took me to my town; I'm hoping to use it in a future trip to Chile that I hope will be soon.
    Can you see a review here: https://avesenchile.blogspot.com/2018/02/aves-de-chile-sus-islas-oceanicas-y.html

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  12. Looks a wonderful book for birds and those who are not would find it interesting. Well some would, I know I would.

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  13. Not a place I'm ever likely to go but I must admit that I like to gaze at photos of the birds of faraway places from time to time.

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  14. That looks a really superb book. I tend to have a mix of field guides for birds (and wildflowers etc) - some using photos and some using illustrations. The arrow system pointing out distinguishing features is so useful.

    Do you remember some months back we exchanged comments on my blog on Francis Willughby and John Ray - the post was on Middleton Hall? Pam from Pam's Place blog has very kindly told me about a book by Tim Birkhead just published called "The Wonderful Mr Willughby - the First True Ornithologist". I said I would mention it to you in case you were interested.

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    1. Thanks so much for this, Ragged Robin. Tim Birkhead is at the very top echelon of my favourite ornithological writers and I have most of what he has written. I had not even heard of this title. I will have to see if it is available locally.

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    2. I just checked on Amazon.ca and the publication date is scheduled for 12 July. Usually it is possible to preorder but this doesn't seem to be the case with this book. I will try again in a couple of weeks. Too bad it's not my birthday so that I could talk someone into getting it for me!!

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  15. Hello, looks like a fantastic guide book. Are you going birding in Chile next? Happy Thursday, enjoy your day!

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    1. No,plans to return to Chile. Australia is the next major destination with a week in eastern Québec in the interim.

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  16. I don't get the chance to see many birds here. But I love that pair of beautiful birds in your header.

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    1. Those birds are Black-and-red Broadbills, Nancy, which I saw in Vietnam. This family is quite widespread throughout southeast Asia.

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  17. I always enjoy looking through the bird guide books and this one seems like a good one.

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  18. Hello David,
    I already see beautiful pictures of birds in this book.
    A jewel for every bird lover :-)
    Great to see.
    Kind regards, Helma xx

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