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