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Thursday, 22 August 2019

Book Review - Oceanic Birds of the World, A Photo Guide - Princeton University Press

     The first thing to strike me about this book was its title, "Oceanic Birds of the World," not the more familiar term, seabirds of the world, and indeed the coverage is of those species only that inhabit the vast spaces of the oceans, and excludes those that make a living in inshore coastal waters, often returning to land at night.




     In terms of identification, this is a difficult group of birds, most of which are unfamiliar to the vast majority of birders. Few ever undertake a pelagic journey at all, and for those who do, it involves mostly three or four hour excursions from well known coastal locations. There are not many among us who are fortunate enough to have the resources and the time to take extended sea voyages.
     So it is good advice in the introduction that many species have of necessity to remain unidentified. It is not a mark of inadequacy to admit that one cannot always identify a bird; quite the contrary in fact. It is cogently stated by the authors that you are watching "from a moving platform while watching moving subjects over a moving surface." Add to this, lack of familiarity with the subjects, similarities in plumage of several species, and perhaps a touch of queasiness brought on by not having proper sea legs, and the potential for humility is great! It is better to have witnessed a petrel sp. than never to have seen a petrel at all.
     I was quite amused by the wry comment, "Many people, even including men, would likely look at the instruction manual before using an unfamiliar electric kitchen or workroom tool. Yet the introductions to bird books often seem to go unread, even though they represent instruction manuals that enable you to use your tool more effectively."
     Do not skip the introduction to this book; there is simply too much valuable information in it, and a thorough reading of this section will materially assist you in deriving maximum benefit from the pages that follow.
      The widespread use of various forms of chemical analysis since Peter Harrison's landmark work in 1987 means that the revisions to taxonomy are little short of staggering. The tubenoses, for example, have expanded from 107 to in excess of 175. DNA analysis tells a story no amount of morphological or behavioural observation could ever reveal - and it is likely not over yet.



     The photographs are in many way remarkable. I have taken part in a few pelagic experiences, the most memorable being in the Benguela current off the southern coast of Africa and in the Humboldt Current thirty to forty kilometres off the west coast of Chile. It probably is not difficult to convince you that trying to keep one's balance in a small boat heaving in the ocean swell with birds appearing and disappearing with frustrating regularity, is not the ideal way to take pictures.




     

     But there is nothing quite like a pelagic and this book has captured much of the excitement of it. Seeing a penguin ashore is a wonderful experience, life-changing almost, but seeing them gliding through the ocean waves with grace and ease, truly in their element, is an encounter that transcends all else.
     This is a thoroughly worthwhile book, well researched and well executed by two seabirds experts of great renown. If only they had been my companions on my pelagics..........

Ocean Birds of the World: A Photo Guide
Steve N. G. Howell and Kirk Zufelt
Paperback - $35.00 - 9780691175010 - 360 pages - 368 colour plates - 114 maps - 5 3/4" x 8 1/4" 
Publication date: 20 August 2019

44 comments:

  1. You must have read a lot of books about birds, David. How many books about birds do you have yourself? I have many gardening books, but I don't know how many. Too many I guess... ;)

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    1. Hi Marit:
      I have a lot of books! Somewhere around six hundred devoted to birds and bird topics and about two hundred concerning other aspects of natural history - insects, mammals, trees, wildflowers, ecology etc. Never too many, however! And then we have all the novels, books of poetry and so on!

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  2. Guilty, your Honour!
    I've only recently got to grips with the abbreviations and symbols that accompany each bird in the little handbook I use in the field! I did immediately recognise the Northern Fulmar in your photograph though!

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  3. Otro gran libro nos presentas querido amigo David, aunque mi experiencia en el campo de las “aves oceánicas del mundo “ sea la de un lego en esa materia, por la descripción que has formulado del libro, no deja de ser una gran obra interesante y de gran valor didáctico y documental. No cabe la menor duda que en tu apreciación sobre ella y en tu análisis dejas muy claro que es un gran material de consulta.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido amigo, profesor y compadre David.

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  4. Hi David,
    Your office must be an Alladin's cave for us bird watchers, a marvel to enter but very difficult to leave.
    All the best,
    John

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    1. And for you, John, I won't even charge admission!

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  5. Thanks for pointing this one out, David!

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  6. A difficult task, completed very, very well from your description.
    Since I am prone to intense sea sickness pelagic birds are particularly challenging for me. However I will hug the memories of penguins porpoising through the waves tightly to myself till the end of my days.

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  7. I have little familiarity with the pelagic birds of the world. I have trouble enough with shorebirds! But this sounds like it would be quite a useful book for birders who are lucky enough to go on pelagic adventures.

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  8. Hoi. Dat zijn altijd prachtige en goede leerzame boeken. veel illustraties ook.
    Groet Kees.

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  9. Det var min första tanke när jag såg boktiteln, oj, där har jag ingen kunskap alls! Men när jag läser ditt inlägg förstår jag att jag inte är ensam om att inte känna till denna något anonyma värld och dess innevånare.
    Jag tycker att det är en riktig utmaning författaren har gett sig in på men också beundransvärd. Knappast inriktad på ett ekonomiskt värdefullt bokprojekt utan snarare en tillfredsställelse över att kunna illustrera och bidra med kunskap som kanske ingen riktigt gjort förut.

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    1. Gunilla, I want you to move to Canada and live right next door to me!

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  10. Hello, I would love to take a pelagic trip one day, to see some of these birds mentioned in the guide book. Great review, thanks for sharing. Enjoy your day, wishing you a great weekend!

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    1. It's pretty easy for you, Eileen. They run regularly from North Carolina.

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  11. I like the look of this and it seems to be quite well written!

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  12. David!that's great You have so much books, thank's for sharing it with us.
    # I follow you, waiting for you to follow me back.

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  13. It looks like a wonderful book, David, but I'm targeting future book purchases at ones that are specific to my current interests, so this one is unlikely to find its way onto my wish list.

    I'm amazed at the extent of your personal library. I was guessing at mine being only about one tenth of that but have just surprised myself by checking and getting to around the hundred mark. I am, however, in the process of thinning out some of the more basic 'works'.

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    1. I keep telling myself that I have to be selective, Richard, but then I find myself in a second hand book store, or at an auction, and some treasure somehow finds its way home. However, I am going to run out of shelf space, so I will have to bite the bullet sooner or later. Unless I can get Miriam to give up her sewing room, that is.....hmmm.

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  14. A well presented and thoughtful review. I have a mental picture of being in a small rocking and pitching boat with a telephoto lens trying to capture images of oceanic birds. What a challenge!!

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  15. David, I probably will never see oceanic birds but I enjoyed your review. It's an incredible book!
    And yes, it's true that photographs are remarkable in this book!!!

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  16. Wow, what a library you have got, all on the birds!

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  17. Hello David, this is a great review and book. I could use a copy for my upcoming Iceland trip.
    Thank you for sharing your review and for linking up! Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend.

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    1. Enjoy your trip to Iceland, Eileen. Bring back lots of pictures to share.

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  18. Hello David, thank you for this review. This way I get to know of the existent of this book and get a bit closere to the birds I probably never get to see let alone to take captures of it.
    Regards,
    Roos

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  19. That was certainly good advice that you quote David. As you correctly identify, most birder's lack of regular experience means that it is quite permissible to say that not every bird can be identified.

    I remember a pelagic from Penzance when one unfortunate threw up over the side of the boat less than 100 yards from the harbour and took no further part in the expedition. Sea legs are a necessary addition to ant trip on the ocean.

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  20. Looks like a book I would enjoy and use a lot. I love when there are birds in flight photos! Enjoy your weekend!

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  21. Had to look up, Pelagic, David! Thanks for expanding my knowledge base. Love the post.

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  22. A great review of this very informative book. Another book you can add to your library and enjoy.

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  23. Many thanks for this review David, I always enjoy reading them.

    All the best Jan

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  24. Se ve muy interesante el libro. Libros de aves solo tengo uno y me da un poco de tristeza pensar en todos los que tu tienes, por que las aves me encantan. Un abrazo.

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  25. Hi David - the title had me captured ... as I'd love to learn more - and totally appreciate the 'notation' to read the introduction ... I'm sure we so often miss these pearls of wisdom, when they're encapsulated before (or sometimes even after) the detailed information. what another great book to have in your collection ... library v sewing room ... difficult decisions!! Cheers to you - Hilary

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  26. Hello David!
    I really like your review. I won't see ocean birds. I only know titmouse, magpies, blackbirds, crows, starlings, gulls.
    I like guides with beautiful photos and I am happy to buy them. They can also be with birds.
    I wish you a nice, successful week.
    Lucja

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  27. this sounds like a good book, one i would enjoy about shorebirds!!!

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  28. Interesting books! I wonder if there is a Polish edition!
    Greetings

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  29. I love ocean birds but they are hard to find without a ship :)

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  30. Looks like an excellent reference book; surely very useful to people who love to do pelagic birding.

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  31. This does indeed look like an excellent reference on birding, especially if you are near an ocean. A wonderfully written review, David.

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  32. Good morning dear David,
    The birds can be happy with people like you!!! Paying so much attention on this beautiful creature's of mother nature. Welcome visitors to my little garden. The birds are moulting overhere sometimes I have to take a better look what bird it is. Neighbourgs overhere are sometimes angry of me feeding the birds. They say my feeding brings mice. And I think they are right (fun) but I don't care. These mice brought the beautiful spectacle. Being outside I heard the cry for food from 2 young Long Eard Owl in the tree's behind my garden. Amazing it was to see the mother fly over my garden hunting for food. Go on with the fantastic job you do!!
    Have a wonderful day.

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    1. Thank you very much for these kind words, Marijke. It is true that feeding birds can sometimes result in a few mice being attracted, but it is a small price to pay. The beauty of seeing a Long-eared Owl hunting in our back yard is something most of us will never see. You are very lucky!

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  33. There are also so many birds that you cannot know everything.
    There are also a lot of seagulls in the Netherlands and I know an apar by name but by no means everything.
    Of course I have bird books at home but by no means all birds.
    A book like this would also be a welcome addition. Beautiful reference work with lots of information and beautiful photos.
    Kind regards from your friend from the Netherlands xx

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