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Monday, 1 June 2020

Book Review - Birds of the West Indies, Second Edition - Princeton University Press


       If there is one constant in the world of ornithology today, it is that taxonomy and distribution are constantly undergoing revision, and new field guides are required to keep abreast of lumps and splits, and changes in the range of many species. More than sixty new species are covered in the second edition of Birds of the West Indies. It is significant to note that many of the vagrants are increasingly not birds from Eastern North America that have simply erred or overshot their migration, but are species from Europe and Africa, some of which are appearing with a degree of regularity.
     There is an immediate allure in simply looking at the front cover of this book, with such iconic West Indian species as Streamertail, Jamaican Spindalis and Cuban Tody featured. One is immediately drawn in!
     The guide starts with all the usual features one expects to find in a field guide, covering geography, distribution, bird topography and instructions on how to use the book. All too often this section of a field guide is skipped over, but it should always be read thoroughly for it often contains information germane to that guide. 
     I was pleased to see a section on the perils that birds face and the slippery slope towards extinction for some species with critically low numbers. It is one thing for these species to be in peril from natural events such as hurricanes (the intensity and frequency of which have been exacerbated by human activity), but when a decision is made to bulldoze the last stand of trees a species needs for survival, it is a wanton, unacceptable, arrogant act. A new conservation ethic needs to become the order of the day. The list of endangered and critically endangered species makes for sobering reading.
     The species section is pleasingly arranged with range maps and descriptions on the left and illustrations on the right. The information provided is well done, with enough information to identify the bird not only by morphology but with other clues to aid in the task. For example, for Magnificent Frigatebird - "Chases other seabirds to rob prey. Does not land on sea surface". These points are very helpful to someone encountering a species for the first time - or for the experienced observer for that matter. The behaviour of a bird can often lead to correct ID before the bird is even seen well.
     I was not familiar with the illustrators but they have done a fine job, and the book is visually attractive.
     It seems to me that this field guide does what all good field guides should do. Generally one acquires the field guide in anticipation of a visit to the area, and the images of the birds, most of which are strange, new and exotic, fuel the excitement of the trip ahead, and lets the birder know what he or she can hope to see. Many happy hours are spent with a good guide before ever setting foot on the area it covers. 
     I have had the good fortune to visit many of the islands of the West Indies, but maybe I need to start looking for a good deal on flights to see a few more island endemics! There are still places to explore!

Birds of the West Indies - Second Edition
Herbert A. Raffaele, James W. Wiley, Orlando H. Garrido, Alan R. Keith and Janis I. Raffaele
US$24.95, £22.00 - 9780691180519 - 288 pages - 5.25 in. x 8.5 in.
Publication date: 16 June 2020

     

47 comments:

  1. It sounds good. I was never in the West Indies, but can imagine that European birds settle there just as 'foreign' birds settle here -like your beautiful geese for example. So much has been destroyed in the name of progress in past years, and the pollution has increased which makes it very difficult for some species to survive. I wonder if people will learn before it's too late! Have a great day, take care, hugs to you and Miriam, Valerie

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  2. Field guides are always interesting, David, even if it's about plants in the nature.
    I'm sure you want to explore more!

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  3. Plants, ants, birds, butterflies, beetles, salamanders, snakes, snails, newts, toads, frogs, kangaroos, wallabies, giraffes, baboons, chimps, bonobos, buffalo........it is all fascinating, Marit and I hope never to stop learning!

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    1. Yes, it's very important to learn something new. I fully agree with you, David!

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  4. The Internet is a good place to find information, but I love the collection of identification books I keep up at the cabin for reference and research. In the beginning, we didn't have Internet there, so books were my only resource. Now we have Internet, but books remain as my first choice for figuring out what I see. - Margy

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  5. I love field guides, so much info and great photos for identification. I had a few plant ones that need to be updated.

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  6. It would be amazing to travel there but I would at least like to have the book to read! I love seeing the variety of birds in other countries! Nice review!

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    1. Well you live in Florida where some of these birds occur from time to time - Bananaquit for example.

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  7. Querido amigo David, todo evoluciona y se adapta a las nuevas necesidades. Es una gran pena ver como los libros hoy día tienen que competir con la pantalla tonta. Como los libros, no existe otra mejor fuente de información.
    Un abrazo querido amigo y compadre.

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  8. The birds on the cover with interesting colors and probably in the West Indies there are many more unique things.

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  9. These sorts of guides are always welcome …

    All the best Jan

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  10. Field guides (birds, animals, plants) are of the utmost importance.
    Your review does the above guide and us, the readers, a big favour.

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    1. I have a monumental tome called "The Birds of Israel" by Hadoram Shirihai published in 1996, but still a really valuable reference today.

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  11. Hello, I would love to see some of these West Indies birds. Thanks for sharing the review and the book. If only I felt safe to travel some exotic place to go birding. Have a great day!

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    1. There are many safe destinations throughout the world, Eileen. Friends of mine recently returned from Guadeloupe and they had a fabulous time and meandered over the whole island with impunity. I have visited Cuba three times over the past three years and never felt ill at ease or unsafe for a moment. Last year we visited both Panama and Costa Rica without any issues at all. I suspect that a major US city is far more dangerous right now.


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  12. Encore un livre qui a l'air très sympa et avec de belles illustrations.
    En ce moment je lis beaucoup de livres sur les jardins.
    Bonne soirée

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  13. They do make fascinating reading don't they?
    I love that this one included a segment about the perils that so many species face. And cringe thinking about the impact we have. World-wide.
    Our own rotten government is going to allow increased logging/mining to jumpstart the economy - without any consideration of the negative impacts it will have. Hiss and spit are the nicest words I can say about that.

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    1. I hope that the voters of Australia will have long memories and that the reign of these criminals is short lived.

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  14. I would love to see the birds in the West Indies, the best we have done was Nevis and I only saw a few there. Bet the book is interesting, Take care, Bonne journée, Diane

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  15. I would love to visit the West Indies, any island really! I've recently picked up a copy of James Bond's Birds of the West Indies, it'll be interesting to pick up a newer book such as this one to see the differences!

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  16. Good evening, David! how are you? oh, yes, it´s a wide world and there is still so much to explore. Thank you for the suggestion of this interesting book. I hope that we become aware that we{re destroying the richness of our nature.

    Have a nice start to the week 🐦🐦

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  17. Field guides do make for fascinating reads. It's always interesting to compare the species with which we are familiar to those related species in other places.

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  18. So many different birds around this world, don't think one would ever be finished looking, seeking or reading about them.

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  19. I have a rule about guide books - and it goes like this? 'How many guide books to I need?' Answer: at least one more than the number I currently have!!

    Looks good, but it is a little outside my geographical area!!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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  20. Hi David - this sounds another of the great reference books ... and oh how I'd love to visit the West Indies. I'm pleased to read that there's a section on 'the slippery slope' towards extinction that some birds are facing. I heard this morning about one lapwing pair which hadn't bred recently ... but with conservation ... there were now quite a few pairs, and breeding, in the area.

    Our dear people are leaving litter all over the place ... having been let loose - which will not help wildlife - nor people with better things to do, who have to clear it up - no doubt, sadly, for the next lot to arrive.

    Take care and enjoy your local walks ... Hilary

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  21. Este me gusta más que el de las arañas David. Tambien me gusta leer con libros en papel y sentir sus hojas, tengo kindle, pero no es lo mismo.
    Buen Juno y buen martes. Cuídate.
    Un abrazo.

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  22. David, så glad jag blev att du hörde av dig, tänker ofta på dig och din familj och hur det går för er i dessa bistra Corona tider.

    Jo, jag är okej, vi, min man och jag har varit isolerade sedan 10 mars, sonen handlar mat åt oss en gång i veckan. Det går ingen nöd på oss men livet har onekligen förändrats. Vi bor ju på landsbygden och så har jag min kära trädgård att arbeta i och njuta av. Vi är lyckligt lottade för som du kanske har läst så har många människor i de äldre grupperna avlidit här i Sverige.

    Jag läser mycket och är djupt oroad över vad som händer i världen. Naturens och planetens behov är inte värt särskilt mycket i dessa tider, artutrotningen sker med rasande fart och vanliga människor som är avskärmade från naturen har ingen aning om vad som pågår.

    Mina kära svarta flugsnappare Ficedula hypoleuca är just nu flitigt sysselsatta med att föda upp årets kull, så roligt att se dem jaga insekter i trädgården.

    Förra veckan anlände de sista flyttfåglarna, tornseglarna Apus apus. Jag hörde dem innan jag såg dem.

    Jag vet ännu inte hur jag skall göra med bloggen, har behov av att förnya mig både innehållet och bloggens tekniska utseende vilket jag inte klarar av. Jag tycker att jag bara upprepar mig och trädgården förändras ju inte över några år. Det blir bara mer av samma sak.

    Jag hoppas att jag hittar tillbaka till inspirationen och glädjen att skriva igen.

    Många kära hälsningar till dig och Miriam!

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  23. Another book that looks very nice and with beautiful illustrations.
    For the lovers a delight ...
    Sorry to respond so late ... I'm a bit sick!
    Hugs for you and Miriam!

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  24. I think I could happily get lost in your library for days, browsing all your wonderful books :)

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  25. Thank you David for this book review. I do hope that people who will visit these islands and birds will have a great help by it.
    Regards,
    Roos

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    1. Maybe one day you will get to use it there yourself, Roos.

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  26. Hay que documentarse bien, para conocer esas bellas aves e identificarlas cuando se vaya a fotografíar.

    Besos

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  27. If ever I am going to be bound for the West Indies, David, I'll be contacting you for a reminder of the title of this guide! However, I have been pondering today over what of the numerous guides for UK wildlife should be next on the list, so it is likely to be a very long time before I get to this book.

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    1. Assuming that service resumes by this winter, I think I might see if I can get a deal to go somewhere for a week or two. There are a few islands that look very appealing.

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  28. Hello David,
    this is again a very valuable book for every nature lover and photographer. Great that you include these reviews of other continents and countries because you can learn a lot about the other countries and their nature :-)
    Kind regards, Helma
    I hope you are still safe and healthy xo

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  29. El libro se ve bonito, me encantan todos. Un abrazo amigo David.

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  30. This appears to be a valuable guide. However, for the foreseeable future, it shall have to remain a "wish book" for us.

    But what incredible bird life!

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  31. It looks like an interesting and well-written book, a good addition to your library about birds (which must be rather impressive).
    We can finally enjoy warmer weather and green leaves and bird song. Happy summer to you!

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  32. If one could judge a book by its cover, I'd buy it right away! Your review does nothing to change that opinion. It sounds beautifully done and so informative. Now, I think you must head to the West Indies again, or some other near island, and see if it's as good and helpful as it looks!

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  33. Good selection, the West Indies have are beautiful looking.

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  34. Hi David, I think in Indie they have nice birds. I love bird books too.

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  35. The cover of the book is beautiful and your review is always very interesting. In these difficult times (C-19) I do not dream of a trip to West Indies. I have little dreams, all I need is a trip around Europe.
    A healthy and happy week:)

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