In 2013 I had the great pleasure of birding for four days in Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia with Lim Kim Seng, and I can say without hesitation that as a guide he was without equal, in a lifetime of birding all over the world. I did not have the pleasure of meeting his brother Lim Kim Chuah, one of the co-authors of this work, but by all accounts he too is force to be reckoned with.
My signed copy of Lim Kim Seng's The Avifauna of Singapore with its lovely message is one of my treasured possessions, so it was with an extra sense of pleasurable anticipation that I looked forward to reviewing Birds of Malaysia & Singapore for Princeton University Press.
It is entirely appropriate that the birds of these two countries should be grouped together since there are many shared species, and birders visiting one country as a principal destination, often combine it with a foray into the other.
The front cover depicts the enigmatic and highly sought after Rail-Babbler, instantly setting the tone for what it is to follow, a deep and satisfying excursion into the avian wonders of this enchanted part of the world.
Immediately upon opening the book the visual delights commence, as one is greeted by coloured images of birds grouped by habitat. This quick reference is very effective, and birds are assembled by categories, such as Birds of the Seashore, Garden Birds, Paddyfield Birds and so on. What may be obvious to the local birder may not always be so apparent to a visitor from another continent, and a habitat guide such as this with its attendant species is very helpful. Even within the city centre, whose pulse does not race a little at the prospect of Coppersmith Barbets, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters and Brahminy Kites?
The Introduction provides an examination of the habitats to be encountered, with excellent illustrations and a succinct summary of each type. There are notes on taxonomy and nomenclature, bird migration, breeding seasonality and bird conservation. The standard diagrammatic representation of bird topography is well done, with a glossary to accompany it.
One is then launched into the species accounts in the familiar, conventional format of modern field guides - illustrations on the right hand page with ID notes and other pertinent information on the left. The pictures are first rate, designed to facilitate identification of the bird, without the encumbrance of landscape and vegetation. Dana Gardener is a highly respected and well known illustrator of many field guides, who had a long association with the dean of Costa Rican avifauna, the legendary Alexander Skutch. His skill as a bird illustrator is on display in this guide; it will not disappoint.
I have been poring over this book for hours since it arrived a couple of days ago, and my appreciation for its scholarship, design, clarity and usefulness augments each time I open it.
It is clear to me that it benefits from having been put together by three ornithologists resident in the area, who have a lifelong experience of their subjects.
I have field guides for every corner of the world, many battered and bearing the marks of extensive use. None are better than this one!
Birds of Malaysia & Singapore
Lim Kim Seng, Yong Ding Li & Lim Kim Chuah
Illustrated by Dana Gardner
Paperback - US$35.00 - £30.00 - ISBN: 9780691209906 - 400 pages - 167 colour plates - 6 in. x 8.25 in.
Publication date: 20 October 2020