When Vögel in Afrika by the same author became available in 2009 (reviewed in Bull. ABC 17: 254 - 255) it was a landmark on the German market as there was no book available covering the entire birdlife of Africa. Now it has been translated into English and is therefore more readily accessible to a much wider audience, but must also face stiff competition from several other excellent photographic (field) guides. Ertel's book covers more than 1,300 species using a single photograph for each. Most photographs are of good quality and compared to the German version some images have been improved immensely, for example African Pygmy Kingfisher Ispidina picta, Abyssinian Roller Coracias abyssinicus, Woodchat Shrike Lanius senator, Orphean Warbler Sylvia hortensis and Firecrest Regulus ignicapilla. Some species are shown on the nest (African Marsh Harrier Circus ranivorus, Spotted Creeper Salpornis spilonotus). It is obvious that some rare species (Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris) or those with cryptic behaviour (flufftails Sarothrura and the two Picathartes) are difficult to photograph, but unfortunately some common species also lack high-quality depictions, e.g. Squacco Heron Ardeola ralloides, Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola and Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus. Furthermore, images of several species depict birds in unusual postures (e.g. Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus, Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica, Black Scrub Robin Cercotrichas podobe) or were taken in unfavourable light (e.g., Rock Martin Ptyonoprogne fuligula, Sombre Greenbul Andropadus importunus, Icterine Warbler Hippolais icterina, Yellow-bellied Hyliota Hyliota flavigaster), thereby making identification without previous knowledge difficult. A great advantage is the distribution maps for each species. Some errors in the maps of the German version have been corrected (e.g., for Crested Galerida cristata and Thekla Larks G. theklae) but for migrants the text must also be checked and care taken when a species breeds in parts of Africa and migrates to others (e.g., Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio, Melodious Warbler Hippolais polyglotta). However, the book's preface reveals that it was not the author's intention to make every female weaver identifiable, but to provide an overview of all of the important representatives of African bird families, and in this respect the book definitely succeeds. A keen birder visiting a certain region or country in Africa will undoubtedly prefer one of the now very good regional guides that is available. But, for the regular traveller to Africa with a broad interest in wildlife, the book has the advantage of covering a large number of species from throughout the continent within a single, pocket-sized volume.
Birds in Africa. An Introduction and Survey to the Birdlife of Africa
Rainer Christian Ertel (translated, supplemented and revised with the assistance of Nik Borrow), 2011. Nottuln: Fauna Verlag. 415 pp, 170 colour plates of photographs. Hardback. ISBN 978-3-935980-16-6. Available from NHBS www.nhbs.com.