Working for birds in Africa

Birds of Western Africa. Second edition.

Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:12 -- abc_admin
Nik Borrow & Ron Demey, 2014. London, UK: Christopher Helm. 592 pp, 266 colour plates, c.1,300 maps. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-4729-0568-0.

The first edition of this book was published in 2004 (see review in Bull. ABC 14: 109 - 110). Ten years on, the second edition has been extensively revised, with all of the plates redesigned and the distribution maps now appearing opposite the plates. Many of the original illustrations are retained, but there are also many new ones and the plate redesign has meant that, whereas in the first edition there were 148 plates, the new edition boasts 266! Although the book includes several additional species recorded in the region for the first time in the intervening ten years, these represent only a relatively small number of birds, meaning that the additional plates have essentially been used to make the design appear much less cramped. So, for example, in the first edition 28 illustrations of 18 species of swifts were crammed onto one plate, whereas now 29 illustrations of the same 18 species are spread across three plates, permitting their much larger reproduction (the additional illustration depicts the upperparts of Black Spinetail Telacanthura melanopygia). This redesign has also created much more space for additional text and so, for example, whereas the text for Black Spinetail in the first edition amounted to six words and a few letter codes and symbols, in the second edition the text runs to 101 words and the coding has been dropped. This greatly expanded text provides much more information, and in full prose that is much easier to assimilate. The distribution maps have been completely redrawn and Bob Dowsett is credited with a major contribution to this. Again, as an example, comparing the distribution maps for Black Spinetail, it is apparent that the range given has been expanded considerably in the south.

The authors have chosen to stick with a more traditional family order, rather than adopting some of the many recently proposed changes, as they consider these would be rather confusing to most users of a field guide. So, mercifully, falcons are still to be found next to the other raptors, rather than adjacent to parrots! For more specific taxonomic matters, the authors have chosen to follow the first volume of the fourth edition of Howard and Moore (Dickinson & Remsen 2013) for non-passerines, and a combination of sources including the third edition of Howard & Moore, the HBW passerine volumes and the IOC world checklist for the passerines (the passerine volume of the fourth edition of Howard & Moore was not published until after the work under review appeared).

All of the above changes result in major improvements over the first edition and have made what was already an excellent field guide significantly better. The only negative point concerns the colour reproduction. This was noted in the first review in this Bulletin and unfortunately has not been significantly improved upon in the second edition. A number of plates appear to be too heavily inked and the illustrations of some primarily black species show very little feather detail at all - just appearing as solid blocks of dark. Extreme examples of this are the storm-petrels, which compare poorly with the illustrations of these birds in the hardback edition of Birds of Western Africa, which was published in 2001. Nevertheless, this is an excellent field guide and can be thoroughly recommended to anyone visiting Western Africa.
 

David Fisher

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