Working for birds in Africa

Where to watch birds in Africa

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 14:16 -- abc_admin
Nigel Wheatley, 1995. Christopher Helm / A&C Black. 432 pp, 51 line drawings, over 100 maps, laminated boards.
page 57

By using a wide database, the author of this guide has succeeded in detailing most of the best birding sites on the continent, as well as localities for most of those species with restricted ranges.

Following the same format as the author's Where to Watch Birds in South America, the first 34 pages are taken up by introductory subjects. These include 'Introduction to Birding in Africa', 'Conservation', 'General Tips', 'Glossary' and an explanation of the Text Maps, Figures include a league table of countries with the most endemics and two maps, one showing the position of all countries, the other, the main physical features and habitats. These introductory chapters work well and the map showing countries was particularly useful, and I found myself checking back to it as I read the main texts.

The main part of the book covers the country accounts. These are listed alphabetically and comprise 53 mainly political entities, although a few are combined for convenience, such as 'Islands around Africa' or Lesotho and Swaziland within South Africa. However, all countries in Africa are covered, including little known nations like Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso and the Central African Republic. Offshore islands covered include all the Atlantic islands from the Azores to Ascension, as well as Amsterdam Island and Madagascar.

The country sections start with general background information necessary for planning a trip, ranging from 'Getting around' to 'Accommodation and Food' and 'Climate and Timing'. Lists are then given of the more important species and then a projection of the number of species that could be expected on a standard two to fourweek trip. Coverage ranges from as little as 1.5 pages for some of the little known countries such as Guinea Bissau, to nearly 27 pages for popular Kenya.

A total of 200 main sites are given under the country headings. Site information includes 'Specialities', a general list, 'Access' and 'Accommodation'. Over 100 maps and 51 line drawings enliven the text.

The author uses the common names given in James Clements Birds of the World a Checklist (fourth edition 1991) with Supplements 1 and 2. This uniformity is useful and those of us who have struggled for years with the different field guides will realise the wisdom of using a standard World Checklist. Some of these common names, however, are very different to those in use in Southern Africa. A table showing these alternative and often more familiar names is given at the back of the book.

So how does this guide shape up? Perusal of the eight countries familiar to me, showed that all the sites I would consider essential have been covered and the text is largely free of errors. Often a little more detail would have been useful, but most people understand the limitations on space inevitable in an overview of an entire continent's birds. Furthermore most will use it as a trip planner before searching out the more specific information now available. However, this book is also useful for another reason. Where else could you turn to, to speculate on birding trips to Niger, Guinea Conakry or even Angola? Most of us will never go to any of these destinations, but this book can help us dream. For those who don't live in Africa it is dreams like these that keep us going between trips.

As the author states in his introduction, this guide should be treated as a 'guiding light'. In this, the guide succeeds admirably and the author should be congratulated. Additionally if you wish to dream about your next birding trip or indeed dream about the trips you will never do, I recommend you buy this book. You will not be disappointed.

Alan Greensmith

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