Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Book review: Birds of North America by Kenn Kaufman

Birds of North America

Kenn Kaufman 
Houghton Mifflin | 2000
384 pp. | 11.5 x 19 cm | 2,000+ digitally enhanced photographs. Colour distribution maps
Paperback | £22.00 / $20.00 | ISBN: 978-0-395-96464-4

According to the author, Kaufman Guides are "the best and fastest way to get started... to send you outside quickly, putting names on what you find". If that is the objective, the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America has realised it admirably.

Aimed at the beginner rather than the expert, the facing-page format allows illustrations, text, and range map for each bird to be viewed simultaneously, at one opening of the book. That is a major advantage over, say, the Peterson Field Guide series. As for the illustrations, Kaufman opts for digitally enhanced photographs over paintings, the idea being to combine the strengths of a real, photographic representation with the flexibility of a painting. There are more than 2,000 depictions of birds in natural conditions, all of them processed digital images based on photographs. Range maps show where each species is common or rare and indicate migratory status.

A further advantage over most other North American bird guides is the inclusion of all the regularly occurring birds, so you do not need to purchase separate field guides for the East and West.

For anyone with a casual to enthusiastic interest in birds, this is the field guide to get. It will enable you to "search and locate" fairly easily. Even the experienced birder may find him / herself carrying this handy little guide and leaving the heavier tomes (Sibley) in the car.

Book review: Birds of Belize by Lee Jones

Birds of Belize

H. Lee Jones
Illustrated by Dana Gardner 
University of Texas Press | 2004
440 pp. | 15.5 x 22.5 cm | 56 colour plates, 28 figures, 234 distribution maps
Paperback | £29.99 / $34.95 | 978-0-292-70164-9

Due to its small size, proximity to the USA, English speaking tradition, tropical biodiversity and fairly well conserved natural environment, Belize is growing to be one of the most popular destinations for birders. However, until recently the country lacked a national field guide. This book therefore fills a major gap in the bird identification literature.

The book covers all 574 species recorded in Belize at the time of publication. After brief but informative introductory chapters, a group of 56 colour plates is dedicated to every species. As a refreshing change, all migrants are illustrated, reducing the need to carry an additional field guide to North American birds. A brief text accompanies each plate on the facing page, while the full species descriptions are found separately in the main body of text. Range maps for 234 species are found at the back of the book.

Although this book will not replace the immensely authoritative Howell & Webb's A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America for Belize, it is certainly a much more portable guide to carry into the field. A must for birders planning a trip to this friendly patch of Central America.