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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Book Review of the Birds of Europe

Birds of Europe 
text by Peter J.Grant and Lars Svensson, 
illustrations by Dan Zetterstrom and Killian Mullarney, 
Princeton Press, 1999 

A while back I attempted to compile a list of book reviews describing my top ten favorite guides. I failed this milk-run of a mission and tossed up only 8 such reviews, the last two have remained unwritten. I've decided to temporarily skip #2 (The Shorebird Guide by Michael O'Brien, Richard Crossley, and Kevin Karlson) and cut right to the last, and in my opinion, best guide. Enjoy: 

Have you ever ID'd a scoter by the way it dives? Or a Red-throated Loon by how it's neck moves in flight? Or distinguished the offspring of a Pochard male and a Tufted Duck female from the young of a Pochard female and a Tufted Duck male? No? Well that's probably because you haven't read this guide. This Princeton Press field guide is the ultimate bird guide: 400 sturdy pages of birding knowledge. Complete with amazing illustrations, 4-color range maps and comparatively long species texts, it covers everything from the Red-throated Loon to the Indian Silverbill. What other book fits illustrations of 20 Common Buzzards, 18 Honey Buzzards and 1 Marsh Harrier into one average sized page while still being completely visible? On top of the amazing quantity of the illustrations each picture is surrounded by field identification notes. Every description gives size, habitat, scientific name, the scarcity of the species in England, identification details and voice. The book include 848 species, 23 of which are introduced and 103 of which are vagrants. Indeed every species recorded in Europe before 1999 is covered. Nearly every species has a illustration of a certain behavior, gives a side-by-side comparison with another similar species, or merely shows a habitat preference. Whatever the case, in the way of illustrations, this book is not lacking! One feature I particularly like are the family introductions. Most of these are just a paragraph long but a few, like the intro for the gulls, are excessively long (but not in a bad way). The gull introduction contains 7 paragraphs on IDing gulls, their food preferences, their molt cycle and general observation tips. Along with these 7 paragraphs 30 individual gulls of numerous different species are illustrated.      
  The back of the book has a partially illustrated chapter on vagrants, a list of accidentals (rarer then vagrants), and partially illustrated chapter on introduced breeders. In short I have nothing wrong to say about this book. It really is the perfect field guide. All field guides at least attempt to set themselves at the top, but so far all but this one have succeeded in nothing more then failing when compared with this pinnacle of birding knowhow. 

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