Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Book Review: Birds of Europe
One of Warren's first birding books (perhaps the first birding book) was the "Hamlyn Guide to Birds of Britain and Europe," circa 1972. We still have it here on our ornithological bookshelf here at the Lovenest. It's moldy, torn, scribbled in - and treasured.
Still, that hardly makes us experts on the birds of Europe. We've birded Namibia, India, Costa Rica, Alaska, and a few other places besides _ but have not concentrated heavily (yet!) on Europe.
Yet, when you pick up a field guide, as with a set of binoculars, you can almost instantly tell whether it "feels" right.
Birds of Europe: Second Edition by Lars Svensson, recently released as part of the Princeton Field Guides, is a winner. Princeton recently sent us a review copy, and we felt one with it from the start. This is a smart, compact book that covers 713 species found in Europe, plus occasional visitors and escapees. The artwork by Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterstrom is beautiful and immediately reminded us of David Sibley. That may be because everything is compared to Sibley nowadays, but we think this guide represents a growing trans-Atlanticism in field guides, and in birding generally. It's definitely European, but with an American accent.
We found Birds of Europe easy to use and well-organized. One pleasing aspect to us North American birders is that birds found on both sides of the Atlantic are listed with their European names, with the American name in parentheses, as in (Northern) Goshawk. Another example of trans-Atlanticism.
There's a lot packed into each page - some times 4 or 5 species per page, with multiple drawings of each species, maps, etc. Some might complain it's too crowded, but the lay-out and arrangement seems to work for us.
If we have one bone to pick, it's that the species descriptions, although generally well-organized, clear and concise, lack much information about the status - ie, conservation status - of the birds. Are they declining? Threatened? Increasing? Status unclear? We can't tell from the text, and that's one thing we've absolutely come to expect from field guides these days.
That important quibble aside, this is one of the best European birding field guides we've seen in years. we'll pack it on our next trip to .... Spain? France? UK?
PS - Here's how field guides have changed in 35 years, the old and the new: