Helm Photographic Guides
A Photographic Guide to the
Birds of Southeast Asia [including The Philippines and Borneo] - Text & Photos by Morten Strange January 2003 Christopher Helm
398 Pages + 600 Full Colour Photographs, maps & Figures. £19.99p ISBN 0713664029
Supplied by the
I am never quite sure whether Photographic Guide isn`t a contradiction in terms – it is extremely difficult for photographs to match line drawings and paintings as an aid to field feature ID. One photograph cannot cover all ID features and with difficult to photograph birds one may only get the one bite at the cherry.
However, all these volumes are well constructed and have decent introductory texts that is all one would expect of a field guide; as are the individual texts and maps – no different to any other field guide and certainly as good as most. Morten Strange does it well and also deserves congratulation for his photographs, A & C Black can also be proud of the quality of the printing that, for the most part shows crisp and clear images which, from my limited knowledge of Southeast Asian birds show colour fidelity.
Nevertheless, one is still left with two problems. One grounds to the birds themselves, as one author points out a few were not possible to photograph in the field and he had to make do with captive birds – this doesn`t actually effect the images although, as he again points out, but it might confuse with choice of perches etc. This isn`t a problem but some it seems clear to me that he had to struggle to get decent shots of some birds and there are a few not up to the standard he sets himself, fuzzy or partially hidden, poorly lit etc.
But even if every image were as crisp and clear as the vast majority are one is left with the fact that birds do not always display their best ID feature to the camera nor are all representatives of a species identical. Sexual dimorphism apart there are age differences, seasonal changes et al that mean that painted images are still the most useful guide. What is more I am used to the best guides pointing out the crucial differences to me and this might not even have been possible from the images in these two books.
So, at the end of the day, (or more likely at its first light) would they be my choice in the field and I would have to say, sadly, no. If the books were just that bit bigger and allowed bigger images they would be excellent references to enjoy at home. They certainly are most enjoyable but I query their use as field guides.
One further bit of unasked for advice for the publishers… I was recently sent another photographic field guide from another publisher on another part of the world and it was accompanied by a CD/ROM that had four times the number of pictures and it has gone into my collection – just what I will want to study when planning a trip but not practical as an aid in the field.
My verdict – great to enjoy at
home but limited in the field. However, I`ll let you know if my view differs after I visit India – I`ll be taking the other A & C
Black publication – A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent with me!
Created: 20th Feb 2003
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