Birds of Northern South America
Birds of Northern South America by Robin Restall with Clemencia Rodner & Miguel Lentino published by Helm Field Guides 2006
This two volume publication is called ‘an identification guide’ as it is clearly far too large to be considered a field guide. Each volume is really hefty with one carrying all the species accounts and the other the plates with the birds portrayed with their distribution maps. It is a tremendous undertaking which I am unable to judge on accuracy of portrait or account have no experience of neo-tropical birding.
However, despite the high cost, it will no doubt soon become the reference work of first call for the northern neo-tropics as it brings together 2, 250 species in one place. If you take a look at any of the fieldguides for the countries covered, such as Colombia, Venezuela, or Ecuador you will see that they are, themselves, pretty hefty tomes each covering well over 1,000 species, add in the other countries and islands covered including most of Brazil and one can see the logic for putting them all together in place. But I do not see the logic of separating plates from accounts… one volume might be too large to handle but splitting the birds into, say, passerines and non-passerines and keeping the accounts alongside the plates makes more sense to me. For example, if one were using the book in a field station somewhere trying to identify birds in the hand from a mist net surely it would be easier to open the one volume to see a portrait map AND species account rather than having to open both? What is more, such a family based split could have allowed further division into even smaller volumes, such as splitting non-passerines into to two, which would make handling far easier.
On the minus side some of the plates are very crowded – particularly the hummers – and so the portraits suffer in the print. The distribution maps are quite small and not easy to read as river systems are kept in with national borders in dotted lines and they both become almost totally obliterated by the overlay of the distribution colour… I would have put them next to the species accounts with the species portraits alongside – no doubt these decisions were based on cost rather than any other criteria.
On the plus side most illustrations are clear and ID features are alluded to by lines so that one would have a good chance of quickly seeing which jacamar is which and so forth. The species accounts are succinct to the point of brevity but well written so that one gets a lot packed into a few words and all the essentials are covered from the stance of the books – identification.
The main author, Robin Restall, has already authored one of the Pica Press family guides – the acclaimed Munias & Maninkins and his museum background will have given him almost unique access to skins and field observations… and this massive undertaking gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘retired’ which is his apparent employment status there can be few among us who would not envy such achievement in retirement!
This is a true tour-de-force and commendable on many levels. Whilst the cost [recommended at £100 [(£60+£40)] is high it represents tremendous value for money.
Buy this book from www.nhbs.com @ £85!
Created: 13th Mar 2007