Toucans, Barbets & Honeyguides
Toucans, Barbets and Honeyguides by Lester Short and Jennifer Horne, Illustrated by Albert Earl Gilbert – Part of the Bird Families of the World series published by Oxford University Press http://www.oup.com ISBN 0198546661 Supplied by the Publisher
This is the first of the OUP Bird Families of the World series that I have had the pleasure to review and I am very upset. Part of the upset is that I have missed all the others and part is due to the dent they are likely to make in a pocket already seriously raided by the Pica and Helm guides that line my study. Inevitably I made comparisons between the two and, as in love with the Helm guides as I am I still found room in my heart for the OUP. They are not better or worse but there are differences.
I think I prefer the Helm and Pica book layout – but this may merely be because I am used to them. I like all the plates at the front and the way that they are accompanied by just the right amount of text. The larger format of the OUP guides, however, do allow for the most sumptuous of colour portraits of the birds – and it is of course, a group (Piciformes) with many very splendidly colourful birds among them. I am not usually fond of illustrations made to show all the ID points of a bird that have background but this volume has part converted me. The twigs, leaves and flowers seem to set off the colours well and were as familiar as the few of this order that I have been lucky to see in the wild. I realise why this part conversion happened and that is the actual plate sizes. Anything smaller would mean that background of anything other than plain colour detracts from the bird and confuses the eye, these plates are just of a size where this is not a problem.
Because the introduction to the families was at the beginning of the book rather than after the plates I dipped into it more than I am accustomed to doing. I found it a tad dense, just a few too many technical terms and a little too often crowding sentences that could have been in plainer language but then again these books should be seminal works and must needs be of use to ornithologists and not just the humble birder.
The species accounts are comprehensive and follow a pattern that seems to be becoming pretty ubiquitous – only one criticism here and that is that it would be useful to have references at the end of each account rather than elsewhere. If you are looking up a particular species and want to know more or look in greater depth then it would help to have the references in the same place. One thing I very much like is the date and name of the first description after each bird name in the species account – maybe as I have a particular interest but not something one always sees. All guides should adopt this [and they should all add comprehensive lists of alternative names too].
My overall verdict – this is
excellent – top marks for the splendid species portraits. One semi carp is that the paper is a tiny bit on the flimsy side which,
coupled with the fact that this is a large and quite heavy book, is likely to lead to pages tearing if one is not
Created: 7th Feb 2002