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Birds of India

A photographic guide

Birds of India - A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh

By Bikram Grewal (Author), Sumit Sen (Author), Sarwandeep Singh (Illustrator), Nikhil Devasar (Illustrator), Garima Bhatia (Illustrator)| Princeton University Press | Paperback | April 2017 | 792 Pages | 4000+ Colour Photos | 1300 Distribution Maps | ISBN: 9780691176499

India Pictures

The Publisher’s View:

* Covers all 1,375 subcontinental bird species

* Features more than 4,000 stunning photographs to aid quick field identification

* Includes up-to-date facing-page text and range maps

* Contains concise descriptions of plumage, voice, habitat, and much more

This is the only comprehensive photographic field guide to the birds of the entire Indian subcontinent. Every distinct species and subspecies – some 1,375 in all – is covered with photographs, text, and maps. A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent features more than 4,000 stunning photographs, many never before published, which have been carefully selected to illustrate key identification features of each species. The up-to-date facing-page text includes concise descriptions of plumage, voice, range, habitat, and recent taxonomic changes. Each species has a detailed map reflecting the latest distribution information and containing notes on status and population density. 

A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent also features an introduction that provides an overview of birdlife and a brief history of ornithology in India and its neighbours. The result is an encyclopaedic photographic guide that is essential for everyone birding anywhere in the subcontinent.

The Authors:

Bikram Grewal is the author of more than twenty books, including A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India and the Indian Subcontinent (Princeton). 

Sumit Sen  is an expert birder and photographer whose work has been published in books and journals worldwide. 

Sarwandeep Singh  runs the popular birding website Birds of India and is one of India's leading bird photographers. 

Nikhil Devasar  runs the Delhi Bird Club and is a widely-published bird photographer. 

Garima Bhatia  is an avid birder and photographer who has travelled widely in India and beyond.

Fatbirder View: This is a really hard book to review as there is much to admire and much that falls short of excellence. Forgive me if I mix these up rather than just giving pros then cons.

The books really is comprehensive which is great, but it makes it very unwieldy. Somewhere it claims to be great for quick ID reference in the field – extravagant in two ways. You need very big pockets and a strong constitution to carry it into the field and while some illustrations are perfect for a quick ID others would not help at all. For example, I’ve seen Heart-spotted Woodpecker in the field, and it immediately became a favourite. As the name implies the markings on its back are indeed heart-shaped. The photo in this book is side on and rather a scruffy female with a tiny inset front view of a male… hardly the best angles to display the diagnostic features. Going back to size, surely it would have made more sense to split the volume into passerines and non-passerines as they are more or less fifty-fifty in terms of the space taken. It might even make it possible to take this into the field in a pocket on either side of your jacket and keep you from listing to one side too! Given variably quality etc., of photos one needs a more comprehensive text.

Speaking of variable photos, its hardly surprising that just a couple of photographers are not going to get terrific shots of all the species. I’ve stood next to Nikhil while he snapped away and I know he takes some fantastic pictures, but I’ve met or corresponded with another dozen brilliant photographers from the sub-continent and a book that featured the best from a wider range of people would, to my mind, have made more sense.

At times the text is more anecdotal than scientific and often so sparse as to be almost an afterthought. A picture may say a thousand words, but they don’t always tell the whole story. Moreover the colour backgrounds do not make for easy text reading and I can imagine how the text might well seem to disappear in some types of light.

The maps are small, so being rather grey make them even harder to see whether a bird is likely given your location.

I’m not going to say much more. Some of the photos are stunning and the wide coverage is admirable but this doesn’t stand up if it stands alone. It’s too big to lug into the field but I can see how it might be useful back at base, especially if you are trying to ID birds from your own photos.

In short I admire the ambition and the sheer beauty of some photos, but if I get to return to India its weight in the suitcase would be hard to justify.

Buy this book from NHBS

Fatbirder

22nd April 2017