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Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies

…a good companion

Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies
By Norman Arlott - Harper Collins 2010
ISBN 0007277180

From Grand Bahama Island in the north to Grenada in the south, this is an identification guide to the birds of a popular tourist destination renowned for the variety and diversity of its birdlife. The West Indies include the Bahama Islands, the Greater Antilles (Cuba, Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico), and the Lesser Antilles (Anguilla, Nevis and St Kitts, Martinique, St Lucia, Barbados, Grenadines, St Vincent). It is a tropical avifaunal region, which includes such species as the tiny bee hummingbird, parrots, honey-creepers and todies.

Every species found in the area is illustrated in every plumage in which they can be seen in the wild. The accompanying text concentrates on the specific characteristics and appearance of each species that allow identification in the field, including voice and distribution maps.

Wildlife artist Norman Arlott has illustrated nearly 100 books and his artwork regularly appears in magazines. He has designed special bird stamp issues for countries including Jamaica, the Bahamas, Seychelles, British Virgin Islands, The Gambia, Malawi and Christmas Island. He has also led ornithology tours to East Africa.The publisher’s blurb is fine as far as it goes… but there is more to be said.

On the positive side the book is small and extremely portable which makes it a good companion, especially if you are travelling to several locations or taking a pelagic. Of necessity, therefore, the species accounts that face the illustrations are brief. Yet they manage to convey what is most important to the user, size, prominent field marks, song and distribution, frequency & timing. I do not like having to look in the back to find distribution maps, especially as they are a strange grey background and colour combinations that are not the norm of other guides. Moreover, it would be impossible to tell which part of a Caribbean country they occur. The illustrations are pretty well uniformly good. Not the very best but well up there and on a par with most of the better Collins guides. I am pleased to see that the non-breeding plumages are often used for, for example, the overwintering North American Wood Warblers. However, given that this is an identification guide I am surprised to see that they lack indication of distinguishing features in similar species… very helpful when you get a quick glance of an unfamiliar family overseas, something that, for example, Sibley does to great effect.

My biggest gripe is that Tobago is left out of the book entirely. While one can make a great case for Trinidad’s exclusion based on its neotropical, rather than Caribbean taxa, but Tobago has more in common with the Lesser Antilles and should, I feel, have been covered, even although it does have a good field guide. T&T are very definitely considered part of the West Indies even if, zoographically Trinidad is neotropical.

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