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The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

… beyond excellent!

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland | Series: Crossley ID Guide 3 | Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzens | 304 Pages | 310 Plates with Colour Photos | 250 Colour Distribution Maps | Princeton University Press | Paperback | Oct 2013 | ISBN: 9780691151946

Publisher’s View: Aimed at beginner and intermediate birders, yet suitable for all levels, this third volume in the ground-breaking Crossley ID Guide series is the most user-friendly field guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland. Based on The Crossley ID Guide's award-winning design, The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland looks at all regularly occurring species of Britain and Ireland, and shows readers how to identify birds using size, structure, shape, probability, and behaviour – just like the experts do! Stunning images are accompanied by the accurate and concise text of Dominic Couzens, one of Britain's leading nature writers.

The Authors:
Richard Crossley is an internationally acclaimed birder and photographer and the award-winning author of The Crossley ID Guide series (Princeton/Crossley Books), which has been recognized for a pioneering approach to bird identification. He is also a co-author of The Shorebird Guide, the co-founder of the Pledge to Fledge global birding initiative, and he is working on multiple birding projects involving mixed media.
Dominic Couzens is one of Britain's best-known wildlife writers. He contributes regularly to Bird Watching and BBC Wildlife magazines, and is also a professional field-trip guide. His books include The Secret Lives of Garden Birds, Top 100 Birding Sites of the World, and Extreme Birds.Fatbirder View: When Maggie looked at this guide before I had a chance, and said, ‘Right! This one is going to live in the car.’ I knew it must be special despite it being, essentially a photographic guide – and regular readers of these reviews will know what I think about them! Perhaps I should say THOUGHT of them as this book has addressed virtually all my concerns.

Its an over used phrase but I’m going to use it because it fits – the book is ground-breaking! I am rarely excited by a field guide… and have had little reason to be since Collins guide to Europe and Sibley’s to North America. They seemed to me to be the acme of birding books as they combined very exact and perfectly executed paintings with excellent text and neatly presented peripherals (distribution maps, key points etc.).

What makes this guide different is its unique (not a word I use lightly) use of many images of every species to give you different angles, plumages, sexual or age differences, and poses that typify the birds. Moreover, these are set against a background of typical habitat and also show the birds en masse and in flight including the patterns of flight by using many images as if a moving tableau. You can not only get some in flight ID features but this is the first guide (his raptor one aside) that actually shows you jizz with static pictures… very clever indeed!

For overseas birders (particularly north Americans) jizz is semi acronym for general impression. Most experienced birds can ID birds caught out of the corner of the eye, briefly or in bad light and still say with some certainty what they saw. The more you bird the more you absorb by a sort of birding equivalent of osmosis. The woodpeckeryness of a woodpecker is absorbed through the skin and a quick glance taking in size can usually confirm which woodpecker it is. The book styles itself for beginners and intermediate birds and Crossley is at pains to point out how you can move from one, through the other into expertise. He moves colour way down the scale starting with size and shape and that is how jizz begins. Combine these skills with some knowledge of behavior and habitat choices and you go from ‘what’s that?’ to ‘what is it most likely to be?’. Only then do you need close observation of plumage and call to clinch the ID deal.

I could write a book about this book as I am so impressed with it. Maggie (who thinks she is a novice but who is better than intermediate) loves it, she will get her wish and this book will ride with us to remind her what to look for when she spots another raptor faster than anyone I know, or needs to be reminded of which godwit flashes black and white when it flies, or whether the willow warbler’s wings are longer than a chiffchaff’s. But if the book’s messages seep in she won’t need it and will have already settled the case on the likelihood of waders or the tail twitching behavior of a warbler.

If other designers or creators of photographic guides took the trouble to photograph similar species in similar light from exactly the right angle as Crossley does I would get over my prejudice.

Let us not forget that image isn’t everything, every guide needs precise, clear and knowledgeable text and Dominic Couzens obliges, in spades. I’ve always liked his economic style and it is most needed when the space he is assigned is so meager… lucky they chose someone who is up to the task rather than just slapped in a lesser text as an afterthought as is sometimes the case. Crossley will get plenty of well-deserved credit, but Couzens is no ‘also ran’ and deserves a slap on the back for rounding out a guide that could so easily have been spoiled without his attention to detail and pithiness.

I guess I’ll leave it at that, this is a longer review than I usually write and that is a measure of just how impressed I am. This book is beyond excellent and there won’t be a birder in Europe and beyond who won’t be hoping to find this in their Xmas stocking!

Fatbirder October 2013

Buy this book from www.nhbs.com