Birds of Cuba by Orlanda H Garrido and Arturo Kirkconnell Illustrated by Román Compañy Cornell University Press 2011 ISBN 9780801476914 £19.95

Here’s what I said in 2007 when reviewing the English language edition:

When I reviewed Birds of Costa Rica I said: What do you need in a fieldguide? Simple question which probably has as many answers as there are birders. I know what this travelling birder wants; Clear illustrations which show all the diagnostic features, clear distribution maps so you have a clue as to what you might see given your location and simple text that tells you what you need to know to identify a bird… such as what other bird you might confuse it with and where you are likely to find it such as up a forest tree or at the edge of a mountain stream and so forth. I do not need the pictures to be the most beautiful ever painted, nor do I need to have every alternate name, the colour of the birds eggs nor every type of invertebrate that they can eat, unless it helps me find one.

That guide ticked all the boxes for me and this one misses just about all of them! Its really hard to believe that they had the same UK publisher, I can only assume that they originate from very different publishing houses elsewhere.So what’s wrong with it, afterall the illustrations are beautiful and the text is comprehensive, nicely laid out and easy to read? The plates are beautiful but they are lumped together in the middle of the book and, by and large, leave it to the user to find the subtle differences between confusion species. Opposite each plate is a grey copy with the birds name – which, in my view is a completely daft move away from the convention of numbering illustrations and using the facing page to give name, brief description and a distribution map. This means that the distribution maps are large but contained in the species accounts in a different part of the book.

So, it calls itself a fieldguide but is, in fact, a library reference book which you may have to carry into the field if there is no other. It tries to fill two niches and, as is so often the case, ends up falling between two stools instead. As with many of its fellows it has all the right stuff but just not all in the right places.

Unfortunately I don’t read Spanish as I am sure I would be singing the praises of this edition because the major fault of the previous one has been corrected and now colour plates have numbered birds which are then referred to by facing text. OK the maps and full accounts are still elsewhere but there is enough there to make that account more jam than bread and butter.

Moreover, since my last review I have been to Cuba and met Arturo who is, undoubtedly a master. I had the English version and despite the aforementioned drawbacks proved far better to use than the only alternative which covers all of the Caribbean.

If I go back I might have to learn Spanish so as to be able to use this undoubtedly improved handbook. I dipped on at least three endemics, so you never know…


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