Author Nils Van Duivendijk, New Holland, 2010, ISBN 978-1-84773-607-9, PB
At first sight, the thought of an ID guide without either drawings or photos seems daunting to say the least, if not downright unusable.
As soon as you look a little bit closer though, the true value of this volume, published in association with British Birds, becomes obvious.
In essence, it lists all 1,300 or so bird species ever recorded in Britain, Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, providing the essential ID features for all of them. And when I say essential, I mean the whole lot. Key characters of every plumage (including variations down to age, sex, morph and race) are included, set out very logically and clearly for ease of use in the field.
If you’re serious about your birding, and especially if you travel widely in the Western Palearctic, then this is going to be pretty essential, whether alongside a conventional field guide or on its own.
The fact that it’s a highly compact, portable little book means that few hardcore birders would want their rucksack or coat pocket to be without one.
For those of us whose birdwatching is of the more close-to-home, low-key variety, though, there’s still a great deal to be gained from this book.
I thought I’d test it out in the field by matching the descriptions of common birds to what I was actually watching. And the thing is, I soon realised just how easy it is to fail to pay really close attention to the birds we’re used to seeing. We see each of those familiar species as an instantly-recognisable whole, rather than a collection of ID features.
As Bird Watching regular Dominic Couzens has pointed out before, ask yourself what colour a Robin’s face is, and you might well struggle to answer unless there’s one in front of you (it’s red). A book like this gets you into the habit of building up ‘jigsaw IDs’, which can only help when you come across more unfamiliar species. That’s not to say you can’t still enjoy birds just in themselves, of course, just that having the mental ID tools at your disposal always helps your enjoyment.
So, there’s something for most levels of birdwatcher in this unusual and impressively exhaustive book. You’ll certainly learn something, and you’ll be well equipped to identify even the most challenging species.
MATT MERRITT, SUMMER 2010