I've just finished editing my usual spring update of my birding notes on the province. Very few changes mainly concerning revamping the section on bird guides, adding a couple of websites and suggested places to stay (more on which anon) plus trying to correct some formatting issues. As always send me a message via the contact form if you'd like a copy and I'll email them to you. They're free but a donation to a wildlife charity RSPB, SEO, etc but especially the Salarte project - birdingcadizprovince.weebly.com/cadiz-birding-blog-page/salarte-project) would be very welcome. Any suggestions, corrections or updates are always welcome.
Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East – A Photographic Guide by Frédéric Jiguet & Aurélien Audevard | Translated by Tony Williams | Princeton Universtiy Press | Paperback | Feb 2017 | 447 Pages | colour distribution maps | 2,200 Colour Photographs | ISBN: 9780691172439 | £24.95 (but available online for less)
Since the advent of the authoritative and superbly illustrated 'Collins Bird Guide' in 1999, some may question whether there's any need for a new field guide on the birds of Europe (plus North Africa and the Middle East) at all. However, canny publishers have spotted that there is still a niche for guides that can offer something different such as using photographs rather than artwork or focussing on a more limited area. 'Britain's Birds' (Wildguides) combined both approaches by using photos and restricting the geographical range. Now a new photographic guide purporting to cover the same area as the 'Collins Bird Guide' has entered the fray - the. Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by Frédéric Jiguet & Aurélien Audevard. So how does it shape up?
Unfortunately, the English title of this guide is misleading since many North African and Middle Eastern species are not included. In North-west Africa alone a dozen species are missing (e.g. Dark Chanting Goshawk, a couple of sandgrouse, Levaillant's Woodpecker, a trio of larks and a brace of wheatars) and there must be two or three times more left out elsewhere. The original French title (and that of other translations) -“Tous les Oiseaux d'Europe” - gives the game away. This book covers all species recorded in Europe and birds from the wider region only scrape in as vagrants to Europe. You need to peruse the species texts to realise that their definition of 'Europe' includes Cyprus, Lesbos and the 'European' Atlantic islands although the eastern border is irritatingly left undefined. Surprisingly, Pharaoh Owl is included as it's claimed that it “could potentially colonise southern Spain” which seems optimistic given that it's never been recorded there. Remarkably, by describing and illustrating all vagrants the final species total is 860 which is substantially more than the Collins Guide (715 fully treated plus c90 vagrants and escapees covered briefly).
The new guide promises the reader a creditable 2,200 photos although by encompassing so many species this means an average of only 2.5 photos per bird. In comparison, the Collins Guide, which is almost exactly the same size and with the same number of pages, has an average of 4 illustrations per species. The Wildguides book, which covers over 260 fewer species has a larger format and over a hundred more pages, manages an average of 5.4 photos per species. So although a generous provision, it is inevitable that this book shows fewer plumages and fewer birds in flight. These omissions sometimes can make a difference between identifying a bird or not; the lack of any flight shots of either merganser is but one example of this. The photos are of a good standard but some of the wildfowl look like capitive birds as they seem to be pinioned ...
After a good, albeit somewhat brief introduction, the book gets down to business with over 420 pages of photos and descriptions. Both the illustrations and text share the same page with, where appropriate, a map. The photos are well annotated with useful comments on key ID features. The photographs have been “photo-shopped” so that most background has been “tippexed” out with only a ghosted disc remaining round the bird (or part thereof). The photographs themselves are generally of a good quality although some are a little small making details hard to discern. As a general rule, the images tend to be larger than those in the Collins Guide (but 30%-50% smaller than those in Wildguides' 'Britain's Birds'). However, painted plates of birds in identical poses, without distracting shadows and carefully delineated to highlight key points mean that it can be harder to distinguish detail in photos than paintings of the same (or even smaller) size.
More often than not two species are covered per page but quite a few are squeezed in three and a fewer still four to a page (esp. Nearctic vagrant passerines). Another sixty odd species, often (but not always) those with several distinct subspecies or a complex range of plumages have a page or more to luxuriate in. So it's not a surprise to find species with very variable plumages – buzzards, eagles, some harriers, all larger gulls, and so on have a page or more to themselves. Predictably, Yellow Wagtail comes off best with no less than three pages – generous perhaps but it's good to see those familiar green, grey or black heads attached to a body for once! Rare shrikes in the old Isabelline complex are particularly well treated. Yet such generous full page coverage is also enjoyed by far less variable species like Pheasant, Brown Booby, Starling, Waxwing and Pine Grosbeak. Whatever the criteria used to determine the space allowed for each species, the criteria seem haphazardly applied as Common Redpoll (a variable species with several races) only gets half a page. Some fairly common species too get shorter shrift than one might expect (e.g. one photo of Woodcock compared to two for Pin-tailed Snipe).
What distinguishes this guide from any of its rivals is that, as the original title suggests, it really does include all the birds found in Europe. Although rarities are often treated in less detail (in text and photos) in some cases, the level of detail and illustration even exceeds that used for common and widespread European species. It is particularly strong on its coverage of different races some of which have half a page to themselves (on the downside in a number of cases this extra coverage is several pages adrift from the main text and not always well cross referenced). The outstanding example being “Ambiguous Reed Warbler” a very recent (and still controversial) race of European Reed Warbler found in North African and Spain (which may even be a race of African Reed Warbler). Oddly, though, redpolls are less well treated than one might expect. Naturally, some of the larger gulls have all of their various races depicted and described (although not always to the level really needed since that would require a couple of pages at least. On the other hand coverage of stonechats and 'Isabelline/Brown/Red-tailed Shrikes, for example, is better than one might expect. Even so, there are times (e.g. depicting wheatear tails) when it cries out for a couple of comparative, even diagramatic. illustrations rather than photos ('Britain's Birds' is far more pragmatic in this respect).
Vagrants include species recorded at least as recently as October 2015 and those with only one or two records. It's a pity that the relative rarity wasn't more clearly expressed or indeed, given most copies will be bought in the UK, it hasn't got a simple key to UK status (as per the old Heinzel guide). Whilst in many ways this inclusiveness is welcome, it does to some degree compromise the coverage of commoner species that birdwatchers are far more likely to see. My personal choice would have been to drop the extreme vagrants with only a handful of European records to improve coverage of birds which observers have a real chance of finding for themselves. In some ways, it is a surprise that this strategy hasn't been used since the authors (and the original publisher) have already produced a very similar guide devoted entirely to European rarities ('Tous les Oiseaux rares d'Europe' which coveres 456 species in 365 pages & 1850 photos) At the very least I would rather have rarities were consigned to an appendix to minimise confusion like to old 'Shell Guide').
Another area where this guide excels is with regard to introduced species. We have illustrations and text not only for widespread feral species like Ring-necked Parakeet but also less familiar (and more restricted ones) like Vinous-throated Parrotbill and Erkel's Francolin. Spanish based birders will welcome the inclusion of Black-headed Weaver and Yellow-crowned Bishop even if the text suggests they're restricted to Portugal (the former and to a lesser degree the latter are increasingly found in several sites in western Andalucia). Conversely, the Red Avadavat's range is given only as 'Spain' whereas it's also found widely (if thinly) in Portugal. Strangely, though, the distinctive red male is not illustrated only the duller female (although the sex isn't given on the photo). Inevitably, some species with feral populations are omitted (e.g. several parrot species regularly found in Spain) but the authors deserve great credit for including as many as they have.
The text is rather brief often having fewer than half the number of words than the descriptions found in the Collins Guide. Unlike that book, it also fails to highlight key points in italic or bold (which improves functionality). Even though the text is usefully supplemented by annotations around the photographs, the text is not always sufficiently thorough as some useful identification features have been not been mentioned (e.g. the white underwing of adult male Lesser Kestrel). Vocalisations are also treated somewhat briefly with many species lacking any description of their song. Some descriptions are even misleading such as noting that the Iberian Chiffchaff's call is 'similar' to Willow Warbler whereas its Reed Bunting like down slurred call is diagnostic. That said, although brief, the text in conjunction with the photographs should allow you to identify most of the birds you see although inadequate to identify some very similar species or some female/juveniles birds (some not all being described let alone illustrated).
The three colour maps show breeding, resident and winter ranges (but not occurrence on passage). They are invariably small (being a little smaller than those in the Collins Guide) and seem a little more generalised than the maps in that guide. Even so, they generally provide a useful 'broad-brush' guide to distribution. In some cases, though, the status of some species is very optimistic! Fortunately, the book follows the same familiar taxonomic order as used in the Collins Guide rather than the new scientifically rigorous but very impractical new order some books have opted for.
Taken together the illustrations and text make this book more functional than most photoguides. Although including extraordinarily rare birds it weems more aimed at the beginner/intermediate birder than wannabe expert as crucial details (and photos) are omitted. However, although I have a number of reservations, the whole somehow transcends my caveats to be by far the best photoguide to European birds on the market. It certainly doesn't replace the Collins Guide but complements it particularly if you want photos of all European species in one handy package. In this context, it's well worth buying. Surprisingly, perhaps, it's nearest rival photoguide is WildGuides' 'Britain's Birds' which covers Europe as well as this guide covers North Africa and the Middle East! 'Britain's Birds' is by far the better book as it has many more photos, more comprehensive coverage of plumages and birds in flight, much larger images, a far better thought out text and a flexible design. However, it has the serious drawback of being not only significantly larger and heavier but also only covers the c600 species recorded in Britain. Essentially you can have comprehensive coverage or portability but not both. Until the promised European version of the Wildguides book appears Jiguet & Audevard look set to be the definitive photoguide on European birds (although not of North Africa or the Middle East!). Recommended (with some reservations).
Birds of Spain - Eduardo de Juana & Juan M Varela (Translated Ernest Garcia)Pub: Lynx Feb. 2017 567 species (inc. 173 accidentals covered in less detail)300+ maps Almost 1,000 illustrations ISBN 13: 978-84-16728-02-220 x 12 cm 258 pp 25€
Despite my atrocious Spanish, I've been recommending “Aves de Espaňa” by Eduardo de Juana and Juan M Varela ever since I saw a copy and mistook the latter's artwork as some of Lars Jonsson's early work. They have the same fluid style and an uncanny knack of breathing life into their images. I couldn't understand much of the text but the maps, like the illustrations, were multilingual. After a little perseverance, I found that even I could even decipher the text sufficiently well to grasp the essential details of population and passage periods if not identification details. I've been hoping for an English version for years and here it is! This is a version of the recently published Spanish 3rd edition. Translators rarely receive the praise that they deserve but this volume was in the safe hands of Ernest Garcia, the well-known expert on Iberia's birds, who has done a first rate job. (Note that in this review I have compared this editions largely with the original 2000 edition, not the 2nd edition).
As the introduction tells us (and we hopeless Anglophones can now understand) the aim was to produce a book small enough to be “practical for use in the field” and yet of “impressive quality, content and conservation potential”. It's testament to how far their aims have been achieved that over 40,000 copies of the original Spanish book have been sold and the guide has gone through several editions. The main section describes and illustrates just under 400 species in 208 pages whilst 173 vagrants (57 of which are illustrated) are listed (but not described) in an appendix. It follows the now conventional 'text-opposite-plates' layout. Each double page spread covers 3-4 species (occasionally 5) and for relevant species includes a refreshingly large distribution map. Note that it covers peninsular Spain, the Balearics and, less obviously, the Canaries.
As noted above the illustrations are of a very high quality. In this (like the third Spanish edition) new illustrations have been provided for a number of species (inc. male Capercaillie, juv Night Heron, winter Kentish Plover, Stonecurlew, Pectoral Sandpiper, Common Buttonquail, Barn, Little, Short-eared and Eagle Owls, Bee-eater, Roller, Great-reed Warbler, Chiffchaff, Penduline Tit, Dipper, Blackbird, Blue Rockthrush and Snowfinch). There are also new illustrations for Cory's and Scopoli's Shearwaters (the latter newly included and treated as a full species). I find the illustrations aesthetically very pleasing with only the painting of Marsh Tit falling below par. One of my few reservations concerns the illustration of spring male Pied Flycatcher which shows a bird with a large white patch at the base of the primaries (not labelled as such but typical of the local race iberiae) but extensive white outer tail feathers more resembling the nominate form hypoleuca of northern Europe. A comparison I carried out by looking at twenty 'core species' found an average of 3.3 illustrations per species in this guide which was less than half of those found showing the same species in the popular Collins Guide (8). As a result, although there are good comparison plates for eagles, skuas and gulls, the book still has fewer illustrations of females, juveniles, birds in flight, etc. than many may be used to (for example only breeding Cattle Egret with warm buff plumes is illustrated inviting confusion, unless the text is consulted, between Little Egret and Cattle Egret when in winter plumage). However, to a large degree, this is compensated by the fact that the illustrations are significantly larger and the plates much less cluttered. This makes it particularly helpful for tyro birdwatchers since it's less confusing.
Several rare, introduced or essentially North African species have been 'promoted' from the appendix in the main text (inc. Bald Ibis, Western Reef Heron, Egyptian Goose, Mandarin, Lesser Flamingo, Long-legged Buzzard and Red-billed Leiothrix). Perhaps surprisingly neither Ruppell's Vulture nor Pallid Harrier, both increasingly reported, have been fully covered. Interestingly, Ruddy Duck has been banished altogether and the illustration of Barbary Falcon (now treated as a subspecies of Peregrine has gone AWOL). The inclusion of so many introduced species - Mandarin, Egyptian Goose, Red-billed Leiothrix, Ring-necked Parakeet, Monk Parakeet, Common Waxbill & Red Avadavat – is very welcome. However, the absence of species (e.g. Black-headed Weaver, Yellow-crowned Bishop and several parakeet species) with growing populations in Spain, is a little surprising.
Now that I can read it without constant recourse to a dictionary and much head scratching, the excellence of the text is clear. The descriptive notes are clear and concise (although the judicious use of 'bold' for critical points would have made them still better). The key identification pointers are given so that, given a good view, all but the most fiendishly difficult identification problems should be resolvable. The advantage of having a skilled birdwatcher as the translator is shown by the modification of the transcriptions of many calls and songs for an Anglophone, rather than Hispanophone, readership. Details of status and population have been taken from two recent Spanish bird atlases. These too have been used to create the excellent four colour maps (resident = green, breeding = yellow, common in winter = dark blue and scarce in winter = pale blue). Usefully the maps show the distribution of birds in Portugal and adjacent parts of France and North Africa too. Naturally, the maps are far larger, more accurate and more detailed than maps in field guides which cover a much larger area. My only caveat is that indicating provincial boundaries would have made it easier to understand where the birds are found. Conservation status is also given.
The most contentious, change has been to order the birds according to the most recent taxonomy which is based on DNA research. As a result of this, many original illustrations have been shifted round and often re-sized. Frequently they're now a little smaller, but this has the advantage of making some plates feel less cluttered. If covering wildfowl second, not first, after gamebirds were the only change then the novel arrangement wouldn't be too bad. Unfortunately, in my view many changes actively militate against the book's functionality as a field guide. Although now known to be scientifically inaccurate, the old taxonomy was based, in part, on physical differences so that similar species tended to be grouped together. DNA takes no account of this so Grebes are now 20 pages adrift from Divers. Nightjars, swifts and cuckoos now find a home just after flamingos but before crakes. Bizarrely, Hoopoes, Bee-eaters, Roller, Kingfisher and woodpeckers intrude themselves between the larger birds of prey and falcons. Odder still, Hippolais and “wetland warblers” are divided from the 'bush' and 'leaf' warblers by swallows and martins. Meanwhile, Long-tailed Tit is now hiding amongst the warblers! For anyone used to the traditional species order, this is extremely, and unnecessarily, confusing. The obvious remedy is to have a quick look in the index but this is where the guide really falls down badly since it has what is probably the worst index I've ever seen in a bird book. Not sure where to find a Golden Oriole in the new taxonomic order? Well, you won't find it under “O” for oriole as you might expect nor even under “G” for golden which is the other obvious option. No, it's under “E” for “Eurasian”! Hence no bird groups (such as gulls, terns, warblers, etc.) are indexed together and species are dotted across the index depending on whether they're 'Common', 'European', 'Eurasian' etc. Together with the unfamiliar order, this makes the book far harder to use than it ought to be. It's high time bird guides abandoned a rigorous 'scientific order' as it no longer reflects our intuitive grasp of bird groups. An Anglo-American team has led the way in using a 'field friendly' order (see https://www.aba.org/birding/v41n6p44.pdf) and the widely acclaimed Wildguides 'Britain's Birds' in the UK has followed suit (although this book also lists birds in taxonomic order in an appendix). My penultimate observation is one of surprise that Lynx didn't incorporate status information from their “Aves de Portugal” (which uses exactly the same illustrations) to make a single volume English language “Birds of Iberia” which surely would have been more economic and enjoyed larger potential sales.
I always used to recommended that British visitors to Spain should buy a copy of the “Aves de Espaňa” even if their Spanish was, like mine, very limited so, despite my minor caveats, I have no hesitation in recommending this English language version. It is a convenient and reasonably priced source of information, in English, that can only be found in a far more expensive reference book - “The Birds of the Iberian Peninsula” (also by Eduardo de Juana and the translator here Ernest Garcia). Enthusiasts, of course, will want both one for the bookshelf and one for the field. Although aimed at a novice or 'intermediate' birdwatcher, this is a superb little guide crammed with useful information which any Anglophone visitor to or resident in Spain would be foolish not to have with them. Very highly recommended
About me ...
Hi I'm John Cantelo. I've been birding seriously since the 1960s when I met up with some like minded folks at Secondary School. I have lived in Kent , where I taught History and Sociology, since the late 1970s. In that time I've served on the committees of both my local RSPB group and the county ornithological society (KOS). I have also worked as a part-time field teacher for the RSPB at Dungeness. Having retired now spend as much time as in Alcala de los Gazules in SW Spain. When I'm not birding I edit books for the Crossbill Guides series.