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Wildlife Camera » Buy the bird guide — but which is best?

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« Wild attractions of Spain’s high plains -
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Black beauty - Kodak Z712 zooms and pans »

Buy the bird guide — but which is best?

4 September 2007


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snowy egret

Scattered through the pages of Wildlife Camera you will find the phrase: “Buy the bird-book and go.” But which book? Expert birders are (almost) agreed that there is just one outstanding bird-guide for Britain and Europe, and possibly a choice of two for North America.

The serious birdwatcher on this side of the Atlantic will probably be carrying the Collins Bird Guide (£11).

The American birder will have either the National Geographic Society Field Guide to the Birds of North America (£14.99), or the North American Bird Guide by David Sibley.

All of these are best-sellers and have their devoted fans. Although they are back-packable rather than pocketable, and weigh more than most cameras, they are well worth carrying into the field. They are works of monumental research. David Sibley spent six years painting the 6600 illustrations for his astounding guide (£25), which he also wrote, and the other manuals were produced by equally devoted teams of authors and artists, some of them working over many years. Among the competition in North America is Roger Tory Peterson’s Field Guide to the Birds, first published in 1934 and still going strong.

One point to note about the top field guides is that they use artwork rather than photographs of birds. It is agreed that a photo catches the moment, but the artist captures the bird, and Sibley probably does it best of all.

A slight weakness of the bird guides is their coverage of birdsong and calls. One man’s “tweet-tweet” is another’s “zwit-zwit” or “a double piping note”. You will have to buy a bird-sounds CD if you want to be certain.

The books mentioned here are already agreed to be classics, as essential for the birder as binoculars and zoom camera. You need the 8X30s to find out what you’re looking at – with the help of the field guide — and the 10X to prove it. – Willy Newlands (copyright)  Prices quoted are current on www.amazon.co.uk  Photo of Snowy egret, Florida, by Wallbanger, Stockphotomedia copyright.


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