23 January 2015


"Birds of Australia:  A Photographic Guide", by Iain Campbell, Sam Woods, and Nick Leseberg, was published in 2014.  It's a 392 page paperback and costs $35.00.
An upfront disclaimer... I'm NOT an expert of Australian birds.  Although I did visit Australia for a couple of weeks back in 2005, I haven't seen the vast majority of birds in this book.  However, I do look at a lot of bird books and because I find them fascinating and the birds of Australia mindbending, I'll review this book anyway.

First, about the size, it isn't a tiny fit-in-your-back-pocket kind of book.  As you can see below, it's just a tad smaller than the newest Sibley Guide to Birds (which most North American birders are familiar with).  The proportions are the exact same as the Pizzey & Knight Australia book in everything except thickness; Campbell et al. is just a tad thinner:
There is a 37 page introduction devoted to the habitats of Australia which I actually found helpful.  I doubt habitat names such as "mulga" or "gibber plains" are familiar to many of us birders, especially here in the US.  For that reason, the authors include maps of where the habitat is generally present and some text describing it and what some of the key species might be:
Sometimes a picture of the habitat is included with the text and map:
After that comes the species accounts which essentially is the remainder of the book.  When you open this book, you'll see species text and maps on the left side and pictures of the birds on the right.  Here's an example of the treecreeper section:
Sometimes, as you'll see below, a picture makes it into the left side of the spread, in with the text and maps.  There isn't really any rhyme or reason to when that happens but it hardly seems like a bad thing.  Here's an example on a page with cuckoos:
 Here's another example with a photo on the left side, this time with parrots:
Focusing a little bit more on the text for each species, here is a photo I took of the Scarlet-chested Parrot account.  You can see it includes the common name, scientific name, size, general habitat, a quick verbal description of the bird, and even a location where birders might look for it:
The maps in this book are simple but informative.  You'll see the territories are outlined, major cities are represented with a dot, and the bird range as shading.  The maps don't delineate between winter/summer ranges.  However, you'll notice that there are differences in the shading; darker indicating their core range (and presumably they're easier to find there).  Here's an example map, this one of the Channel-billed Cuckoo:
 Here are three more range maps, this time of grasswrens:
 As another example, here's the text, map, and a bonus photo of a Yellow-throated Miner:
Sometimes species are packed in pretty tightly which obviously leaves little room to expand very much on each species.  In this example, six species of falcons are fit in this spread:
I figured I'd end with a list of pros and cons:

* Every Australian bird is mentioned (all 714 species)
* Photos are pretty decent; this book is said to have 1100 photos.
* Range maps are present with the text and photos, not in the back.

* Some birders don't like photographic guides.  This is a photographic guide.  I hear you.
* There is little room for additional text about calls, natural history, seasonality, etc.

As a whole, though, I really enjoyed flipping through this book and I do think it's quite valuable to have.  Still, this book brought to mind an issue I've discussed before; photographic guides.  I typically don't rank photographic bird books very high due to the inability to standardize and, overall, I'm not a fan of any guide here in North America that attempts to ID a species in one or two photos (whereas "the" gull book, with tons of photos of every species, is superb).  I'm not 100% certain why that is but I think it roots in me being familiar with birds here.  Once I learned the birds and became familiar with so many, I think my level of expectation in a field guide went way up.  Instead of trying to figure out if it's a Spotted Towhee or Eastern Towhee, I want to see the different subspecies, I want to see as many different ages as possible, I just need more.  In general, photographic guides don't do that for me.

So why do I like this photographic guide?  Well, it comes back to me NOT being familiar with the birds in Australia.  If I went back, I'd surely be spending my energy on just trying to figure out which honeyeater I'm looking at, you know?  Not being familiar with these birds in turn makes seeing photos of buttonquail and emu-wrens maybe more enjoyable than illustrations!

Still, in the end, if I had to choose only one bird book for a trip to Australia, I'd definitely still choose the Pizzey & Knight book just because there are more depictions of the birds (and they're illustrations!) as well as more information about nests, eggs, habitat, seasons, voice, natural history, etc.

For more information about this book, you can visit the Princeton University Press website.  Just click here.

I received a complementary copy from the publisher for review purposes, 
but the viewpoint expressed in this article is entirely my own.