This is a photographic field guide which covers all European bird species including vagrants and some species which have not yet occurred but are quite likely to do so eventually. In one slimmish volume the reader has images (over 2200 of them) of every species of bird (860) they might see on the continent.
I warmed to this book the more I looked through it. At first glance I thought it fell badly between the two stools of appealing to the novice and the expert. And that is a criticism that can still be made. Those who need to be told that pipits, Crested and Thekla Larks are ‘confusion species’ with Woodlark may be a bit bamboozled in the section on gulls – but then, mightn’t we all?
If I had this book in my rucksack when out birding then a few times a year I would use it when I saw a bird that I hadn’t seen before and needed a clue as to what it was, and for those occasions when I thought that I was looking at a rare bird, and I thought I knew what it was likely to be, but wasn’t completely sure what I should be looking at and what would be the clinching field marks. Here’s hoping that one day I see a strange wader at Stanwick Lakes and think ‘That’s odd. I bet that’s a Great Knot. I saw Great Knot in Australia 15 years ago but what should I be looking at now?’. What is the chance that I would have left the book in the car when I really needed it?
If you already know what African and Indian Siverbill look like then you won’t need this book if you see a rather dull-looking exotic finch in the south of France.
This book has its pluses and minuses and many of them are inherent in its aim to have such wide coverage and being a photographic guide. To get all these species in one portable volume requires quite small photographs which in too many cases rather poorly illustrate the identification marks that are highlighted by the ‘Peterson-style’ annotations. Flight images are lacking from many species (eg some ducks and waders) where they really are what the reader needs. I thought some of the images were practically useless as identification aids. The images are often rather dark in my copy. But 2000+ photographs of birds include some images that are very helpful too – I found the skuas, some of the gulls and many of the wader photos quite useful.
But is the day of the field guide almost over? Or actually over? I could carry this book with me wherever I go but I’m not going to. And I don’t need to carry a photo of a Blue Tit, Blackbird or Robin with me on my normal birding routine. Nor do I need an image of the Greater Hoopoe Lark when birding in east Northants. We will surely move towards downloadable identification guides on our mobile phones increasingly over the years. Download the expert identification text and scores of images of potential species for a fiver right now as you are looking at the bird.
Quite useful. Not perfect. Not top of my list of useful field guides. Worth the price?
Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: a photographic guide by Frederic Jiguet and Aurelien Audevard is published by Princeton University Press.