Bird word: Field Guide

  • Field Guide: a book giving details of all the birds found in a region or country. Field guides usually include colour illustrations of the birds, descriptive notes to help identify the bird and a distribution map.

When I was growing up in the 1950s the only reliable and comprehensive field guide to Australian birds was Neville Cayley’s “What Bird is That?” It wasn’t my copy, it belonged to my older brother but I tended to use it far more than he did. In my later teen years I acquired my own copy, the lesser quality but far cheaper paperback version.

When I first married and we started having family camping holidays, often in the Flinders Ranges, I bought the two volume “A field guide to Australian Birds” by Peter Slater. I used this guide alongside the beautiful, but cumbersome Reader’s Digest “Complete Book of Australian Birds.” This wonderful volume is not truly a field guide, because it uses photos instead of paintings for the illustrations and can be a little misleading as a result. Its strength is the text and I still refer to it frequently. Its major weakness is its size and weight; far too big and heavy to use as a field guide.

The 1980s saw the publication of Graham Pizzey’s “The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia” (illustrated by Doyle). This was, in my opinion, far superior to any previous publication and it has remained a favourite of mine ever since. It travels with me everywhere; in fact, it lives permanently in the car. It is also starting to fall apart despite several repair jobs.

In 1997 Graham Pizzey published a new, much revised version, this time beautifully illustrated by Frank Knight. This is a far easier to use, compact, easily carried in the field, well illustrated and with an authoritative text. It is the volume I now consult most frequently.

I do have an early edition of Simpson and Day’s “The Birds of Australia” but I find this volume sadly lacking in the text although the illustrations are quite good. I would not have bought this volume myself; it was a gift. The later editions (it’s up the 7th edition) may be much better but I haven’t checked it out.

More recently Michael Morcombe has produced a new field guide which I understand is quite good. I can’t really comment except to say that I’ve only briefly looked at it several times in bookshops. My thin wallet and my crowded bookshelf both say that I don’t really need another field guide.

For my trip overseas late 2005 and early 2006 I bought two field guides for the trip:

  • The Birds of South-East Asia (for use in Thailand)
  • A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (for use in Nepal).

Both proved very useful and studying them on the plane on the long flight over there proved useful in filling in the long hours. I had also been studying them for many months previous to my trip. (See my travel blog for details and photos of my trip.)


One Response to “Bird word: Field Guide”

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