Why Birding Aus & Birds of Northern Melanesia

Subject: Why Birding Aus & Birds of Northern Melanesia
From: "John Leonard" <>
Date: Thu, 21 Mar 2002 04:04:03 +0000
Why Birding-aus?

Well, at the risk of sounding like Philip Adams, it?s one long conversation. Personally I enjoy it all, almost (there are a few names I have blocked), and some days I enjoy the trip reports, other days the fights, and the jokes, but I always enjoy genuine information the best.

One thing which I think we could do more often is to post notices of books we have read; I attach one notice below. If we could this more regularly then it would a great service to other birders, I think, and help us decided which books we want to buy, which put down on the list of books to get from the library or which to avoid.


The Birds of Northern Melanesia: Mayr and Diamond, OUP 2001

People might expect this weighty tome to be some sort of field guide to the region covered (Solomons and the Bismarcks (New Ireland and New Britain and smaller islands). In fact it isn?t and it doesn?t set out to be. However it does contain some beautiful plates of regional endemics and subspecific variation in some species (honeyeaters, white-eyes and monarch flycatchers &c), which illustrate nearly all the endemic species of the area, and it has a very detailed species list, with island-by-island details of the distributions of the various taxa, species and subspecies, so that, taken in conjunction with Beehler et al (Birds of New Guinea) and the Doughty Solomons Field Guide, it does ?cover? the area, and cover the Bismarcks, which Doughty doesn?t.

However the main point of the book is a long and detailed exposition of the Biological Species Concept, first articulated as such by the young Mayr in the 1940s, with illustrations of its features from the region. This will probably be a work that will be extensively cited in the future in works concerned with speciation and species concepts. I found the arguments very clear and convincing, and I was only put off by a couple of features, firstly the fact that Diamond and Mayr use no English names at all (but I suppose to invent English names for dozens of subspecies would be equally confusing), and the complicated hierarchy of taxonomic descriptions they use: superspecies, species, allospecies, megasubspecies, subspecies &c, (have I got that right?), or notation like Cacatua [alba], for the superspecies. But then these are integral to their argument as well, I suppose.

I suspect that this is a book that experts on the area will want to purchase straight away, but the large price tag (AUS$ 120) will probably mean that most birders will wait till they can get a library copy, to read it for its contribution to theories of species and speciation.

John Leonard (Dr)
PO Box 243, Woden, ACT 2606, Australia

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