Birding in Borneo – Field Guides

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Birding in Borneo – Field Guides
From: L&L Knight <>
Date: Mon, 26 Oct 2009 11:55:08 +1000
Prior to October, birders travelling to Borneo had to choose between a couple of SE Asian field guides. These tended to be difficult/
expensive to acquire (out of print in some instances) and not the
easiest to use in the field.

Now there are two inexpensive field guides to the birds of Borneo to
choose from – launched simultaneously at the Borneo Bird Festival the other week. These were priced at RM115 (~A$37) at the event.
[ was advertising the guides for a similar price in
September, so I ordered one, figuring it would arrive before I
departed for Borneo.  I was wrong – Fishpond failed to acquire the
stock and cancelled my order – so I purchased a guide at the festival 30 minutes before the bird race began].

The two guides are:

The Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak,
Brunei and Kalimantan – by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps, ISBN 978 1 906780 10 4 (Beaufoy Books). Binding: Paperback; Pages: 368;
Weight: 800 grams.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo – by Susan Myers, ISBN 978 981 08 3441 8 (Talisman Publishing / New Holland Publishers). Binding:
Hardcover; Pages: 271; Weight: 700 grams.

While they cover the same geographic area, the two guides differ
greatly in many respects.  They have different formats and sometimes
use different common names.  For example, Myers refers to Esacus
magnirostris as Beach Thick-knee while Phillipps refers to it as Beach Stone Curlew.

Myers, for example, places each species illustration in the same box
as its description (so they are together on the same page). Phillipps places the illustrations on the page facing the descriptive text.

The illustrations in Phillipps were drawn by a single artist (Karen
Phillipps) while the illustrations in Myers were drawn by 16 artists. The illustrations in Phillipps are generally larger than the
illustrations in Myers, but Myers appears to be more likely to show
juvenile plumages than Phillipps.  However, Phillipps includes many
illustrations of feature species – there are eight illustrations of each of the three species of Frigatebirds (Great, Lesser and
Christmas) covering first, second, third and fourth year plumages as
well as the adult plumages.

The species descriptions in Myers are more systematic, following a set order with headings: Identification, Adult, Juvenile, Habitat,
Behaviour, Voice, Range & status, and (distribution) in Borneo.
Phillipps tends to be more economical with the species text, generally omitting the plumage description (working on the premise that the
reader can deduce that from the illustration).

The distribution maps in both guides distinguish between resident
breeders and migratory visitors. Myers further distinguishes between non-breeding visitors and passage migrants, while Phillips further
distinguishes endemics and sea birds.  Phillipps does not provide
distribution maps for vagrants.

On that score, Phillipps includes a lot more vagrants and possible
vagrants than Myers. Phillipps, for example lists 6 gulls, 16 terns, 3 noddies and 5 skuas; while Myers lists 2 jaegers, 2 noddies, 14
terns, and 1 gull.  Similarly, Phillipps covers 9 shearwaters and
(storm) petrels, 2 tropicbirds and 4 boobies; while Myers covers 4
shearwaters and (storm) petrels, 1 tropicbird and 3 boobies.

Not surprisingly, the species ordering is somewhat different in the
two guides.  While neither is entirely logical, Phillipps appears to
be more systematic in grouping like birds together (and generally
including an introductory paragraph or two).  Myers appears to have
more of a scattergun approach and I was particularly peeved with the
ordering of the raptors, which went: kestrels, falconets, hobbies,
peregrine, osprey, baza, honey-buzzard, hawk, kites, sea-eagle, fish-
eagles, serpent-eagles, harriers, vulture, accipiters, eagle, hawk-
eagles, and buzzards [very similar birds were pages apart]. Phillips, on the other hand, had a very logical grouping for the raptors.
Indeed, Phillipps provides a lot of supplementary information on
raptors, relating to mimicry and migration patterns.

Therein lies the major difference between Phillipps and Myers. While Myers is totally oriented towards field use, Phillipps includes a lot of reference material that a birder intending to visit Borneo would
find handy.
While both have a graphical bird group index on their inside covers (a necessity for visiting birders who haven’t got a clue as to what they are seeing), Phillipps includes graphical indices to the birds of: the seashore; coastal gardens; padi fields; rivers and streams; lowland
forests; Kinabalu Park HQ; and the Kinabalu summit trail.  Phillips
further provides details of Borneo’s climate (including monthly
rainfall charts for 17 locations – very useful given the intensity of the rainfall), bird breeding seasons and migration patterns. At the back of the guide there are eleven double-page spreads on key birding areas in Borneo (the Kota Kinabalu area, West Sabah, East Sabah,
Brunei, North Sarawak, South Sarawak, the Kuching area, Kalimantan,
Tanjung Puting NP, Mahakam River and Lakes, and the Darawan Islands.

As such, Myers is more likely to appeal to twitchers, while Phillipps is more likely to appeal to geographers, ornithologists and armchair
readers [it is quite a good book to read while stuck in transit
Ultimately, both books will fit inside a large pocket [eg in a pair of cargo pants – it is too hot and sticky to wear a coat except in a
downpour].  The hardcover on Myers will probably enable it to
withstand the rigors of equatorial birding than the softcover on

All that said, I am happy that I have signed copies of both guides.


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