Field Guides etc

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Subject: Field Guides etc
From: "alan morris" <>
Date: Sun, 23 Apr 2006 22:19:36 +1000

Don't be taken in by the suggestion that Morcombe's Field Guide is "good". It is worthwhile I suppose to keep in your library, as it has good although some what artistic illustrations but as a Field Guide it is not, it is too big and too heavy and you would leave it in your library or in the car if you were going out birding. As far as a field guides go that you can carry into the field, that fits in your pocket and has similar species alongside each other in the illustrations, you cannot go past "Slaters Field Guide to Australian Birds" and it is easy to obtain as most bookstores carry it.

Last year I reviewed Morcombes "Pocket Field Guide", which I have copied below. The Review was published in the April 2005 edition of "the "Birding NSW Newsletter".

Lloyd Neilsen has recently had published a book on where to find birds in Australia. It is the most up to date of such publications and you can search the archives of Birding-aus to find out more about it.


Michael Morcombe's "Field Guide to Australian Birds, Complete Compact Edition. Steve Parish Puplications. 800 species, 3000+ illustrations, graduated colour distribution maps, 386 pp, $38.95 recommended retail price. Throughout the world bird "field guides" are recognised to be small, compact books, that you can easily carry with you into the field, with coloured illustrations of birds, with similar species often placed together to aid identfication and with a distribution map placed on the same page as the limited text and illustration of each bird. In Australia, only one book previously qualified as a "field guide', being the Slaters' Field Guide as the others (Pizzey's, Simpson & Day's & Morcombe's), because of their bulk and layout really are "glove box guides". With this book, Steve Parish publications has attempted to compete with the Slaters' Field guide by providing a "handy pocket-size format" compact field guide in late 2004. However the information contained in this Field Guide as pertains to NSW appears to be updated until about 1998, whereas the other Australian Field Guides are much more up to date with their information that this.

Compared to Slaters' Field Guide (11.5 x 21.5 cm, weighing 580 gms), Morcombe's weighs in at 625 gms and is 11 x 23 cm, and is therefore thicker & longer. One would need a bigger and longer pocket when carrying it in the field! Generally only two species are dealt with per page in this book so that more illustrations of various plumages & morphs are provided. For each similar group of birds there is a page(s) devoted to displaying them side by side. There are plenty of underwing patterns illustrated for species and groups of species and I was impressed by the quality of the multiple illustrations that show the various plumage stages for each species.. It will be interesting to see if the system used for illustrating the birds in this way will stand up in time to the standard set by UK & USA field guides as used in the Slater Field Guide. Colours and bird size and shape all seem to be correct. As the details are dated to 1998, the Brown Falcon colour phases are still shown to be colour morphs rather than the age and sex differences as described in the journal The Emu in 2003.

I was disappointed to see that some species seen in NSW since 1998 are not mentioned in the Field Guide viz Garganey, Northern Pintail, recent records of the Northern Shoveler, Pied Heron (4 records), Kentish Plover, Red-footed Booby (3 records), Tristram's Storm-Petrel, Black-backed Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail (many), and the only Lesser Yellowlegs mentioned is an unconfirmed record for somewhere on the far South Coast and the 2001 confirmed record for the Hunter Region is not there. Then there are some problems with the maps. Most are OK but the Lesser Sand Plover with only one inland record is shown to be well distributed in inland NSW; the Lesser Frigate-bird, with 40 records up to 2002, according to the map only occurs in the far north east of the State, whereas it has been recorded as far south as Jervis Bay; there are only 3 inland records of the Black Bittern in NSW, and even then 2 of them are spurious, but the map would indicate that they could be expected on the western tablelands and slopes of NSW etc. There are other errors and I have list if anyone is interested.

Overall, I consider that this new compact field guide is competively priced and it is well illustrated although checking for similar species can be a bit fiddly. However it is slightly bigger and heavier than the current competition and this may tell against its sales in the long run. Alan Morris


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