By now many of you will have had a chance to look through the “New Thomas &
Thomas”, and like me, you may have been impressed by its expanded content and
many colourful photos. It’s likely you’ve noticed the addition of two extra
authors, and that the book now comes to us from the highly-respected team at
CSIRO publishing. I’ve had my volume since it was released, and I have been
VERY slow in getting this review out, hampered by starting two new jobs at the
same time. My apologies to Alan and the authors, and to the publishing team who
sent me an advanced copy to review – but at long last, here is my full review.
Richard Thomas, Sarah Thomas, David Andrew and Alan McBride (2011). The
complete guide to finding the birds of Australia (2nd edition). Collingwood,
Vic: CSIRO Publishing.
In the 1980s, Australian birdwatchers celebrated the arrival of several new
bird guides. Most were field guides, aids to bird identification, but one,
Where to find birds in Australia (John Bransbury) broke new ground as a guide
to finding birds across the continent. Since then, numerous state and regional
guides have followed this format, listing the best birding spots in the area
covered, and in some cases presenting a list of species and where to find each
one. The first work to suggest locations for each species of Australian bird
was completed by visiting Britons, Richard and Sarah Thomas, and published in
1996. It soon took over from the Bransbury volume as the essential traveling
companion for long-distance birdwatching trips. The completely revised 2nd
edition takes this volume even further ahead, and brings two other prominent
birders into the writing team: David Andrew and Alan McBride.
The new edition almost doubles the size of the original, adding nearly 200
pages. Every section has been rewritten, line-drawings and mudmaps have been
redrawn, and photographs have been added to illustrate habitats and some
species. The directory of birding organisations and support services has been
updated and extended, while information for travelers, both domestic and
international, has been consolidated to provide a broad coverage of essential
information, omitting some of the unnecessary detail of the first edition. The
biggest changes, however, are found in the two main sections: the site
information, presented state by state; and the “Bird Finder”, giving updated
information on where to see every Australian species.
The majority of sites were re-visited by at least one of the authors, and
recent information was sought from local birders or groups. Australia’s island
territories have been included in the new edition, and the chapter on pelagic
birding has been expanded to reflect the increased interest in this form of
birding around the country. This section describes 60 new sites, about 240 in
total. The list of Key Species for each site is now given as a separate
paragraph, making it much simpler to scan site descriptions quickly for target
birds. The species indices refer to entries in these Key Species descriptions.
Overall, page layout and font selection have been improved to make the book
clearer to read.
One of the slightly frustrating aspects of the first edition was the inclusion
of lists of species seen by the authors on a particular visit, but usually
without reference to the time of year. This has been improved in the new
edition by omitting “we saw” in favour of a list of species expected, by season
where appropriate. In some cases, rarer sightings are mentioned by including
the month and year of the record. Links to relevant websites, local experts,
and phone numbers are now provided in many of the site descriptions.
The authors point out (x., “How to use this Guide”) that this is not a
comprehensive site guide, as there are already many publications that fulfill
that role on a local basis. The aim in this book is to provide advice on
finding “as many of Australia’s bird species as possible in the most efficient
way.” The second section, “Bird Finder Guide,” identifies the most likely
regions for finding every species, and for most birds, lists likely sites from
the first section of the book.
The species entries in the Bird Finder now feature an introduction for each
family, including comparative numbers of world and Australian species.
Taxonomic order follows Christidis and Boles’ 2008 revision. Every species
entry has been rewritten, usually to add extra detail, but occasionally
omitting sensitive information, such as nesting sites (e.g. Pacific Baza) or to
reflect changes in birding ethics – there is no longer any mention of
tree-tapping in the Owlet-Nightjar entry.
The most striking feature of the new edition is the addition of sixteen
coloured leaves in the centre of the book, each with photographs of four bird
species. Most of the photos are by David Stowe, although several other
well-known bird photographers are represented. The images are a curious mix,
including iconic species, such as Southern Cassowary, Hooded Plover, Red
Goshawk, Palm Cockatoo, Superb Lyrebird, Regent Bowerbird and Regent
Honeyeater. Some photos are there because of their stunning colour: Red-capped
Robin, Splendid Fairy-Wren and Frilled Monarch fall into this group. Other
species may have been chosen because they are less frequently photographed:
Lewin’s Rail, Inland Dotterel, Marbled Frogmouth, Chestnut-breasted Whiteface
and Eyrean Grasswren. There are several photographs whose inclusion is
puzzling: they are not uncommon species, they do not pose identification
problems, and they do not show the photographer at his or her best. Varied
Sitella, Victoria’s Riflebird, Blue-winged Kookaburra and Gang-gang Cockatoo
are all partially obscured by shadow or foliage, and several, such as the
Black-bellied Storm-Petrel could have been significantly cropped, or replaced
by a closer photo. There does not seem to be a clear rationale for the choice
of species, or even for the inclusion of these plates at all – but they do add
colour and interest.
The guide should appeal to the traveling birder, both international visitor and
anyone on a visit to an unfamiliar area. Even the expert birder is likely to
find the site descriptions and mud maps helpful when visiting new locations,
although a few directions have already been disputed in discussions on the
Birding-Aus forum. For remote areas and those where access is difficult, the
traveler should take the authors’ advice of using a GPS device and consulting
detailed maps. They also stress that inclusion of a site does not imply right
of access, and that visitors should always seek permission before entering
private land – contact details are provided for some sites.
There will always be critics, particularly in the world of birding. Each of the
current field guides has been criticized about minor inaccuracies. In some
cases the criticism has been justified, and publishers have issued reprints
correcting errors such as inaccurate distribution maps and misplaced labels.
The Complete Guide to Finding the Birds of Australia has not completely escaped
the critics, and errors of detail such as the species expected on pelagic trips
in certain months, or names of vessels, have been identified. Just as no single
field guide describes all possible plumage variations of every species, it is
unreasonable to expect a single, portable volume to contain all the location
details for every site considered important by local birdwatchers across the
nation. One book cannot be everything! This one is comprehensive in that it
gives possible sites for seeing every Australian bird species, and it gives
detailed instructions for many of the more elusive birds. This is an important
addition to the collected knowledge of Australian birds, and a volume that it
is easy to justify adding to any collection.
Birding-Aus List Owner
Geelong Victoria Australia
To unsubscribe from this mailing list,
send the message:
(in the body of the message, with no Subject line)