Review: The complete guide to finding the birds of Australia

To: birding aus <>
Subject: Review: The complete guide to finding the birds of Australia
From: "" <>
Date: Mon, 30 May 2011 00:51:30 +1000
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.

Russell Woodford
Birding-Aus List Owner

Geelong   Victoria   Australia


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