Field Guide to the Birds of Colombia (3rd edition)

Lieven De Temmerman  ·  4 mei 2020  07:59, gewijzigd 4 mei 2020  13:33

First and foremost: thanks for this review! I once did a book review and I must say I found it hard work. It's not easy to make a balanced comment on a field guide, when you have mixed feelings (happy it's on the market, a bit sad if you find obvious mistakes). Regarding the critique on the drawings, I find the Colombia guide an easy target: overall, the drawings in this guide look less sharp than the birds in the field. I would compare the drawing style to Van Perlo, but I have to admit, after using Van Perlo's Brazil guide, I found that Van Perlo guide actually very very usable. The main advantage of McMullan's guide is still its compactness, and the fact that it's taxonomically relatively very up-to-date thanks to the updates in the editions. Some field guides I really appreciate (like the Birds of Peru) are only updated every 10 years it seems, while McMullan has 3 editions in the last 10 years (approximately). I tend to see McMullan as a guide for those who have experience seeing S-American birds elsewhere (Brazil, Ecuador, Peru - Venezuela sadly still in deep trouble), but it's a difficult and confusing book when Colombia is your introduction into S-American birding, and you only have this book. For Flycatchers, I agree the drawings are very poor. Whenever I have to ID a Colombian flycatcher, I grab the Ecuador / C-America field guides (or even the ones from Peru and Brazil, especially for Amazonian birds). The antpittas are poor, too (do they still seem so unbalanced?), but they have the advantage of separating them by sound and range. Antbirds are poor and not very helpful, but again, sound is probably the best ID feature. Regarding Multicolored tanager: I have the first edition and the yellow back/neck is clearly visible, and the turqoise-blue uppertail coverts as well, so I do not understand that critique? I also don't see that many problems (I know I lowered the bar for the drawings in this guide when I say 'not that many'! )with the drawings of Black-and-white vs. White-winged becards: the color of the back (black vs grey). I have more problems with the drawings of hermits, parrotlets, piculets, greenlets, vireos, thrushes, wood warblers and especially woodcreepers... :-)

David Spelt  ·  4 mei 2020  19:57

@Lieven: many of the woodcreepers, piculets, hermits and vireos have actually been redrawn for the previous (second) edition and are generally in better shape now compared to the first edition. Some of the antpittas indeed still look weird (or unbalanced you may call it) like the puffbirds. Given the larger number of improvements that were made for the previous edition I had just hoped that this new edition was again a major step forward with regards to the quality of the plates (especially for the ones that have not received any updates since the first edition) but this is unfortunately not the case. Multi-coloured Tanager was redrawn for the previous edition but apparently something went wrong there and it somehow got worse. Strangely, this error has not been corrected for this new third edition. Anyhow, if you only own the first edition of this book it is definitely worth to update to the latest edition.

Jildert Hijlkema  ·  7 mei 2020  21:41

Based on this review, it seems worth waiting for the upcoming release from the unsurpassed publisher Lynx (without advertising).

Most birders now have the time to wait...

Redmar Woudstra  ·  8 mei 2020  08:40

@Jildert: I sincerely hope that Lynx guides will be more than "just" the HBW-prints recycled and re-ordered. Although the added species information will be useful, I was not convinced by their guide in Indonesia. What was especially hampering was the lack of different plumages, especially juvenile and female birds. While the artwork in McMillan is bad, I found it pretty useful in the field, also because of the size of the book.

I then still prefer guides with a set up like Birds of Peru or Birds of Southern Asia: lot's of plumages, combined with good to excellent artwork!

Lieven De Temmerman  ·  8 mei 2020  09:35

I largely agree with Redmar, but just this remark: Some countries, like Colombia have more than 1 ssp. occurring, especially with the Andes separating many ssp. and future splits that occur only in the North-west or east of the Andes in the Amazon / llanos, but also some Santa Marta / Choco / Andean ssp.

At the same time, I see the (already impressive) database of drawings collected by Lynx expanding with more and more subspecies, as can be seen on the "birds of the world website". 

So I predict that future Lynx guide will have the main advantage depicting all available ssp., a feat that hardly ever happened in other field guides, with some notable exceptions like the (in my opionion) excellent "Birds of South Asia" by Rasmussen and Anderton. Lynx will have that advantage that it can recycle ssp. drawings for many countries and keep adding new drawings of ssp., while single country field guide authors / drawers have to specifically draw a ssp. for only 1 book. 

Redmar Woudstra  ·  8 mei 2020  09:58

@Lieven: That's very good news! And I totally agree with your statement on all the ssp. in Colombia: it is especially necessary to show ssp. there!

Not only do I hope they improve on ssp plates, but also on different plumages. 

My feeling for the Birds of Indonesia (although there is no other option) was that the information was very good (I would have liked more detailed maps though, e.g. Sulawesi only for an endemic), but that if this would be their modus operandi, recycling the plates of HBW feels like a "cash cow".

Jan Hein van Steenis  ·  8 mei 2020  11:11

I'd prefer a single guide with a modern set-up (plates, text, map in one place) and great plates for each Neotropical country (good examples: Central America, Peru, Chile). Van Perlo's Brazil guide is actually OK, but "great plates" he will never really manage and it's taxonomically outdated (but depicting the same bird four times would be a bit silly).

In Colombia, you'll still have to take the Bird of South America (Passerines) + Birds of South America (Non-passerines) along with this annotated checklist [at least it doesn't take up space]. Just don't make the mistake of getting Restall, which will leave you more confused than you should be anyway!

China should be the prime target for a good field guide though.

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