Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher, 2016. Pelagic Birds & Birding Multimedia Identification Guide. Hardcover, 278 pages, 200+ colour photos, 180+ colour illustrations, colour distribution maps, includes 2 DVDs (Region ALL) Prijs: € 46,50.
This guide is the third volume in the well acclaimed series of Multimedia Identification Guides on North Atlantic Seabirds. This volume covers eleven species in three species groups: Albatrosses (both Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, Shy, Gray-headed, Black-browed and Tristan Albatross), Giant Petrels (Northern and Southern Giant Petrel) and Fulmarine Petrels (Atlantic Fulmar, Pacific Fulmar and Cape Petrel). With the exception of Atlantic Fulmar, all species are rare in the North Atlantic.
This volume has the same structure and set up as the two previous volumes on Storm-petrels, and Pterodroma petrels: the most important chapters being Identification and ageing, Species accounts, Confusion pairs and ID jogger. Two DVD’s complement the guide. So far, nothing new under the sun. A difference with the previous volumes is the emphasis on plumage sequences shaped by wear and moult for identification of species and age. Jizz is less important for identification of the covered species than it is for Pterodroma’s and Storm-petrels.
The painted illustrations are another difference. The authors teamed up with a new painter: John Gale. He is mainly known from his illustrations for African field guides. He shows he is at least as talented as Ian Lewington (Storm-petrels) and Ren Hathway and Martin Elliot (Pterodroma petrels); the artists who illustrated the previous volumes. A whole suit of illustrations graces the pages of this guide, showing plumage sequences of albatrosses and giant petrels, colour morphs of fulmars and comparisons of confusion pairs. I particularly liked the plates of the heads of the Yellow-nosed Albatrosses, and the Great Black-backed Gulls accompanied by a Black-browed Albatross. The latter needs a second look to stand out, when you are not expecting it...
Though pictures seem superfluous with the painted illustrations, I am glad the authors included a fine selection of mainly flying individuals. Again showing ID features that are described in the accompanying annotations. Looking at the pictures and reading the informative annotations is a pleasure, and educating. I found it good to read that the authors consequently talk of presumed Tristan Albatrosses, stressing the fact that we don’t know yet how to identify the different taxa of Wandering Albatrosses away from their breeding grounds. There is still a lot to learn out there in the southern oceans.
Several potential confusion pairs are discussed. It might be my style of birding, but I don’t see any chance of confusing either Black-browed Albatross or Gray-headed Albatross with a Yellow-nosed Albatross; the jizz of the two mollymawks and the latter differs so much that confusion seems almost impossible. Confusion between Black-browed and Gray-headed Albatross and between Atlantic and Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross is more likely. Despite this the descriptions of all confusion pairs is concise and to the point. Good to read that identification of both (adult) Yellow-nosed Albatrosses is possible after all without the need to study pictures of their bills. The latter is still necessary to clinch the id of immatures of both species.
Two DVD’s contain video footage of the described species. Apart from being informative the footage is a pleasure to watch, bringing back memories of seemingly effortless soaring albatrosses in the ‘roaring fourties’ and ‘furious fifties’. And more important, the footage shows the species in characteristic encounters in their natural environment.
No criticism? Well, just a few minor points. The authors categorise dark-headed Northern Fulmars as single light or single dark (L/D), whilst (Dutch) seabirders use a dark head as the key character for dark birds. Furthermore, the authors have adopted the triple dark (DDD) and triple light (LLL) morphs Martin Garner proposed, for Pacific Fulmar.
Another detail is the lack of sample sizes of statements about the percentages of occurrence of a feature, e.g. a dark tail band in Pacific Fulmar. It makes quite a difference if a statement - like for instance a certain feature occurs in 10% off all individuals - is based on 10 birds or 10.000. But as written, these are just minor points.
All in all the minor points of criticism disappear against all the positive points this guide offers. This guide, mainly the DVD’s, gives birders the opportunity to gain experience with the described species without the necessity of going to sea. Clearly, an advantage for many land lubbers. For seabird addicts like me the guide ranks amongst the best guides I know. I liked the second volume on Pterodroma petrels in this series more though. Just a matter of taste. I can’t wait for the last volume in this series, on shearwaters & White-chinned Petrel.
Steve CV Geelhoed