DB 28 (1) 2006
Christopher Helm/A&C Black Publishers Ltd,
37 Soho Square, London W1D 3QZ, UK; e-mail
email@example.com, website www.acblack.com.
510 pp. ISBN 0-7136-6692-7. GBP 29.99.
It was with some trepidation that we opened this 'condensed'
version for the first time! Nik Borrow and Ron
Demey set extraordinarily high standards with their
landmark original volume of the birds of Western Africa
- from Mauritania in the northwest to the Congo in the
southeast. The original version is arguably the best bird
identification guide on the continent. It is comprehensive,
accurate and detailed, and backed up by extensive
field and museum work by the authors. However, most
birders find it too heavy to carry in the field (and not to
mention rather expensive). A light-weight, condensed
version was the obvious next step. However, weighing
in at 0.9 kg, could this field guide pack the punch of its
2.1 kg predecessor?
Of course the answer would have to be 'no'; there
have to be compromises. Our disappointment was with
the layout of the field guide. There are too many species
per plate. While this does not detract from the excellent
artwork, and allows one to compare many species at
once, it results in the accompanying text lacking in sufficient
detail. Even then, the text sometimes spills to an
overleaf. While the maps are detailed and clear, too
much emphasis has been placed on them relative to the
text. They are too large to fit adjacent to the text and are
printed on overleafs (along with spill-over text). This can
be very frustrating, as sometimes the text, illustration and
map can be on three different pages. The designers
should have considered more efficient use of space by
breaking up the plates to include fewer species per plate,
and thus trying to get all the information on one doublepage
spread. This might also have allowed the authors,
who are world authorities on many of the species identification
issues, to include more informative text for the
identification of the trickier groups such as the flycatchers.
We found also that the colour rendition was not as
good as it could have been, being over-saturated and
making illustrations appear a bit flat and dark.
But, on balance, this book has overwhelming advantages
when compared to its 'competitors'. Its size comfortably
meets the requirements of a field guide, but at
the same time it is sturdy and well-bound. The book still
retains its excellent coverage of distinctive subspecies.
Its plates are streets ahead of the only other West
African field guide, and its maps superior. These form
the very solid basis of the book. There are also some
improvements over the original version: some new species,
such as Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus inornatus,
have been included and 10 of the plates have
been re-done (most notably the greenbuls) to bring
them up to standard with the rest of the plates. One
instance of where the opportunity has not been taken to
correct a scale error is on plate 60, where African
Barred Owlet Glaucidium capense and Red-chested
Owlet G tephronotum are printed to radically different
scales despite being similar in size.
If you are not prepared to carry the large version of
Borrow and Demey, then this is the field guide for West
Africa for you! Still, we urge you to use the original version,
as it will ensure more accurate identification and
hence makes a greater contribution to West African
ornithology. CALLAN COHEN & MICHAEL MILLS