PAMELA C RASMUSSEN & JOHN C ANDERTON 2005. The birds of South Asia: the Ripley guide.

15 maart 2009  ·  10658 × bekeken

DB 28 (2) 2006
Volume 1: Field guide, 378 pp; volume 2: Attributes and status,
683 pp. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. ISBN 84-87334-65-2
(volume 1, hardback); ISBN 84-87334-67-9 (volume 2,
hardback). EUR 75.00 (both volumes).

Birdwatchers visiting India or others parts of southern
Asia have been lucky enough to choose from a variety
of bird books recently. Most were typically compact,
eg, A pocket guide to the birds of the Indian subcontinent
(Grimmet et al), Field guide to the birds of
Nothern India
(Grimmet et al) or A guide to birds of the
Indian subcontinent
(Kazmierczak & van Perlo). Birds
of South Asia: the Ripley guide
is much more complete
and up-to-date than those mentioned above. An
impressive 3400 illustrations have been used to depict
virtually all species and most distinctive subspecies in
the region. More than 2500 known taxa have been
The birds of South Asia is dedicated to S Dillon
Ripley, former secretary of the Smithsonian Institution,
Washington, who died at the age of 87 in 2001. Ripley
has written several 100s scientific publications on
taxonomy, systematics and distribution of birds of the
Old World and was a big inspiration to both authors.
The birds of South Asia consists of two parts: Field
guide (volume 1) and Attributes and status (volume 2).
This is not the first time a bird book is being split into
two: The birds of Ecuador (Ridgely et al) also consists
of two parts. I think the authors have made the right
decision, the book would have been to heavy to be
used as a field guide. So what's new in this book
(books!) that can't be found in others? To begin with
the Field guide, the first thing that struck me was the
high quality of the plates. 12 different bird painters
have worked on this book and generally, the quality is
very high. And what an amazing amount of drawings
have been used: 3400 illustrations on 180 plates! The
Field guide is typically designed to quickly identify
birds. What I find to be the most distinctive difference
between this and other field guides is the smart way
information on the different taxa is presented. All distribution
maps face the plates so one doesn't have to
search for the maps on different pages. This is much
easier to use than, for instance, the Pocket guide to the
birds of the Indian subcontinent
(Grimmet et al). Many
subspecies have their own distribution maps, which I
find very helpful for identification. The maps do not
only show information on distribution but also on
status, habitat choice and on variation within the species.
For instance, in the distribution map of Oriental
Skylark Alauda gulgula, one can read that in the extreme
south of the Indian subcontinent, birds are larger,
darker and more rufous than in the northwest. Both
forms are depicted in the plates opposite the maps.
Another difference is that a large number of taxa have
been upgraded to full species status. Black Bulbul
Hypsipites leucocephalus has been split into Himalayan
Black Bulbul H leucocephalus and Square-tailed
Bulbul H ganeesa. Black-crested Bulbul Pycnonotus
has been split into three species: Blackcrested
P flaviventris, Black-capped P melanicterus and
Flame-throated Bulbul P gularis. Golden Oriole Oriolus
has been split into European Golden Oriole
O oriolus and Indian Golden Oriole O kundoo. The list
of split species is long. Let's see what the authors have
to say on this. That brings me to volume 2: Attributes
and status
, about twice as thick as the Field guide. The
text on Indian Golden Oriole in volume 2 starts with
'usually considered a race of O. oriolus'. A taxonomic
note at the end of the text states: 'does not appear to
intergrade with O. oriolus, despite proximity of breeding
ranges. Differences in morphology and (evidently)
vocalizations are comparable or greater than those
between certain other oriole species; hence kundoo is
treated here as a full species.' In the taxonomic section
of the introduction of the book, the authors explain
why a rather progressive taxonomic line is followed. In
all cases of taxonomic changes, 'a separate taxonomic
treatment is underway or planned'. I must say that,
judged on morphological differences, they do have a
point in most of the proposed splits. So, if you are a
world lister, this book has some good news! However,
some taxonomic treatments may be classified as conservative:
Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus (four
races occur in South Asia) is still treated as a subspecies
of Common Stonechat S torquata. Note also
that The birds of South Asia follows a conservative
order (eg, starting with divers, grebes and ending with
crows) so is different in this respect to the Grimmet
The species accounts (in volume 2) are detailed and
thorough and deal with identification, size, occurrence,
habits, voice (many sonagrams are included) and
taxonomy. This part is probably best left at your hotel
room (it is a little heavy) and can serve as an important
resource when getting back from a day's birding.
I think the Ripley guide is fantastic and will set a
new standard in Asian birdwatching. Buy it! LAURENS B


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