When I went to The Gambia, in 1991, the only field guide available was A Field Guide to the Birds of West Africa by Serle et al. Now anyone visiting the country has a choice of the much-improved equivalent of that book or a field guide covering just The Gambia and Senegal. There are also various videos, audiocassettes and CDs that give the prospective visitor the full multi-media experience before setting foot in either country.
This set of CDs has been produced to complement the recent field guide and this is readily apparent from just looking at the box. It comprises three CDs and covers 265 species described in the 'companion' field guide. Each CD is a different colour, making it easy to select one and no doubt after time you wouldn't look at the number on the CD, but would just use the colour to select it.
For each track the accompanying booklet lists the following: the plate number and page number of the species in Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal by Barlow et al; the recordist; what month(s) the recording(s) was made in; and what division in The Gambia, or which other country the recording was made in, or if it was made from a bird in captivity. The booklet also states that the use of captive birds was made in collaboration with accredited research authorities. In my view an improvement would be for the booklet to include a brief summary of the circumstances 'behind' each track. Typically, we are uninformed as to whether the recording concerns a bird in song, calling, giving a flight call and/or an alarm call. The exceptions are the indigobirds, where we are told what species they are mimicking.
In an effort to give some understanding of the quality of the recordings I set out the following definitions and then categorised each track according to these. The rating system I used was as follows. Poor - impossible to distinguish the bird in question. Average - possible to distinguish the bird if you know what it sounds like. Good - background noise is noticeable but you can still tell which is the subject bird. Very Good - background noise does not obscure the subject bird at all. Excellent - no discernible background noise whatsoever. Using these definitions, I rated none as poor, ten as average, 60 as good, 169 as very good and 26 as excellent. Of necessity this rating is an average for the track as a whole and some tracks might be of variable quality and possess an overall rating that is the average.
The tracks vary in length from 14 seconds for Sudan Golden Sparrow Passer luteus to 181 seconds for Cameroon Indigobird Vidua camerunensis. Indeed, there are four long tracks for Cameroon Indigobird covering its mimicry of different species. Sometimes the length of the track is out of all proportion to the vocalisation of the species, for instance 91 seconds for Mosque Swallow Hirundo senegalensis appears excessive, whereas other species could usefully have had longer recordings included - I suspect that material of the appropriate quality just wasn't available.
The producers state that these CDs should not be used for tape luring, but it is probably naive to think that such activities will not occur given the generally high standard of the recordings. Casting that point aside, I wish I had had access to these recordings all those years ago when I visited The Gambia, as they would certainly have made the bewildering array of noises one is confronted with in such places as Abuko easier to sort out. Indeed, I suspect that I would have seen more species than I did had I been able to listen to these CDs before going. In conclusion, I would recommend anyone planning a trip to either of the countries in question to buy this at the same time as you acquire the identification books - you won't regret the purchase.