Working for birds in Africa

Birds of the Masai Mara

Sat, 08/24/2013 - 15:50 -- abc_admin
Adam Scott Kennedy, 2012. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press / WildGuides. 176 pp, more than 300 colour photographs. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-691-15594-4.

Although Kenya possesses many amazing locations for birders to explore, in my opinion the highlight of any trip to the country is a visit to the rolling grasslands of the Masai Mara. The Mara is certainly one of the finest wildlife reserves in Africa, not only for birds but also for its herds of grazing mammals and their attendant carnivores. Combining the riverine woodlands and grassy slopes of the Oloololo escarpment, a three day visit can easily reap you a haul of around 200 bird species. In fact, 550 species have been recorded in the reserve.

The book is packed with good quality photographs, primarily taken by the author, and provides background information on 202 species. It is clearly aimed at a general market, not at hardcore birders. Identification features are kept to a minimum with the emphasis being on where and when the bird might occur. The species texts are organised into six main habitat types, together with a separate section for those species only likely to be seen in flight, plus another on night birds. 

The choice of species is clearly slanted towards those that are most easily encountered on a general wildlife holiday. Although birders will enjoy the photographs, many species have been excluded so this would be a frustrating book if relied upon other than as an additional resource. Taking cisticolas as an example (a group where
photographs can be a real asset), the only species covered are Rattling Cisticola chiniana and Pectoral-patch Cisticolas C. brunnescens. I observed five additional cisticolas in the Masai Mara on my last trip - in particular Stout Cisticola C. robustus, a common grassland species not included herein. However, easily seen non-passerines are generally better represented. The only error I spotted is under Bateleur Terathopius ecaudatus, which species’ underwing is described as having a narrow black trailing edge in males that is broader in females (the reverse is true).

For general ecotourists this book will prove an excellent resource, but birders should understand that much has been excluded, thereby reducing its value to this prospective audience.

Keith Betton

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