Working for birds in Africa

A Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal

Fri, 28/12/2012 - 14:50 -- abc_admin
Clive Barlow, Tim Wacher and Tony Disley. 1997. 352 pp, 48 colour plates, many distribution maps. Pica Press, The Banks, Mountfield, Nr. Robertsbridge, East Sussex TN32 5JY.
page 65

The Gambia has long been a popular destination for birders from Western Europe to visit but, until now, there were only a few, relatively incomplete, guides available to assist with field identification, status and other issues. This book admirably redresses the situation and will hopefully foster an upsurge of interest in the area, as well as encouraging visitors to submit their sightings (to the address on page 13) to further improve our knowledge of the region's avifauna. It is reasonably priced, being virtually a pocket-sized, hard covered handbook rather than a true field guide. The authors state that the guide covers every species on the Senegambia list, some 660 species, and illustrates virtually all 540 or so species that have been recorded in The Gambia. The 48 colour plates illustrate 570 species, the remaining 90 species are largely vagrants only recorded on a few occasions and usually well-illustrated in other (Western Palearctic, North American and Asian) field guides. It is only the occasional extralimital African species, Kordofan Lark Mirafra cordofanica for example, which may present problems. Within the guide, there are four maps detailing the area covered and illustrating districts, nature reserves, towns etc; three of these maps constitute endpapers and the other is tucked away on pages 6 and 7. The first two pages of text list many acknowledgements and are followed by a very informative nine page introduction to the geography, climate, habitat, protected areas network etc. Next, there is a four page section devoted to 'using the book', which is surprisingly helpful, giving insight into such minefields as bird vocalisations and volatile taxonomic issues among other useful hints. Finally, before the real meat of the book, are two pages of plumage topography. The detailed colour plates, which are placed together ahead of the main text, are accompanied by brief texts presenting the status of each species, the major identification features and, in some cases, a useful hint as to its distribution, as well as the relevant page reference to the main text. The 270 pages of text are very informative, being broken down into 'Identification' with a sub-section on similar species if appropriate, then 'Habits', 'Voice', 'Status and Distribution' and 'Breeding' if this occurs in the region. The last few pages of the book give brief space to the Tanji Birders Club and a thorough five page Bibliography, followed by indices of English and scientific names. I find this book hard to fault. I am sure that if I really nit-picked I could find some trivia to gripe about, but overall I was most impressed and just wish it had been available for my (so far) only visit, back in 1984, when I managed to get such 'exotic' species such as Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla and Pochard Aythya ferina rejected due to a lack of adequate field notes caused by not realising the significance of the sightings. This book should ensure that nobody blunders into the same pitfall in the future.

David Holman

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