Working for birds in Africa

A Field Guide to Zambian Birds not found in southern Africa

Sat, 12/22/2012 - 00:15 -- abc_admin
Dylan Aspinwall and Carl Beel. Zambian Ornithological Society, Lusaka. 1998. 106 pp, 24 colour plates and many distribution maps.
page 78

This small book aims to provide information concerning those species of birds occurring in Zambia that are not covered in the various field guides to southern Africa. A brief introduction describes the country and its habitats, and provides two maps, one portraying towns and infrastructure and the other physical features, notably swamps and rivers, and protected areas for wildlife. The rest of the book is divided into three parts. Part 1 consists of the maps, short texts and colour illustrations for 118 species on a Zambian list prepared in 1987 by Bob Dowsett, that were not included in Roberts' Birds of southern Africa (fifth edition). The texts for each species are succinct, covering each species' size, how it differs from closely related and similar species, its preferred habitat, voice and abundance. The maps, which present data (based on 30 degree squares) gathered in the on-going Zambian Atlas Project, are especially helpful.

Part 2 is the texts and maps, but no illustrations, for a further 18 species. These have been included for a variety of reasons, often because the race in Zambia is regarded by some taxonomists as a separate species (eg the long-tailed race of Neddicky Cisticola fulvicapilla, or because the species has not been admitted to, or may be excluded from, the southern African list. Some recent additions to the Zambian list are also included. Throughout Parts 1 and 2, species are cross-referenced to Roberts' numbers (sixth edition) and/or to numbers in the relevant volume of Mackworth-Praed & Grant. Page numbers in Birds of Africa are also given for those species already covered by the five published volumes. Part 3 is a checklist of the birds of Zambia with rather cumbersome, but useful coding for occurrence, status, abundance, detectability, habitat and distribution. Repeated use of the codes should help users of the guide, but with 65 codes (37 for habitats alone) to chose from you will require a remarkable memory!

The illustrations in Part 1, by Gabriel Ellison, add to the book's attractions but she has had a difficult array of species to paint and some pages inevitably have a curious mix of species - one page covers a cuckoo-shrike, a longclaw and three species of swallow. I found the illustrations generally rather stiff and old-fashioned, perhaps because they were painted from museum specimens. The shape and posture of many birds are not quite right, so the jizz of many of her subjects has not really been captured. Grimwood's Longclaw Macronyx grimwoodi is for example, depicted in a strange hunched attitude rather than the typical upright posture of a longclaw. Despite these criticisms, the careful detail of plumage and eye colour will assist identification.

Although largely completed before the untimely death of the senior author, efforts have been made by the second author and members of the Zambian Ornithological Society to make the lists as complete and up-to-date as possible. Two recent discoveries in Zambia, the Lake Tanganyika Weaver Ploceus reichardi and White-winged Swamp-Warbler Bradypterus carpalis, are both included in Part 2. However, the inclusion of Greater Spotted Eagle Aquila clanga and Franklin's Gull Larus pipixcan on the Zambian list, were too late for publication. One species in Part 2, Brown-chested Wattled Plover Vanellus superciliosus, has now been deleted from the Zambian list, while several species in Parts 1 and 2, eg Pacific Golden Plover Pluvialis fulva, previously unknown south of the Zambezi, have now been recorded in South Africa. In the absence of a current guide on the birds of Zambia, this book is a must for any birdwatcher resident in, or visiting, Zambia. Armed with Newman's or the SASOL Guide to the Birds of southern Africa as well as this one, he/she should be able to identify virtually all the species likely to be seen in that country.

Stephanie J. Tyler
References: 
Leonard, P. & Beel, C. 1999. Two new resident birds in northern Zambia. Bull. ABC 6: 56-57.

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