Working for birds in Africa

Pheasants, Partridges and Grouse: A Guide to the Pheasants, Partridges, Quails, Grouse, Guineafowl, Buttonquails, and Sandgrouse of the World

Fri, 12/21/2012 - 13:45 -- abc_admin
Steve Madge and Phil McGowan with Guy M. Kirwan. 2002. 488 pp, 72 colour plates. London, UK: Christopher Helm. Hardback. ISBN 0-7136-3966-0. UK£45.
pages 39 - 40

This addition to the Helm Identification Guide series covers 253 species of galliform bird, with full accounts given to a further four distinctive subspecies which the authors feel merit separate treatment. Some 67 of these taxa occur in the Afrotropical region, for which the species treatment adopted is largely conservative. They do, however, as one of the aforementioned four subspecies, treat the Kenya Crested Guineafowl Guttera (pucherani) pucherani separately from Crested Guineafowl G. (p.) edouardi, and state that, although usually considered conspecific, the two forms overlap marginally in the East Rift Valley of Kenya, from where no intermediates are known.

The layout of the book will be familiar to those who own or have used others in this series. The introductory section in this volume is short to the point of being perfunctory - it occupies significantly less space than the seven pages of the contents or systematic list of species, which precede it. As such, it consists of little more than a glossary, four sketches of bird topography, an explanation of the layout of the book and some paragraphs on the gaps in our knowledge, and conservation.

The succeeding 72 colour plates are the work of seven different artists, which means that there is a wide range of styles on offer. Some appear rather old-fashioned, while others are much more pleasing to the modern eye; some come with a large amount of background detail, others are much more stark, showing only the bird; some depict several views of each species, with sexual differences and distinctive subspecies illustrated, perched and in flight, for others the illustration is of a single individual. I particularly like the buttonquails, whose rather maniacal facial expression the artist Kim Franklin has caught well. In this volume, the distribution maps are included with the plate legends on the facing page. They are therefore fairly small - about the size of the average African postage stamp.

The species accounts follow a shorter (2-3 sentences) or longer (up to a page) introduction to each genus. They are broken down into sections entitled identification, description, geographical variation (which includes details of subspecies), measurements, habitat, voice, habits, breeding, distribution, status and references. Strangely, however, the length of these accounts varies considerably between groups. Thus, while Turnix sylvatica [here called Small Buttonquail, although larger in almost all measurements than Black-rumped Buttonquail T. hottentota, and not to be confused with Little Buttonquail T. velox of Australia...] receives nearly three pages of text and 11 references, most francolins fair very much worse, often with only one reference given, usually Urban et al. In many cases, the accounts appear little more than re-hashes of the BoA text. The text for the admittedly poorly known Finsch's Francolin Francolinus finschi amounts to fewer than 400 words and ends with, in addition to BoA, a reference to 'Jean 2000' which does not appear in the 26-page Bibliography section that closes the book. Even more conspicuous by their absence is any reference at all to Harrison et al. or Little et al. The Democratic Republic of Congo is called Zaire throughout.

Overall, the rather uneven treatment of this book is exemplified by the fact that two authors are credited on the front cover, with a third, the editor of this Bulletin no less, being added on the title page. This, plus the two separate lists of acknowledgements, leads one to infer this book has perhaps had a somewhat checkered history. Rather than speculate any further on that however, I shall instead try and find out the story behind the introduction of Erckel's Francolin F. erckelii into Hawaii. Thereby hangs a tale I feel sure.

Lincoln Fishpool
References: 
Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underbill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree, A.J., Parker, V. and Brown, C.J. (eds) 1997. The Atlas of Southern African birds. Vol 1. Johannesburg: BirdLife South Africa.
Little, R., Crowe, T. and Barlow, S. 2000. Gamebirds of Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.
Urban, E.K., Fry, C.H. and Keith, S. (eds) 1986. The Birds of Africa. Vol 2. London, UK: Academic Press.

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