Working for birds in Africa

A photographic guide to birds of prey of southern, central and eastern Africa

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 13:03 -- abc_admin
David Allan. 1996. New Holland, London. 171 colour photographs.
page 137

Birds of prey have always held a fascination for anyone visiting these regions of Africa. Whether a visitor with a casual interest in wildlife, or a keen birder, it is difficult not to be impressed by the sheer abundance and diversity of species. In this book, David Allan has managed to assemble 171 photographs portraying 88 of the 102 species occurring within the region covered. These vary from full page to approximately 2 cm x 2 cm. Only 15 of the photographs are of birds in flight; and since many raptors are only ever seen in flight; many of the species have supplementary colour illustrations by Peter Hayman.

A slim introduction provides brief details of each of the major groups covered; the best places to find birds of prey: and the problems of identification, following this are the species accounts. Here the author has grouped together species which he considers to be easily confused, rather than following strict taxonomic order. Species accounts vary from half a page to two pages, and include a thumbnail distribution map, description of the bird (with key features in italics), illustrations and photographs. The species accounts are followed by some suggestions for further reading, a habitat map and a glossary of terms. My slight criticisms are as follows. Distribution maps are too small, as are some of the photographs, eg the immature Red-breasted Sparrowhawk Accipiter rufiventris (Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus on the other hand warrants two photographs). There are 14 species apparently omitted from the guide but we are not informed what they are. Whilst many of the photographs are of excellent quality, it is a shame that more do not depict birds in flight. I personally find the quick reference tabs of little or no use, and wonder why the publishers persist with these.

On the positive side, the book is truly pocket-sized and a useful supplement to a good field guide when visiting the region. At a time when most books are now in the £25 plus bracket, this book represents extremely good value for money, and a worthwhile addition to any birder's bookshelf.

Brian Field

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