Book reviews:    A Field Guide to the Birds of The Gambia and Senegal   

A Field Guide to the Birds of The Gambia and Senegal
Clive Barlow, Tim Wacher, Tony Disley
1 873403 32 1
Pica Press
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The authors of this book had a large number of people waiting for its arrival when it finally came out in 1997. The book was listed in several bookstores as soon to be published for a few years. Although the authors kept us waiting for a very long time, it was worth waiting for. The book has a hard cover and is slightly larger than the usual field guides. You will need big pockets to store it, but it is not too big or heavy to take with you on field trips.

The Gambia is a popular holiday destination for sunseekers but also a birder's paradise. The tiny country is located on the western most tip of Africa, about a six or seven hours flight from Europe. Flights and accomodation are reasonably priced. From Europe a one or two week holiday package does not have to be much more expensive than a normal sun-holiday. Hotels are aware that many people come specially for the birdlife and often hotel gardens are specially designed to attract birds. The garden of the Senegambia hotel is an awesome place for birders! Several hotel even employ ornithologists to assist the birders.

For many years there has been only one real birding field guide, Birds of West Africa by Collins. All the local bird guides used the Collins guide but I think they will change quickly, although books are very expensive for the local people. This new book focusses on The Gambia and parts of Senegal that surround the country.

The introduction describes the country and the different habitats that can be found in it. The first part of the book shows 48 color plates of the birds, drawn by Tony Disley. On the left page there is a list with english and scientific names and a description of the type of place you could find the bird. On the right page there is a color plate with drawings of the birds. The quality of the drawings is good. Specially when compared to the poor quality of the drawings in the Collins guide.

The second part of the book contains the descriptions of the different species. Each species has its identification and status/distribution   described. The more common birds also have some information about habits, voice and breeding. The quality of the text is good as the authors are very experienced. Clive Barlow is a resident of The Gambia and used to live (still lives there?) in the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul. He designed the special bird garden thee and leads birding trips in the country.

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Here is an example of one of the color plates in the first part of the book, showing Shrikes. Each species is shown in a drawing. Some species have extra drawings for male/female or mature/immature differences. Once you have identified the bird, you need to go to the second part of the book to the descriptions. This way you go back and forth a lot through the book, but pages and plates are very well pointed out.

Conclusion: If you go on a birding trip to The Gambia this is really the only decent field guide available. Besides the Collins guide it is actually the only guide available. But even if it had competition, I would still recommend it as it is a good bird guide. I would have preferred the book to be a little smaller, but the hard cover is very nice and strong. It is an expensive book but the quality is good, and as I mentioned before, there is no real alternative.

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All text and images 1991 - 2011 Hans Martens