Book reviews:    Field Guide to the Birds of Southern Africa  

Field Guide Birds of Southern Africa
Ian Sinclair
1 86825 510 7 (softcover)
Third 1994
Struik Publishing Group Ltd
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Also available as hardback, ISBN 1 86825 511 5

This is the first field guide I bought about southern African birds and it is still my most used bird guide. The book is published by Struik in a series of field guides comprising all southern African nature and wildlife. There are books about mammals, birds, reptiles, trees, butterflies etc. All these books are the same very nice A5 size. A bit big to put in your pocket but they will fit into a bagpack easily. I have the paperback version which needed to have the cover strengthened with plastic. It's available also as hardback as well, which might be a bit stronger.

Birds of southern Africa lists more than 900 species occuring in the region. The book starts with a small introduction about bird topography and a description about the habiat types of the region. Then the different bird familes are described shortly. Standard in most South African bird guides is the use of bird numbers, which may seem strange at first. But it is very handy when comparing several different books.

The main part of the book consists of pages with color photographs on the right and descriptions on the left, as shown in the picture here. For each species there is a distribution map. The text consists of remarks about identification, a few remarks about habitat and call. The name in afrikaans is also listed. The description of the species is rather short, but this guide is meant for identification purposes mainly. If you want to study more about these birds, another book might be more appropriate.

There is always a lot of talking between birders wether drawings or photographs are better for an identification guide. Most birders seem to like drawings as these can show the birds in ideal circumstances. It is much more difficult to find good photographs of the bird, showing the characteristic posture and usual plumage. Personally I like photo guides better. If the photographs are good quality they show the bird how it really is. With drawings you have to translate the drawing to the real bird. So it depends very much on the quality of the photographs. This book has very good photographs indeed for the majority of the birds. A few birds (less than ten) have drawings because photographs doesn't seem to exist. Personally I like photo guides more than guides with drawings and this one is indeed a very good one. On trips with a car however I usually take several books with me.

Conclusion: The author Ian Sinclair is one of the most famous South African birders and has written many very good books. This one is a very good identification guide for use in the field. In southern Africa it is my favourite book on birds. I can defenitely recommend this book to anyone visiting southern Africa. It is available in nearly all South African bookshops and certainly in all park shops in Kruger NP. If you buy it over there it is also much cheaper than when you order it in your own country.

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All text and images 1991 - 2011 Hans Martens