A New Pocket Guide To British Birds That Fits In The Pocket

Goldfinch RSPB Conwy

A long time ago when was just a lad in short trousers and beginning to look at birds there weren’t many bird books to turn to. The legendry Observers Book of Birds was my first ever identification book, some of the plates were in black and white and even the colour illustrations were tiny, no wonder I didn’t identify much! Then came the AA Readers Digest Book of British Birds, a big book. Now the birds were all in colour and bigger but painted to look nice rather than be helpful to a youngster struggling with bird identification. It was frustrating seeing so many birds and not knowing their names. Now my go to field guide is the amazing Collins Guide but this covers a vast area including Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and no use to a beginner or youngster starting their birdwatching.

AA bird book cover

The AA Readers Digest Book of British Birds a blast from the past.

Things have certainly changed a young birdwatcher now is almost overwhelmed by the number of bird books available, which is a good thing. Our new generation of birders will be better equipped and more knowledgeable than ever before. A new guide has recently been published – British Birds A Pocket Guide by Princeton Press and for once this compact book will actually fit in a decent sized jacket pocket. So, is this new guide, amongst many other guides, worth buying? I think it is, if you are pretty new to birdwatching and do your birding in Britain then certainly, it is packed with good photographs, in colour, of the birds you might actually see. This is really important, when the Collins Guide first came out there were dozens of reports of all sorts of birds in the UK that just don’t occur here! Give people multiple-choice and of course sometimes the wrong choice will be made. So that Cape Petrel was in fact a feral pigeon, true story! Narrow the choice to species that are more likely to occur and better chance of a correct identification. But where to draw the line? A very difficult question indeed, a book must have enough species to be useful, especially to beginners, but not to many to lead to wrong choices. This new guide has made a pretty good stab of selecting the species most likely to be seen and including some of the scarce species, such as Great and Cory’s Shearwaters, to widen the appeal of the book to more experienced birdwatchers.

The book is packed with quality colour photographs, no mean feat to gather so many images together for one book, with at least two images per species sometimes more. Of course given the number of photos and the compact size of the book the text is limited but still useful and even manages to squeeze in a distribution map for each species, a tough job for the designers.

The publications 272 pages really are crammed with photos and information to help readers identify birds. Given the limited space it is a great credit to the authors and designers that the book looks so good. The photos are big enough to give a good impression of each species and the text enough to be helpful and maps just big enough to be useful, only just! There are some twenty pages of introduction to bird identification which beginners, and others, will find interesting and useful. Explaining about bird families and groups is very good indeed and quickly narrows down the search for an unidentified bird. Then comes the species accounts, covering 248 birds, taking up the bulk of the book, then six pages of thumbnail images of rarer birds which may or may not be useful, not enough information to really identify these species but because they are there may lead the beginner astray? But only a tiny point, overall this a great pocket guide to British Birds and I would certainly recommend it to anyone getting into birds and birdwatching. At £9.99 it is a great value for money purchase to.

British Birds A Pocket Guide is published by Princeton Press, part of their Wild Guides series in association with Birdlife International ISBN 978-0-691-18167-7

Authors are Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling

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