Two books by Colin Redfern, Abaco shell specialist and kind invigilator of my shell ID errors in this blog…

Bahamian Seashells (Books)


Jeremy Stafford-Deitsch, Trident Press 2000 (95 pp) 

Rolling Harbour Rating ****                   

Cheap as chips on @m@z@n, Abe etc


Shark Book 1  Shark Book 2Shark Book 5  Shark Book 3



Recently published award-winning book concerning the practice of a form of traditional medicine using tropical plants for curing diseases and treating ailments. Lots of illustrations, mostly in colour. There’s a wealth of lore to be found in the use of plants and trees for medicinal purposes, including such things as plants that act as antidotes to injury from trees such as poisonwood, as anyone who goes on one of Ricky Johnson’s ABACO NATURE TOURS will learn.

For details about the book see BUSHMEDICINE.ORG and for a review CLICK HERE


PETERSON FIELD GUIDE    Abbott / Morris   350pp

An excellent and comprehensive field guide which covers the area as thoroughly as one could wish. It’s not exactly a pocket book, and at 350 pages it’s quite a chubby paperback – but the sort of size you’d happily throw into a day-bag or backpack. This authoritative shell guide dates from 1947, with frequent reprints. Mine is a fourth edition (1995) – there may be a 2002 one.

Currently £18 from Amazon UK,  or new / used for around £7 (a bargain); and a great deal cheaper on Amazon US. Overall 4* reviews

Rolling Harbour rating *****


  • Numerous clear illustrative line drawings throughout (115, in fact)
  • 74 colour plates grouped together at the heart of the book, showing living creatures and a huge variety of shells – 780 in all
  • Introductory articles on collecting, preparing, arranging and naming shells; also classifications and measurements
  • The text comprises 800 brief but helpful family / species descriptions, with notes on habitat and other remarks
  • Bi-valves cover 120 pages; Gastropods a stonking 150 pages
  • The substantial illustrated core of the book has shell groups on the right-hand page, with ID and text references on the left. The system works very well, especially with the many shell types that are very similar
  • At the back there’s a useful ‘Conchological Glossary’ to help sort out the crenulates from the reticulates
  • A huge 30-page index that is both thorough and user-friendly
I personally found the illustration section very helpful as a first stop; then a trip to the text to confirm the description. I had no idea what a shell we recently found in a drawer might be, but it didn’t take long to nail the ID as a STOCKY CERITH a shell I’d never even heard of. First I found a very clear illustration of it, then turned to the text description which matched what I had in my hand. Overall, as a complete amateur, I found this book the best practical guide I have yet tried for shell identification – and I suspect more sophisticated shell-seekers will get a great deal out of it too.


This pocket guide is part of the well-known Peterson series of natural history guides. It’s called a ‘First Guide’ to denote its ‘beginner’ / condensed status, and to distinguish it from the serious business of the excellent and comprehensive Peterson Field Guides (I shall review 2 of these in due course. When I have read them. In 2012).                 rollingharbour rating **

SUMMARY: this 128pp ‘concise field guide to 224 common shells of North America’ is a simple pocket guide, with quite basic descriptions, and colour drawings rather than photos. All the main gastropod and bivalve species are represented, each with a few variants. The vast majority of these will be found on Abaco and more generally in the northern Bahamas. For the used price I paid for a 1989 edition with a creased front cover (1 pence + P&P on Amazon UK!) I have actually found it quite useful for comparing or confirming IDs, or for snippets of additional information. However, it’s not the one to rely on entirely to identify your beachcombing finds or to get species details. Apart from anything else the illustration colouring is often somewhat approximate. At best, I’d say it’s a useful preliminary tool for ID on the beach if you don’t want to lug a much larger field guide around with you. Don’t use it for your doctoral thesis. Overall, some use, but not a great deal. You’d be better off buying the Macmillan Sutty (see below)


Macmillan Natural History Series Alick Jones & Nancy Sefton – 2nd Ed 2002        rollingharbour rating ****

Another excellent volume in this series of slim books – see other book reviews for Birds, Reef Fish etc. The book is carefully structured. Opening with an overview of the region, it moves gradually from shoreline to open sea via mangrove swamps, sandy areas, seagrass beds, rocky areas, and coral reefs. The sections are informative without being overwhelmed by detail, and the many illustrations are useful. It’s possible to skim-read and still feel you have learnt something worthwhile. It is definitely a help with identification queries.

The marine life covered includes plants, fish, starfish etc, shell-dwellers of all makes, crabs etc, and corals – all sufficiently to be educational without being dull. Towards the end there’s an equally handy chapter on turtles, birds and marine mammals. Finally, there’s a good section on ecology and conservation (depressingly, the problems are now worse 10 years later)

A 6-page glossary, a bibliography and index round off a very helpful tome. Definitely worth getting if you want a working grasp of the subject in an easily assimilable format.

I got my copy for £5 on Amazon, but check out ABE as well, which is also very good for this sort of book – but watch the postage rates there…


Lesley Sutty                               rollingharbour rating ****                              Macmillan Caribbean Natural History Series (1990) 106pp

I would never have expected to work up a great deal of enthusiasm for seashells. Nice, yes. Pretty. But not something to buy a book about, surely.But now I have.

This slim book, a mere 106pp, turns out to be crammed with information and pictures. It is Caribbean-wide, not Bahamas-specific, but I found most of the shells I wanted to know more about. The photographs are clear, as are the short descriptions. There are good line drawings illustrating shell structures and so on. You won’t advance your PhD studies here, but you will know a reticulated cowrie when you see one. After various brief introductory sections (e.g. “cautionary note”; “cleaning and preservation”) come the gastropods (conchs, helmets and cones), then the bivalves (clams, scallops and mussels). Finally there’s a useful shell glossary, and an effective short index.

I paid less than £5 / $8 for my used copy on Amazon. If you check ABE you may do even better, but beware the postal charges – unlike Amazon’s standard rate, sellers can make up for an attractive cheap price by weighting the postage cost.


Alfonso Lee & Roger Daley                Macmillan Caribbean (Education) 1998 80pp

rollingharbour rating **.5

I bought this little book with little optimism and at minimal outlay, half-expecting to bin it when read. Indeed, if read. However, despite the fact that its rather crudely colourful illustrations suggest that it is aimed at the junior coral reef enthusiast, it is a helpful resource for the adult beginner. Do NOT buy this book expecting sophistication or detail, nor if you are a marine biologist.

With that warning, its surprisingly wide-ranging contents include coverage of sharks, rays, a great many fish by broad species (groupers; grunts; damsel fish etc), sponges, corals, anemones, worms, molluscs, crabs, starfishes, turtles and marine plants – also reef ethics. It is properly indexed. “337 of the most common, visible and colourful animals and plants of the Caribbean reefs” are promised in the intro, and delivered. It even includes juveniles of some species, where there are notable variations with adults – especially colour. Here are 2 specimen pages to show you what to expect. (nb © red light – non-commercial examples only – stay your hand, Macmillan, think of it as good advertising) 

Overall, certainly not an essential guide, but if you can get one for a song, worth thinking about. Mine cost me about £3 on Amazon

Current used prices (Aug 2011) are : Amazon £2.97 UK or $3.99 US + P&P;           Abe £5.72 post free;      eBay around £10 (so, not always the cheapo option)


  rollingharbour rating ****

 This book has had various reprints since the 1st edition in 1979, with new covers. My edition is the first one shown, a relatively recent 1990 one which curiously looks much the most dated. Overall an excellent intro for the ignoranti – concise and well-illustrated (though not perhaps up the the latest digital standards). It comprises sections on Practical Fishwatching, including basic equipment and hazard warnings – e.g. fire coral; Coral varieties (brief); Conservation; 60+ pages of reef fish with photos and short details; and Underwater Photography (I suspect that section needs a complete rethink for the 2010s).

This book is part of the excellent Macmillan Caribbean Natural History series mentioned in an earlier post (below). I recommend it if you haven’t a clue about reef fish… I ‘m sure that there are better and more detailed works out there for the better informed, but this keeps it very simple and is certainly good enough for ID of most species you may encounter. You can pick one up for a few quid – £3 in my case – you can always check out the Delphi Library for anything you can’t find…

Macmillan Caribbean Natural History Series

This series of books is quite dated now – published from the 1970s onwards, in revised forms and with different covers over time. A selection is shown here – there are others. You’ll find them widely available very cheaply on Amazon, eBay, and Abe – from 0.1p + p&p upwards (I’ve just looked for you). Also part of the series is Bruce Hallett’s Birds of the Caribbean, featured elsewhere.

Are they any use? This isn’t really my best area, nature literature, but the short answer is yes. But only up to a point. They make good cheap reference points and cover the basics… but they don’t set out to cover their subjects in great depth. They aren’t exhaustive in scope. The Hallett Bird book is the exception, as comprehensive as you will need. These are slimmer and less detailed. Overall, I’d say yes to useful, but (unlike the Hallett) no to indispensible.



I thought this gif of the book I was going to review (above) would be entertaining, but it’s maddening. Isn’t it? But I have spared it the delete button…


Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s