BOOKCOMBING: BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES (MK 2)


BOOKCOMBING: BIRDS OF THE WEST INDIES (MK 2)

The number of bird books that are devoted entirely to the Bahamas is very small. Most books that include the region have a wider ambit. They feature birds of the West Indies as a whole, many of which are also found on Abaco but a good proportion of which are not. The header image, for example, is a resolutely non-Abaconian Jamaican Tody and is the cover bird for the book featured in this post.

Birds of Abaco by Keith Salvesen

In the early days of this blog I started a ‘birdyography’ page (accessible on the menu bar at the top under BOOKS ETC). This includes most (if not all) of the books most helpful for Bahamas birders, and all are field guides except for one. That’s my own Birds of Abaco, which some have described using the words ‘table’ in conjunction with ‘coffee’. Anyway, at nearly 2 kilos it’s certainly not a pocket field guide, nor even a backpack one…

The go-to Bahamas field guide is Bruce Hallett’s magisterial Birds of the Bahamas and TCI. So far so very good – except that it is out-of-print and highly sought after. I have just checked and a copy on Abe.com comes in at around $300! I have 3 copies but 2 are out on loan, probably permanently… There are several other book contenders for consideration, all appearing on my book list linked above.

These include the legendary James Bond’s book dating from 1936 (see HERE for more) and its many subsequent incarnations (my 1947 2nd edition shown above, also featuring a tody); Brudenell-Bruce’s charming but dated book; Rafaelle’s rather good Field Guide of the Birds of the West Indies; and the excellent recent Bahamas-produced book Beautiful Bahama Birds by Carolyn Wardle, Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore that features most of the birds one might be likely to see, with help with locations and so on. I reviewed it HERE

                                                                 

FLIEG & SANDER: A NEW EDITION

There’s one small book that is, at first glance, far too wide in scope and slim to be of much use in the Northern Bahamas. However, it contains many of the birds that a casual birder might come across on Abaco. It’s not comprehensive by any means, but it’s useful and handy. First published in 2000 with subsequent reprints, Birds of the West Indies by Flieg and Sander was repackaged as a new edition last year. I meant to write about it sooner; now I have got round to it. Here is a photo of the original – already a small pocket-sized book – and on top, the new revised edition: slimmer, lighter and apparently more up-to-date.

This compact pocket guide has 144 pages of photos of some 250 species, with brief descriptions (135 pp in the old version). Bird groups are listed under numerous helpful coloured-coded corner tabs (‘Gulls & Terns’; ‘Woodpeckers’; ‘Vireos’ etc). The book also contains (very) brief notes on birding locations; a detailed guide to the endemics throughout the region covered; a glossary; a reading list; and a decent index. 

   

The photos in the original are generally quite clear and helpful for ID by the puzzled amateur birder; but inevitably the use of pre-millennial photographic equipment does not quite do the birds justice in terms of the bird book images we have become accustomed to in the digital age.

           

Recognisable as our beloved parrots but showing their age in digital times…

The disappointment is that Bloomsbury decided to go with what they had, a dated book that might have benefitted from a more radical approach to the contents as well as the design. Basically the very neat new edition is the old one repackaged in a better format, with few detectable changes to the original. In fact, the text itself seems unaltered. Most probably – since this is a budget book – a radical reworking was simply not a practical or cost-effective option. This means that changes between 2000 and 2017 go unremarked. For example (as far as the Bahamas is concerned):

  1. The endemic bird we know as the Bahama Oriole (called Black-cowled Oriole in the book) was originally correctly described as ‘a resident of Andros‘, but also said to be ‘a rare resident of Abaco… threatened by unknown factors’. In fact by 2000, the bird was already believed to be extirpated from Abaco during the previous decade. None has been found since, and no one now expects to find one. The text, however, is unchanged in the new edition.
  2. The original edition gives the Bahamas 3 endemic species: the swallow, the woodstar and the yellowthroat. Unchanged for the new edition is the fact that in 2011, the AOU awarded endemic status to another species – the Bahama Warbler. I haven’t checked for other locations, but similar changes have occurred over the period elsewhere in the region covered, so further inaccuracies are pretty inevitable.

Overall I’d say (as I did originally) this is a useful and handy little guide for ID of the mainstream birds you are likely to encounter on Abaco. It would do perfectly well as a book to take out and about with you for those “what on earth is that?” moments. For the interested birder travelling light for a few days, this would serve the purpose, with the added benefit of being cheap – around $15. Beware when online, especially on eBay. People are still selling old editions without reference to the new one, and at much the same price. You want to make sure you get the improved slimline version…

If I now had to recommend for an affordable, simple, portable, practical bird guide for the casual birder in the Bahamas, then I would go now go for Beautiful Bahama Birds. It is Bahamas-specific for a start; although it contains drawings rather than photographs, they are fresh and informative; it was published in 2014 and is as accurate as you could wish for as at that date; and it has a great deal more useful information for Bahamas (as opposed to more general) birding. The link to my detailed review is given above.

Credits: well, I took some photos from the book and publishers material (eg a good crop for the header image) for non-commercial illustrative purposes, so it’s more like apologies to publishers New Holland (original ed.) and Bloomsbury (new ed.). Last image – RH.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

“THE ABACO BACKCOUNTRY – AN APPRECIATION” by JIM TODD


Click to preview The Abaco Backcountry photo book

Jim Todd has produced an attractive self-published book, available in 3 formats, showcasing some of the outstanding features of the less-frequented areas of Abaco and its waters. It contains many excellent photographs, with interesting notes and observations. There are places and facts in the book that may not be known even to locals! Below are some sample pages. 

Abaco Backcountry Grab 2 Abaco Backcountry Grab 3 Abaco Backcountry Grab 4 Abaco Backcountry Grab 5Abaco Backcountry Grab 7 Abaco Backcountry Grab 6Abaco Backcountry Grab 1

Anyone who loves Abaco, its natural surroundings, its ecology and its wildlife will love this book. If this post has whetted your appetite, here are some further details:

Available exclusively on BLURB (this is the direct link)

“The Abaco Backcountry draws on the author’s extensive exploration of the area to describe a hypothetical traverse of its length in words and pictures. It is not a guidebook but an appreciation of a unique Bahamian marine ecosystem”

56 pp, available softcover ($35), Hardcover, Dustjacket ($38.99) and Hardcover, Image Wrap ($40.99)

STOP PRESS In answer to a UK query, the Blurb price is shown in $$$. When you go to the checkout, the shipping is added e.g. $10.99 to ship the PB version to the UK. You can pay by CC or Paypal. The conversion to sterling (or presumably euros) happens… by magic

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BAHAMAS BIRD BOOK REVIEW


ABACO PARROTS MM 2

“Over the Moon” (Abaco Parrot / Melissa Maura)

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BOOK REVIEW

Published 2014 ~ 128pp ~ $20, available from the BNT

A fine new book on the birds of the Bahamas has recently been published by the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST and BIRDSCARIBBEAN. Compiled and edited by well-known Bahamas bird guide CAROLYN WARDLE  with the BNT’s Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore, this slim book is packed with valuable information. It doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive field guide, a task already fully covered by Bruce Hallett’s indispensable Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI. Nor is it anything like my own photographic tome ‘Birds of Abaco’, differing in scope and intention, and weighing a mere 225 gms as opposed to 2 kilos! Beautiful Bahama Birds is eminently a book for the pocket, day bag or backback, to be carried along with your Hallett.

I have illustrated this review with photos of sample pages of the book, invariably the best way to give a clear impression of this kind of publication. Apologies that some of my images are a bit wonky, my copy being new and individual pages being hard to keep flat…

Beautiful Bahama Birds 1 Beautiful Bahama Birds 2

The photographs throughout the book are mainly the work of Linda Huber and the late Tony Hepburn. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some of Tony’s photographs for my own book, given with unreserved generosity; it is a fitting tribute to him that his images have now been published in Beautiful Bahama Birds, and that it  is dedicated to him.Beautiful Bahama Birds 3

An idea of the broad scope and of the book and its usefulness to the birder can be gained from the contents pages, which I reproduce here. Click to enlarge them. The book is arranged in 3 parts: Let’s Go Birding; Field Guide to 60 Common Birds; and Conservation Now.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 4Beautiful Bahama Birds 5b

PART 1 offers plenty of useful information and practical advice about birding in general (I wish I could have read this before I started my own book!). Anyone who loves birds will benefit from this whole section, even if they would not call themselves a birder – especially Chapter 3 ‘Getting Closer to Bird Life’.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 6  Beautiful Bahama Birds 7

PART 2 All 5 Bahama endemics are featured in the main section, which is handily divided  very broadly into ‘waterbirds’ and ‘land birds’. Some birds are commonly found on most islands; some have more limited range: for example the Bahama Oriole is now found only on Andros; and breeding populations of the Cuban Parrot are found only on Abaco and Inagua (the increasing number of sightings on New Providence give some hope for a breeding population there too). I’ve chosen the parrot because the underground-nesting subspecies on Abaco is so special; and the Flamingo and Bahama Oriole, both very sadly extirpated from Abaco in recent memory.

The illustrations by Tracy Pederson and Kristin Willams are clear and highlight well the identifiers for each species. Where necessary, species variations are shown, for example between sexes, breeding / non-breeding plumage and adult / immature. This can be a confusing and even fraught area (as I constantly find), which this book usefully addresses.  Some birds in flight are also shown to aid ID.

   Beautiful Bahama Birds 8 Beautiful Bahama Birds 9

Beautiful Bahama Birds 10

PART 3 covers the National Parks, important birding areas of the Bahamas, conservation matters, and a charming section on birds in Bahamian culture. Appendices include lists of Bahamas native plants and their importance for wildlife; National Parks and Protected Areas; important birding areas of the Bahamas; a Checklist; a Bibliography; and a user-friendly Index (not all are…).

 Beautiful Bahama Birds 13 Beautiful Bahama Birds 12

A good Checklist is a vital ingredient for any birder, whether visitor or local. Here, all the species occurring on the islands are shown on the left and their residential status and range throughout the islands across the top. Thus at a glance you can tell whether a given species is found on a particular island and when it may be found there. You would know not to look for Turkey Vultures on Eleuthera at any time; and that the black-bellied plover is a winter resident throughout the region and not to be seen during your trip in June…  I also like the tick-boxes on the left for species collectors.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 11

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this small book and unreservedly recommend it. It does not replace Hallett, but it complements it. Furthermore, I’m sure the straightforward style and presentation will appeal to bird-loving non-birders and also to younger birders – it may even encourage some out into the field! On p.20 the recommended reading list includes books that would appeal to young readers and links to appropriate websites, a thoughtful touch. I have learnt, or been reminded of, much from reading this book a couple of times. It is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse avian literature for the Bahamas, a prime birding region that is home to an astonishingly wide variety of birds including rare, threatened and vulnerable species like the Parrots, the Kirtland’s Warbler and the Piping Plover.

BOOK LINKS

RH BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (Tony White)

JAMES BOND (LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS…)

SAN SALVADOR BIRDS

DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

‘A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS’: BOOK REVIEW


A BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (INCLUDING TURKS & CAICOS)   

 ABA BIRDFINDING GUIDES (American Birding Association)

  Anthony W. White

  Published 1998

  302 pages

  Wire-O binding

  ISBN 1-878788-16-7

QUICK REVIEW In a rush? Scroll down for a 30-second bullet-point review. If not, hang in here for fuller details…

PUBLISHER’S BLURB (précis) The first comprehensive guide to finding birds on the islands of The Bahamas and TCI. The islands host an unusual mix of Caribbean and North American species, with over 300 bird species recorded. There are 3 endemic species: Bahama Woodstar, Bahama Swallow, and Bahama Yellowthroat, and a host of other specialties, including such birds as West Indian Whistling-Duck, White-cheeked Pintail, Key West Quail-Dove, Great Lizard-Cuckoo, Cuban Emerald, West Indian Woodpecker, Bahama Mockingbird, Olive-capped Warbler, Stripe-headed Tanager, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, and Black-cowled Oriole. Seabird nesting colonies [include] Audubon’s Shearwaters, White-tailed Tropicbirds, and 8 tern species. The parks and refuges of The Bahamas and TCI protect a great diversity of subtropical birds, among them the Bahama Parrot (an endemic subspecies of Cuban Parrot), and many North American wintering birds, including the endangered Kirtland’s Warbler. The New World’s largest flamingo colony nests on Great Inagua, protected by the country’s largest national park. The Guide [includes] complete descriptions by Tony White of more than 150 birding sites on the major islands and smaller cays. It also features a beautiful eight-page Photo Gallery of many of the Bahamian specialty birds, several of which show up regularly in Florida

RH VIEW This book obviously covers a far greater area than Abaco / Northern Bahamas – indeed, it is about as comprehensive of the whole Bahamas region as it could get. Where it scores highly is in taking the area island by island, cay by cay, and identifying the prime birding areas on each. I have to say that, being a 1998 book, some of the descriptions of places on Abaco that I am familiar with are not as you will find them now; and doubtless this applies across the whole region. As the Table of Contents shows, the book is split into ‘places’ chapters, with additional and useful general information chapters. Abaco is covered in just 20 pages. It’s not a lot, but the birding hotspots are well covered, and expected / hoped for bird species are given for each.

Despite the relatively little page space given to each region, there is much else to be got from this book. The final third of the book includes a detailed annotated list of the speciality bird species (also shown in photo gallery format earlier in the book). This is followed by a huge 20-page bird checklist, with every species given a numbered code for each region, ranging from 1 (easily found) to 6 (cannot be found – extinct or extirpated). So you will find, for example, that a Forster’s Tern is rated ‘4’ for Abaco – ‘extremely difficult to find’. There are short notes on other Bahamas wildlife, divided into mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects – followed by helpful appendices (a glossary; a list of common name alternatives); a massive 22-page bibliography; and a serviceable index

The chart inside the front cover shows where the specialty Bahamas birds are to be found . At the back is a large area map showing the total coverage

——————————————-
BULLET POINT REVIEW FOR THOSE WHO ARE PRESSED FOR TIME
  • Fairly weighty 300 pages covering the entire Bahamas region
  • Short but helpful descriptions of birding hotspots on the islands and cays, with the species you may encounter
  • Excellent ancillary species and distribution checklists
  • Focus on specialty birds of the Bahamas
  • Particularly useful for anyone investigating different regions of the Bahamas, or wishing to compare them
  • 14 years since publication is a long time in the islands’ development; expect some irrelevant references for 2012
  • Overall a useful, interesting bird location book, but NB not intended as species identification field guide

SHELLS OF THE ATLANTIC COASTS & WEST INDIES: PETERSON FIELD GUIDE


SHELLS OF THE ATLANTIC COASTS & WEST INDIES 

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 *****

THE BOOK IN A CONCH SHELL

  • 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.

PETERSON CONCISE GUIDE TO SHELLS OF NORTH AMERICA: REVIEW


PETERSON CONCISE GUIDE TO THE SHELLS OF NORTH AMERICA

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).                                  rh 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. There are better books: see FISH & SHELL BOOKS