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.
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):
- 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.
- 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.