Europe's Birds - An Identification Guide - Review

Ever since Crossley published an amazing photo composite guide they have been in vogue, with titles regularly popping up for various regions.

These have often varied in quality and relevance, with few reaching the quality of Crossley, often giving the feel that any given author was simply hoping to cash in on their back catalogue of images.

Photo guides are hugely dependent on the quality of those back catalogues, but of course the increase in accessible online databases allows for a level of collaboration and image sourcing not seen previously.

Here this latest publication has made good use of such methods, and it's fair to say that there's not a single bad image in the book. The quality of the book itself, the paper, binding and colour reproduction etc is excellent, and at ~25 euro, packs a lot in.

But does it hit the mark as an identification guide?

The first thing to understand about this book, is that it follows strict borders, i.e. it focuses on Europe, rather than the Western Palearctic, meaning many North African/Middle East residents aren't covered (the macronesian islands have their endemics covered in their own section).

The second thing to understand is that the book deals with what it defines as rarities (and that definition can raise eyebrows in terms of consistency) in their own section at the back.

This instantly reduces the usefulness in terms of identification, as similar common-rare groups/species pairs etc are often not compared side by side. 

At times, some species or sub-species are covered in the main section of the book and at times the selection seems very arbitrary e.g Oriental Pratincole, a species all would say is a Western Pal mega, is covered in the main section, however all the regularly occuring yank waders are turfed to the rear of the book, and covered with varying detail (the stints are covered in not too bad fashion for example). 

As with any photo guide, you tend to see choices being made (or perhaps decisions forced), and at times one might say perhaps another photo could have been selected.

Those who know me (or have read this blog) know I like my Bean Geese, so I would perhaps question the choice in images here...and maybe even the text?

As a photo guide, don't expect too much insight to come from the text.

At times there are some large comparison composite plates, and these can be excellent, though they don't always cover everything. 

Skua composite. When these plates occur, they are quite pleasant on the eye, particularly those of the raptors.

It does need to be said though, that if you like your Crossley, or expect really in depth ID to be covered here, you will mostly find this book lacking, often leaving out plumages/ages etc
(I can only speak for those species which, I would like to think I have familiarity with, so things like second year Eleonora's Falcon being absent jump out at me...I am sure others will note their own inconsistencies).

That said, it's quite up to date in the inclusion of images of things like Cyprus Scops Owl and both Tenerife and Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch for example. 

As an identification guide goes, I personally don't think it covers gulls fantastically well.

Whilst I can understand that choices, difficult ones, need to be made when producing a book of this size and scope (over 620 pages as it stands), it feels somewhat guilty of a same old bias, which many guides in the past have been guilty of, where "interesting" ID topics from a British perspective (things like Golden Plovers and some vagrant warbler groups are covered a little more usefully than others IMO).

Every now and again you will find a comparison table of the sort above. This one is one of the better such tables, which vary in size, scope and thoroughness. Where they exist, and cover things well, they're very nice, but again inconsistent in quality. Standardising this format across the board of the book would have been excellent.

The same "old bias" also appears in terms of the vagrant American land birds, which are reduced to just small single images at the back. This may be understandable, from a euro perspective, but I think most Irish birders would agree, a little bit of extra effort has always been wanted there.

So final verdict: 

This is a book struggling to find consistency. There's seeds of potential there, which just never seen to grow into something groundbreaking, which is a shame considering the quality of the images used. Had the kind of table and inset ideas been, as mentioned, standardized across all species groups, and species pairs and groups compared together (rather than rarities lumped to the back) I think this could have been quite special, and I would have been prepared to pay significantly more, even if the page count had gone through the roof 

Is it better than your standard, visitor's center, RSPB style photographic field guide? Sure, easily, no question. By a long way 

But is this a book the hardened, travelling European birder/Rarity finder will need?

I honestly have to say no. 

You won't find much in the way of identification insights here if you've been in the game long enough and it's not one you will be keeping handy in the car. 

If you're one of those prolific bird book collectors (and they are out there) then 25 euro is not too much to pay for an addition, or if none of the above bothers you and you just like good photos of birds on hand, again 25 euro for a coffee table piece won't go astray.

However, for those looking for a solid identification reference, something they know they will need to grab off the shelf every autumn seeking those ever crucial identification tips and pointers? You can safely pass on this title for that purpose.


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