Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Review: Birds of East Asia
Birds of East Asia by Mark Brazil
Birds of East Asia is a fantastic field guide. As always, Mark Brazil does not disappoint!
The region covered includes Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Eastern China & Eastern Russia. The guide describes 985 species on 236 full color plates (19 extraliminal species are also described). Although the geographic range covered and the number of species described are quite large, the guide itself is not too cumbersome to be carried into the field (but it won'f fit in your pocket).
Taxonomy follows Howard and Moore. As anyone who has birded in Asia is aware, there is a tendency by taxonomists toward "lumping". To address this issue, the author makes a great effort toward the description and depiction of sub-species, paticularly in cases where an impending taxonomic split seems likely. The plates are very well done, with the size of each bird sufficient to see distunguishing field marks. For raptors, as well as many shorebirds, waders and waterfowl, there are also paintings of the birds in flight which can be very helpful for identification. In addition, for most birds, male, female and juvenile plumages are all shown where appropriate. The description, range, habitat, and voice are all indicated on the page facing the plates, along with an accompanying range map, making it much more user friendly than some other guides. In addition, contrary to some guides in the region, the text is entirely in English. On the down side, there is not much description of bird behaviors which can be very useful in distinguishing similar species in the field.
I would highly recommend this guide, particularly for Taiwan and China, where I have birded many times. Although I have not personally birded in Japan, Korea or Russia, I have studied other guides for these regions in preparation for forthcoming trips. While I have a highly favorable opinion of the guides put out by the Wild Bird Society of Japan, they are somewhat outdated. All in all, Mark Brazil's guide to the Birds of East Asia is by far the best guide for the region.