Basics: softcover, 2010, 308pp; describes all age, gender, and seasonal plumages of the 1,300+ known species and subspecies from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, including vagrants and accidentals; descriptions are presented in a concise bulleted format with key identification points emphasized; geared towards avid birders already familiar with the naming of a bird's topography (aka, feathers and body parts); no illustrations, maps, or other text provided
This is an impressive book, but I should qualify that comment. From the perspective of an avid birder, this book will be a valuable, extensive source of detail on all the plumage variations of each bird. To the more casual birder, this text-only book may prove to be overwhelming or perhaps dry. What I find remarkable about this ID guide is the vast amount of information crammed inside. It's made even more intimidating with a font size that is the smallest I've seen in any bird book. I must admit I cannot properly read the pages without my glasses.
This book is similar to the identification guides created for the bander/ringer, such as Pyle's North American Birds or Svennson's European Passerines but, with one notable difference: This book definitely contains more identification material. Another primary difference in Van Duivendijk's book is it does not contain age-specific references (e.g., ASY/ATY, HY, etc.) nor a series of measurements, other than the bird's total length. This allows all the information to focus on only field marks of various plumages. This detailed information is a thrill to learn but, it may not always be useful in the field under normal or brief observing conditions. As an example, in-hand observations may be necessary to see the finer detail mentioned such as a martin's curved culmen or the darker centers of dark undertail coverts -- unless the birds was very cooperative, close, and stationary.
I really like the focus on the many subspecies, especially with groups such as the wagtails and wheatears. I wish I had access to this information a few years ago when looking at these birds in Turkey. The same is true for the drabber warblers. Even some of the Phylloscopus and Hippolais have subspecies broken out; however, despite the descriptions provided, I'm dubious these would always be of help with just binoculars. It's not because the descriptions are lacking, but because of their subjectivity (e.g., larger, broader, darker, usually faint) for these notoriously difficult to identify birds.
Regarding this subjectivity, I pulled up some photographs I took of a Rock Nuthatch in Turkey and used the notes provided in this book, which splits it out into Western vs. Eastern species. I couldn't truly apply the description of the bird's black eye-stripe as noted in the book. However, I'll chalk that up to my lack of repetition or familiarity with this bird. I find this situation analogous to the invaluable repeated practice at characterizing the white eye stripe as tapering or as widening behind the eye of the US waterthrushes.
The taxonomy in this book uses the Dutch system (based on Howard and Moore) and splits out species not found in many, or any, other books. Examples are the Black-eared Wheatear (western vs. eastern) and ditto for the east/west Olivaceous Warbler. The variations of the latter bird is not even illustrated in the most recent edition of Birds of Europe by Mullarney. As a minor note to point out, this book contains many species not found in Europe, but found only in North Africa or the Middle East; thus, staying true to the book's title of "Western Palearctic".
My critiques of this book are trivial. Regarding the book's layout and how it is (likely) to be used, it would be a good idea to break the book into two publications: Passerine and Non-passerine. The passerines take up 119 pages and the non-passerines with 163 pages. Although it would not be desirable to carry two larger books into the field, I'd love having them on my desk in a more reader-friendly format. To clarify, this book is not field guide. It is an identification guide that demands greater concentration and examination of the bird in the field. The best use of this book would be at home with photographs taken of the mystery bird, with repeated or long-duration sightings in the field, or for those birder's with an eidetic memory.
As a last minor critique, the page layout is somewhat distracting to read. Each bird has a listing of bulleted identification points. To the left is a list of plumage codes to tell the reader which plumage is being expressed by each bullet. This layout does not promote fluid reading. In defense of the author, these tiny codes (e.g., ad, fl all plum, ad s, juv-1w, (f) 1s, etc.) are quite necessary, if not critical to accompany the descriptions. And, to be fair, I cannot come up with a better or more efficient method than what the author has provided that does not increase the length of the book.
One thing I would love to see with this book is a future illustrated version. Of course, that illustrated book would be immense, but it would also be as equally awesome.
I wish we had something like this for the North American region. It would fill a small niche, but I'd be in line to buy a few copies. For the rich amount of information included, this book is certainly worth owning. - (written by Jack at Avian Review / Avian Books, September 2010)
I've listed several related books below...
1) The MacMillan Guide to Bird Identification by Harris et al.
2) Identification Guide to European Passerines by Svensson
3) Frontiers of Bird Identification by Sharrock
4) Identification for Ringers: Volumes 1-3) by Williamson
5) Moult and Ageing of European Passerines by Jenni/Winkler
6) Bird Identification: A Reference Guide by Adolfsson/Cherrug (ISBN 9186572245)
7) Identification Guide to North American Birds Part I by Pyle
8) Identification Guide to North American Birds Part II by Pyle
9) Advanced Birding by Kaufman