Monday, October 12, 2009

The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand and The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds

Because of its long isolation from the other continents of the earth, Australia has many birds found nowhere else. The same holds for New Zealand, which floats in the Pacific Ocean across the Tasman Sea from Australia. There would be even more if immigrating people had not introduced predators (rats, snakes, dogs, cats, etc.) and competing species (starlings, house sparrows, Canada geese, etc.) Habitat destruction has also reduced the numbers of some species. Defenseless ground-dwelling birds have suffered and are mostly extinct or endangered. Many coastal, desert, and savanna species, however, have thrived. Along the coasts of the Southern Ocean (what we call the Antarctic Ocean) there are even penguins. To identify them can at times be challenging and requires good guidebooks.

Bonnie and I looked at several guidebooks that she had ordered through interlibrary loan before our trip, but we waited until we were in the lands down under before we bought our own books. After looking at bookstores and gift shops at zoos and sanctuaries, we settled on The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand by Hugh Robertson and Barrie Heather with illustrations by Derek Onley and The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds, second edition, by Peter Slater, Pat Slater, and Raoul Slater with Sally Elmer. Both are small enough to take into the field easily and feature color artwork, which I find easier to use in identification than photographs that often suffer from difficult lighting conditions. As you would expect, the guide for New Zealand is the smaller of the two with slightly under 300 species. It uses a traditional taxonomic arrangement, starting with brown, greater spotted, and little spotted kiwis. It has one index integrating common and scientific names, which directs readers to plates. It also has nice maps of the northern and souther islands inside the front and back cover. The Australian book has about 850 species and uses a habitat arrangement, starting with petrels and albatrosses. Common and scientific names are in separate indexes, which direct readers to pages. The inside back cover includes a centimeter ruler in case you get close enough to measure a bird.

We, of course, will not be going back to Australia and New Zealand any time soon, so the books become mostly souvenirs from our trip, which we will set out when we have our friends over to see our pictures. They will also be handy when we watch nature documentaries and when we read Aussie or Kiwi memoirs and novels. If neighborhood children have bird projects for school, we have sources. They will sit nicely on a shelf beside our guides to African and American birds.

Robertson, Hugh, and Heather, Barrie. The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999. 9780140288353

Slater, Peter, et. al. The Slater Field Guide to Australian Birds, second edition. Sydney: Reed New Holland, 2009. ISBN 9781877069635

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