Thursday, May 07, 2009

Book Note: Birds of Pakistan

Recently I received Birds of Pakistan, a new edition to the growing line of Helm Field Guides. This latest field guide is the first devoted strictly to Pakistan. Prior to the publication of Birds of Pakistan, the country was served by regional guides, such as Pocket Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent and Birds of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Despite its diverse avian populations (669 species), Pakistan has yet to draw much interest from birdwatchers, either residents or tourists. One goal of this guide is to stimulate interest in Pakistan's birds among both its citizens and travelers. In this country, Pakistan is known far better for its political troubles than its birds, which no doubt contributes to the lack of birding interest. (I must confess that it feels rather strange writing about birds in Pakistan, since residents of that country were at one time blocked from reading my blog and all other Blogspot sites.) To raise awareness of birding opportunities, the book's introduction contains a section on ecoregions and top birding sites within the country. The Ornithological Society of Pakistan produced a companion edition in Urdu to serve local birders.

As with any field guide, the bulk of the book consists of identification plates. Up to nine bird species in various forms are placed on the right-hand plate, with descriptive text and range maps on the left. The range maps show each species's winter, summer, and migration ranges within Pakistan. Plates show the most common plumages for each species. Some species are depicted in flight where this might aid identification.

Images are jumbled together on the plates, with the forms from different species placed very close enough to each other. While this has the advantage of reducing the guide's overall size, it may be a potential source of confusion or missed identifications. One must watch the numbered labels carefully to make sure of which image matches which species.

Being unfamiliar with the birds of South Asia, I am not in position to evaluate the accuracy of the plates or illustrations or field-test it. However, those birds I do recognize seem to be portrayed accurately and are recognizable from their illustrations. The guide is definitely suitable for carrying in the field. While slightly taller than Sibley-East, it is about half as thick. Were I to visit Pakistan, I would gladly take Birds of Pakistan with me, as the reference information and range maps would be helpful. The identification plates in Birds of Pakistan might also prove useful in nearby countries; however, travelers planning stops beyond Pakistan would probably be better matched with one of the regional guides.

Richard Grimmett, Tom Roberts, and Tim Inskipp. Birds of Pakistan. London: Christopher Helm; New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008. $40 paper.