Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book Note: Field Guides to Borneo and Jamaica

Occasionally I receive books for review from publishers. Some of them I have reviewed, and others are still waiting on my shelf to be reviewed. This post describes two books that I received for review recently, both field guides to islands outside the United States: Birds of Borneo: Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak, and Kalimantan by Susan Myers and A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica by Ann Haynes-Sutton, Audrey Downer, Robert Sutton, and Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet. I am posting short notices about these books since some readers may be interested, but I do not have a good basis for evaluating them properly.

First will be Birds of Borneo. The island of Borneo lies on the Equator close to Southeast Asia and is divided among three countries, Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Borneo is home to 430 resident bird species, 50 of which are endemic, making this island potentially of interest for ecotourism. (Most of the endemic species are found in the Malaysian portion of the island.) This guide includes those resident and endemic birds, plus some others for a total of 633. The resulting guide is thin and light enough to be carried easily in a coat pocket or backpack.

Birds are depicted with painted illustrations. Where necessary, there are multiple illustrations to show differences in age, sex, or color morphs. Very few species are shown in flight. Illustrations are accompanied by a range map (limited to a bird's range within Borneo) and a short species account, which includes descriptions of the bird's plumage, habitat, behavior, and range. Endemic species are listed in the introduction and noted in the species accounts. My review copy included an insert showing corrected illustrations for two species, Temminck's Babbler (Pellorneum pyrrogenys longstaffi) and the endemic Bornean Barbet (Megalaima eximia).

As an aside, I believe this is the first field guide I have seen that does not illustrate the House Sparrow (Passer domesticus) or European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris), so I have finally learned of at least one landmass where these species do not occur. The only member of the genus Passer that occurs on the island is European Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus). The Rock Pigeon (Columba livia) is present, however.

The taxonomy in Birds of Borneo follows Robson's A Field Guide to the Birds of Southeast Asia, which includes Borneo in its coverage. Perhaps by coincidence, a competing guide, the Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, is due for release next month.

The second book, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamica, replaces an older field guide with a similar title. I do not usually see Jamaica listed among prime birding or ecotourism attractions, yet the island has 307 species, 30 of which are endemic. (All of the birds depicted on the cover are endemics.) An additional three species are endemic to the Caribbean. This is the highest total of endemics for any island in the West Indies is impressive for any small island. Despite the high proportion of endemics, only a few of the island's bird species are endangered.

Unlike Birds of Borneo, this guide illustrates all bird species with photographs. Most species are represented by more than one photograph to show additional postures or plumages. While the photographs are of high quality, the selection is not always fully representative of the range of a bird's appearances. Migrant shorebirds, for example, are generally only shown in winter plumage. This may be a reasonable for wintering species but could cause confusion about birds seen out of season. Illustrations for each species are accompanied by a short text explaining how to identify the bird and where to find it, along with a range map showing its range within Jamaica. Taxonomy follows The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World.

Most visitors to the Caribbean will probably prefer Herbert Raffaele's Birds of the West Indies over A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamica, as the former covers a broader range (making it useful for more than one island) and uses painted illustrations. The main advantage I can see in using Birds of Jamaica is that it includes notes on where to find birds in Jamaica and what species are endemic on the island. It may also prove attractive for birders who prefer using photographic guides or who want supplemental views of the species depicted by Raffaele. An additional resource for birders visiting the island is Bird Songs in Jamaica by George Reynard and Robert Sutton.