Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide (2-Volume Set)
Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide is a comprehensive, two-volume, up-to-date work covering the over 2500 known and likely taxa of birds of the spectacularly diverse Indian subcontinent including, for the first time, Afghanistan and the Chagos Archipelago. Volume 1 is a Field Guide, bound separately for portability, while Volume 2 (Attributes and Status) contains much more detailed information. The second edition is revised and updated with the newest findings on vocalizations and taxonomy, including several taxa newly recorded for the region, species whose voice was previously unknown, and additional newly recognised species.
Volume 1 (Field Guide):
- Over 3400 illustrations appear in 180 plates painted especially for this book by expert artists. These depict virtually all species and most distinctive subspecies and plumages, some of which appear in no other guide.
- Over 1450 colour maps, based primarily on verified records, represent the ranges of each regularly occurring species and many distinctive races, and distinguish migratory routes from winter ranges.
- Maps are annotated as to geographic variation, status, and habitat.
- Concise texts give the information necessary to identify each species .
- To assist in locating groups within the text, illustrated plate keys are provided in the endpapers.
Volume 2 (Attributes and Status):
- Contains much new information and many taxonomic treatments.
- Alternative names are listed and taxonomic issues are summarized.
- Specimen measurements specially taken for this book are presented for each species.
- Complete data about identification, status and distribution, and habits are provided for each species.
- Problematic records are mentioned.
- Vocalizations are described from recordings, and there are over 1000 sonagrams.
- Appendices include the region's first hypothetical species list, a gazetteer, brief ornithological histories, and lists of taxonomic changes, regional specimen holdings, and threatened species.
- A comprehensive index allows users to find whatever names are most familiar to them.
- Maps indicate geopolitical names, topography, habitats, and bird species diversity and endemism.
Changes in the second edition can be summarized as follows:
- six new fully established species are added;
- six species previously considered Hypothetical are now fully established (but do not change the total list);
- five species added to the Hypothetical list (three due to taxonomic splits) add to regional totals;
- splits between two or more regional taxa increase the number of species by 17;
- 42 splits between regional and extralimital taxa have no effect on number of regional species;
- one species is now regionally extinct but is not removed from the regional list; and
- five taxa formerly considered full species are lumped, decreasing the regional list total.
- The six species new to the region are: the newly described bugun liocichla Liocichla bugunorum, one putative new species yet to be described, the great Nicobar crake Rallina sp., and four vagrants (bandrumped storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro, long-tailed jaeger Stercorarius longicaudus, blue-and-white flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana, chestnut-cheeked starling Agropsar philippensis). Other taxonomic changes are summarized in Appendices 1, 11 and 12.
Of the species-limits changes enacted in the second edition, all but five are on the basis of peer-reviewed published recommendations. The five exceptions (Egretta intermedia vs. E. brachyrhyncha and E. plumifera, Otus modestus vs. O. sunia, Chrysocolaptes socialis vs. C. guttacristatus, Pomatorhinus phayrei vs. P. ferruginosus, and Pachyglossa (Dicaeum) obsolete vs. P. agilis) are all species that were noted as probable future splits in the first edition but for which further data were required to make a decision. In each case, further vocal recordings are now available and confirmatory, and in the case of Pomatorhinus genetic data are confirmatory. In the second edition, new recordings were summarized for species for which weak or no representation of their vocalisations was previously available. Furthermore, the second edition includes capsule summaries of vocalisations to facing plate notes for nearly all species in Vol. 1, often based on previously unavailable recordings. This addition will make this more portable volume much more self-standing in the field.
"When the first edition of Birds of South Asia (BSA) appeared as a two volume guide in 2005 it received mixed reviews, particularly as it was entering a market already served by two established regional field guides, and competition to displace these market leaders would be fierce, particularly given the rather high asking price. To compete, it would need to offer accessibility, clarity and accuracy, combined with value for money. In the intervening period, the first edition has increased in popularity, largely displacing A Field Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent and rivalling Birds of the Indian Subcontinent (BIS) by Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp (1998, 2011) as the leading guide for visitors to the Indian subcontinent. Some of the shortcomings and inaccuracies alluded to in the early reviews were offset by its two-volume format, with a pictorial identification guide for use in the field, combined with the technically detailed handbook for later reference.
What was particularly remarkable about the first edition was the approach adopted towards taxonomy. Although it followed the familiar Peter’s sequence, the authors made the decision to dispense with conventional treatments, and instead to split or lump those species which they considered merited this treatment. Some of these decisions were made without support from peer-reviewed publications, and birders were left scratching their collective heads. For example, the decision to split familiar species into two, three, or in the case of pompadour green pigeon Treron pompadora (now treated as endemic to Sri Lanka) into no fewer than four species, came without supporting evidence. The intervening years have seen many (but not all) of these decisions supported in peer-reviewed publications. During the intervening years BSA taxonomy has been widely adopted and many birders are reasonably happy to go along with the proposals which, in most cases, related to distinctive races. In fact, the Grimmett, Inskipp & Inskipp 2011 Field guide to Birds of the Indian Subcontinent has largely adopted these same taxonomic changes and sequence (although English names still differ). Clearly BSA has been a leader in popularising changes to, and rejuvenating Asian bird taxonomy.
This is the point we had reached when the second edition appeared; generally comfortable and widely accepted, the shortcomings mostly overlooked as they were considered trivial to all but the most hardened of Asian birders. So what does the second edition of BSA have to offer? It remains the most authoritative, comprehensive and detailed guide to the birds of the Indian subcontinent, covering Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and the Chagos Archipelago. It retains all the positive attributes of the first edition, and the authors appear to have taken on board many of the comments and criticisms made in the earlier reviews, making numerous minor improvements to this edition. Also, being paperback, it weighs a whole 0.4 kg less than its predecessor, at 2.1 kg rather than the whopping 2.5 kg.
Volume 1, the field guide (0.8 kg), is the more likely of the two volumes to be used in the field. Here the obvious change is the addition of descriptive vocalisations within the accompanying texts, a major shortcoming of the first edition, and bringing it into line with its competitors. The maps are generally clear and largely unchanged but still a bit on the small side, making it difficult to locate some range-restricted species, such as dusky blue flycatcher Eumyias sordidus in the hills of Sri Lanka, and the Spelaeornis wren-babblers in the northeast. Previous errors and omissions have been corrected; for example the winter range of purple heron Ardea purpurea has been extended to cover much of the peninsula, coastal Bangladesh now falls within the winter range of black-browed reed warbler Acrocephalus bistrigiceps, and the breeding range of large-billed reed warbler A. orinus is mapped for Afghanistan. However, the recently discovered population of Marshall’s iora Aegithina nigrolutea in southern Sri Lanka isn’t mapped, although a single vagrant is shown. Plate numbering and sequence remains as the first edition, and the original images are unchanged, with the exception of the shortening of the extraordinarily long crest of the white-throated bulbul Alophoixus flaveolus on Plate 106 to more realistic proportions. There have, however, been changes to plate layout and content to accommodate additional species, including the three newly discovered species absent from the first edition; great nicobar crake Rallina sp, serendib scops owl Otus thilohoffmanni and bugun liocichla Liocichla bugunorum. Readers familiar with HBW may recognise some of these additional images from that publication; Lynx being the publisher of both HBW and BSA. Consequently, some species are illustrated in unlikely plumages, for example the long-tailed skua Stercorarius longicaudus on plate 59 appears as a breeding plumaged adult with tail streamers – the plumage least likely to be encountered in whilst in the region. Furthermore, this would have been a wonderful opportunity to correct some of the anomalies from the first edition, an example being the head and upper body images of juvenile little crake Porzana parva and Baillon’s crake P. pusilla, which omit the crucial features for separating these species. They could have been replaced by useful images in HBW, which would have slotted in nicely. If a third edition is produced these minor deficiencies should be accommodated. Some plates, such as the snipes on plate 58 are overcrowded, making the images too small to be of much value in separating this difficult group, but improving them would require an additional plate. On other plates, the images are wildly out of proportion, including several of the newly inserted images in this edition, e.g. the long-tailed skua is reproduced at a different scale to the other skuas on this plate. This scaling issue was a concern with the first edition, e.g. the ducks on plate 17, but hasn’t been addressed. Having said all of this I have not come across any serious inaccuracies, the various artistic styles mesh quite well, and the images are generally accurate and pleasing to browse.
Corrections to a number of shortcomings in the descriptive text in Volume 1 from the first edition have been addressed, for example the number of words for great black-headed gull Larus ichthyaetus has increased from 25 to 62, thus ending the confusion over the tail band mentioned in 2005 BB review.
Volume 2, entitled Attributes and Status, takes the form of a handbook, providing detailed information on identification, variation, status and distribution, voice and habits for each species. The changes to this edition are subtle, difficult to locate, and mostly relate to taxonomic revisions (see below) which has increased the number of species, although the number of pages has only increased by one (to 684). So it’s particularly useful that the authors have detailed the taxonomic changes in two appendices, 11 and 12. The most radical involve 82 species level taxonomic changes in the second edition which are detailed in Appendix 11. These include six new species to the region, six considered Hypothetical in the first edition that are now confirmed, five species added to the Hypothetical list, further splits within the region increase the number of species by 17, a further 42 splits have been adopted between regional and extralimital taxa although these do not impact on the number of regional species, five taxa treated as full species in the first edition are lumped here and are thus removed from the species total, and one species is considered extinct within the region (Siberian crane Grus leucogeranus) but is still included here. All but five of these splits and lumps are said to follow recommendations supported by peer-reviewed publications.
Appendix 12 details no fewer than 252 changes to the English and/or scientific names in the second edition. Thankfully the first edition names are given along with the new, making cross-referencing straightforward. Major checklists including Clements and IOC have yet to move on many of these changes so it remains uncertain whether these will be widely adopted. From a Western Palearctic perspective, BOU has already adopted most of the changes affecting passerines, but there are still 30+ changes, mostly to non-passerines where BOU and BSA are at odds with the scientific names used here. As an example, here the authors have chosen to break up the paraphyletic genus Calidris, retaining only knot Calidris canutus and great knot C. tenuirostris (plus the extralimital surfbird, now C. virgata) within Calidris, with the smaller taxa becoming Ereuetes or Erolia, and sharp-tailed sandpiper C. acuminata becoming Limicola acuminata. This is at odds with the latest report BOURC TSC report (Ibis 154: 874–883, October 2012), which, presumably working from the same data and publications, recommends enlarging Calidris to include spoon-billed sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, broad-billed sandpiper Limicola falcinellus, buff-breasted sandpiper Tryngites subruficollis and ruff Philomachus pugnax. As the senior author is a member of the AOU body which deliberates on these matters and publishes updates to the Checklist of North American Birds in The Auk, it will be interesting to see whether AOU follows BOU or BSA on this one; retaining both is clearly untenable. Numerous other changes mostly affect generic revisions to Oriental species, and relatively few English names have been changed, with most being new names created due to splits. In the case of the striped tit-babbler Macronous gularis of the first edition, both the English and scientific names have changed, becoming the pin-striped tit-babbler Mixornis gularis here.
As a two-volume handbook the quantity of information contained here is staggering and it outperforms BIS in the level of detail presented, making it the most exhaustive and comprehensive guide available to the entire subcontinent. As such, it has become the essential guide to travel with, and its new paperback format has brought the weight down considerably. The two-volume layout enables users to take the portable Volume 1 into the field, and study the detailed text in Volume 2 at a more leisurely pace later in the day. However, BIS cannot and must not be ignored, as it remains an authoritative text to the birds of the region, and the regional offshoot guides are particularly portable and useful in the field. As no one guide can cover everything, my recommendation would be to take BSA as the primary reference and supported by either BIS or the relevant regional guide from BIS series (which are much lighter), thus giving the widest coverage of identification text, images and maps."
- Peter Kennerley, 08-12-2012, www.britishbirds.co.uk
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