Series: Crossley ID Guide Volume: 3
301 pages, 310 plates with colour photos, 250 colour distribution maps
The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland is a celebration of the beauty of birds and the British and Irish countryside. Aimed at beginner and intermediate birders, yet suitable for all levels, this new volume in the groundbreaking Crossley ID Guide series is the most user-friendly guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland. Following The Crossley ID Guides' award-winning design, this book looks at all regularly occurring species in Britain and Ireland, and shows readers how to identify birds in their natural habitats using size, structure, shape, probability, and behaviour – just like the experts do! Stunning images are accompanied by the colourful and compelling text of Dominic Couzens, one of Britain's leading nature writers.
This unique book treats more than 300 species – all the regularly occurring birds likely to be encountered by observers – and The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland's attractive pages provide a real-life approach to bird identification. Beautiful, in-focus scenes present birds in various plumages and in lifelike poses set in identifiable British and Irish habitats. The plates also illustrate how a bird's appearance changes with distance. Organizing images in cohesive, easy-to-understand plates rather than as separate photographs, The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland also sets itself apart by containing more images that demonstrate flight, behaviour, habitat, and plumages than any other volume available. Not only is this field guide a reference book, it is also a spectacular teaching resource that makes it easy for nature enthusiasts to see and appreciate the big picture of bird identification.
"[...] If you like this style, or are willing to give it a go (as with anything new it can take a little while to get used to) then I would highly recommend this book to help you improve your skills at identifying real birds in real situations!"
Su Gough, BTO book reviews
"This book is beyond excellent and there won't be a birder in Europe and beyond who won't be hoping to find this in their Xmas stocking!"
– Bo Beolens, Fat Birder
"The book looks fabulous. For me, it spans the gap between the traditional field guide with paintings and the newer guides with photographs. It is the best of both worlds. Now there's no excuse not to identify everything correctly!"
– Nick Baker, Wildlife TV Presenter and Naturalist
"A problem with field guides has always been that limitations of space constrain comprehensive illustrations. The earliest ‘modern’ European example was the one affectionately referred to as ‘Peterson’ by its generation of birders. For many of the passerines, this showed a nice illustration of the adult male with an adult female cosily hidden behind him. Not a deal of use to ‘bush-bashing’ birders hunting migrants who typically encounter immature birds on their first southwards journey. A double breakthrough occurred in the 1980s, firstly with the publication of the ‘Shell’ guide which included masses of illustrations by the excellent Ian Willis. Here in a concise format were examples of most plumages that the birder was likely to encounter: 14 images of Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis can’t be bad! Secondly, the ‘Macmillan’ guide by Alan Harris and Keith Vinicombe came along, with illustrations by the equally excellent Laurel Tucker. Although its scope was restricted to confusing (or perhaps confusable) groups, it too provided high quality images of birds in a variety of plumages. These two books gave rise to a string of subsequent volumes, ranging in quality from good to frankly awful, culminating in the masterly Collins Bird Guide by Lars Svensson, the late Peter Grant, Killian Mullarney and Dan Zetterström, which looks likely to keep its place at the forefront for a while to come.
There have been several attempts down the years to utilise photographs rather than artwork to illustrate field guides. These have generally not been very successful, largely perhaps because the quality of the material was inconsistent. With the recent explosion of digital photography, millions of images are now available and it was inevitable that someone would use them for a bird guide. Richard Crossley has combined his photographic and technical expertise to produce an innovative ‘ID Guide’ for Britain and Ireland. His approach, showcased first for North American birds, is to ‘cut-and-paste’ images of birds, in a variety of ages, sexes and plumages, into a montage against a background of ‘typical’ habitat. All the birds are in sharp focus, while images of breeding and non-breeding plumage are combined into a single montage – just as would be produced by a conventional artist.
Does it work? Well, yes, it does, and we have here an array of photographs of 300 of our commoner birds, clearly visible against their natural habitat. Some pictures are a bit weak (the Garden Warblers Sylvia borin are not very smart), but generally the standard is excellent. There is a useful image of a Green-winged Teal Anas carolinensis among a flock of Common Teals A. crecca; I wondered why American Wigeon A. americana did not merit similar treatment? Birds are arranged non-taxonomically, grouping together species that occupy similar habitats or ecologies: gamebirds sit alongside rails, and there is a heterogeneous grouping of ‘miscellaneous larger and aerial landbirds’ – everything from pigeons and woodpeckers through corvids to swifts and hirundines. There are a few blank pages, inevitable to allow continuity, but slightly disconcerting: the first time I came across these, I worked through the adjacent species to see which ones the printer had omitted. The accompanying text by Dominic Couzens is as competent as you would expect, but squeezed into tight footnotes under each species montage. When combined with a distribution map and an indication of the size and abundance of each species, the pages end up looking a bit crowded.
Twelve introductory pages include a ‘rogues gallery’ of all the species included in the text. This is a clever innovation, but despite a claim that the sizes have been reproduced accurately, I found these to be inconsistent: Little Owl Athene noctua is surely not the same size as Short-eared Asio flammeus? In addition, the sizes given in the species accounts could have done with a bit of editing: some dimensions are metric, others in ‘old money’. And I have yet to see a five-foot long Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos!
In summary, this is a valiant and groundbreaking effort. It will be especially valuable at the less-experienced end of the birding community, since it is restricted to the commoner species and shows the whole spectrum of plumages. It is not, and does not pretend to be, a ‘field guide’, being more a book to study in an armchair before or after a birding trip. I feel that it would have been better published in a larger format giving more space in layout. This might have reduced the cluttered appearance and enhanced what will make a brilliant supplement to most birder’s libraries."
– David T. Parkin, www.britishbirds.co.uk, 22-01-2014
"Richard Crossley has been breaking new ground with his photographic guides to North American birds in recent years but, with his attention crossing the pond for the first time, the latest addition is a field guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland.
It has been two and a half years since the first Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds) came out to 'Marmite' reviews: some loved the fresh approach, while others were distinctly lukewarm towards the apparently chaotic photomontages that formed the core of the guide. Thumbing through this latest release from the Crossley stable — the ID Guide to Britain & Ireland — the aforementioned controversial photomontages no longer seem, well, so controversial. Opinion will unquestionably remain divided over whether or not Crossley's approach, collating several different images of the same species and adding them artificially to a scenic (though appropriate) background, is helpful when learning about identification. Crossley's argument is that this is how you most frequently see birds in the field, sometimes distant, occasionally close, sometimes in numbers and mostly against a complicated background of other features. Replication of this is, he says, the best way to learn the key identification pointers of species.
Aimed fairly and squarely at beginner and intermediate birders, the photographed visuals make up the lion's share of the book. They take up up four-fifths of the majority of the species pages, with Dominic Couzens' concise text slotted in below to provide a brief introduction to each species and a summary of the key identification features. There are lots of neat touches: the inclusion of both the BTO five-letter shorthand codes and two-letter quick codes for most species will certainly do no harm. The inclusion of some recognisable birding sites in the backgrounds also add a certain familiarity to the pages.
It's also interesting to see how Crossley's format has developed since the launch of the first book. I was pleasantly surprised to find a number of other species in the background of the photo-montages increasing the 'realism' of the constructed scenes: Purple Sandpipers in the Turnstone roost, Lesser Black-backed Gulls in a mixed gull flock, a Blackbird in with Ring Ouzels and so on. In my opinion, providing the opportunity to compare potential confusion species in the same 'field of view' in the guide or pick out the odd one in a flock can only be a useful tool.
Though Crossley's choice of backgrounds add a certain flavour to the guide and I recognise that it is subjective, I personally don't like all of his choices. I would have definitely gone for fewer cows and more Garden Warblers, a coastal backdrop for Stonechats (where I think they are probably encountered most by birders), and perhaps a distant, tightly packed Common Scoter flock. Oh, and most certainly a supermarket car park for Waxwings!
The Crossley Guides have been successful in the US, helped by the provision of additional material and interactivity via the Crossley Books website. This hosts vast quantities of videos and additional material, but also reflects Crossley's insatiable appetite for promoting his guides both on- and offline. Whether Crossley's brand of high-octane publicity for the guide is effective here in Britain remains to be seen, though once again he and his team have proved they are prepared to innovate: their high-profile 'blog tour' around some of our more prominent bloggers, featuring individual elements of the guide, is just finishing, having achieved a sizeable buzz on social media. In addition, both he and Dominic Couzens will be engaging in a live online discussion about the guide in a 'shindig' event on November 21st"
– Alan Tilmouth, Friday 15th November 2013, www.birdguides.com
Praise for the Crossley ID Guide series
"[The Crossley ID Guide series focuses] on maximising your chances of correctly identifying species by ramping up the number and variety of species images within the guide and placing these images within typical habitats [...] Each beautiful plate is painstakingly filled with images of hundreds of individual species in different settings or from different angles to help recreate how you might encounter it."
– Kate Jones, New Scientist
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Richard Crossley is an internationally acclaimed birder and photographer and the award-winning author of The Crossley ID Guide series (Princeton/Crossley Books), which has been recognized for a pioneering approach to bird identification. He is also a coauthor of The Shorebird Guide, the cofounder of the Pledge to Fledge global birding initiative, and he is working on multiple birding projects involving mixed media.
Dominic Couzens is one of Britain's best-known wildlife writers. He contributes regularly to Bird Watching and BBC Wildlife magazines, and is also a professional field-trip guide. His books include The Secret Lives of Garden Birds, Top 100 Birding Sites of the World, and Extreme Birds.