I’ve never really been a fan of field photo guides. In the past, I have always looked to the more nuanced interpretation of a skilled illustrator to highlight key characteristics, to help me identify birds / animals / plants in the field. While this is still largely true, photo guides have come a long way since I first encountered them, and for many wildlife enthusiasts, they are becoming a viable alternative to more traditional picture guides.
The best photo guides I have seen so far have been the wonderful “Birds of Ireland, A Field Guide” by Jim Wilson and Mark Carmody, and the superb “Britain’s Birds: An identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland” by Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop, and David Tipling (I have the first edition, although there is a second revised edition now), both of which almost took me away from my trusty Collins Field Guide. But not quite. In a way, I’ve always turned to the illustrated guide.
Now Hume, Still, Swash and Harrop are back, with a book that expands the reach of their British and Irish guide to encompass the rest of Europe. “Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide” is the latest field guide to birds from the Wild Guides team, published by Princeton University Press. Like its predecessors, this is a beautifully produced book, filled with some of the most exquisite bird photographs I’ve seen in a field guide to date. The plates appear to have been updated – from Britain’s Birds first edition at least (I don’t have a second edition to compare it to). However, out of necessity, I suppose, birds that have been offered a double page spread in the guide to Great Britain and Ireland (Common Gull, for example) are relegated to a single page in this European guide, which is to accommodate quite a bit of extra cash. (928 in total – with a whopping 4,700 photographs).
Of course, as is the norm with contemporary photographic field guides, this guide shows multiple images of each bird, showing different behaviors and types of plumage. Once the Achilles heel of photo guides, the idea that picture guides provide a more complete picture of the bird in various situations is no longer true.
The book begins with a brief introduction, the obligatory “How to use this book” section (has anyone read this part?). Then there is a handy gallery, illustrated with miniature photos, showing the different types of birds in the taxonomic order in which they are presented in the book, giving you a quick reference with the page numbers for quick access to the relevant part of the book.
Then, for each group (e.g. waterfowl), you have a few introductory pages presenting the key characteristics of the main subgroups (swans, shelducks, geese and ducks for the aforementioned wild birds), and if applicable, a series of plates showing the various species in flight. Then come the detailed cash accounts.
They include the English and scientific name, size range, distribution map, and an indication of the species’ conservation status in Europe and globally. There is a concise yet accurate description covering the main types of plumage, vocalization and flight characteristics and, again, where applicable, a handy box highlighting potential confusing species. The rest of the page (for most species, although some species only get a half, third, or even quarter page) is beautifully illustrated with stunning photographs of the bird in question, punctuated where appropriate with handy text captions pointing to key field identification features.
The book is packed with everything you could possibly want to confidently identify birds in the field or, as is more often the case nowadays, when browsing through the photos on your memory card a bit later. That said, it’s no small book: its scope makes it a big bulk to carry around when birding. My paper field guides spend most of their time either on a shelf in my home office or hidden in my car’s glove compartment, while I rely on the wonderful and much more convenient Collins Bird Guide app on my phone. for identification assistance In the field.
Of course, one thing an app cannot replicate is the sheer joy of flipping through a real field guide to research the birds you’ve seen and / or learn more about how to identify which birds you’d like to see. . For this, Europe’s Birds does the trick perfectly. It really is a beautiful book.
Europe’s Birds: An Identification Guide by Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash and Hugh Harrop is produced by Wild Guides and published by Princeton University Press. You’ll find it in all good online and offline bookstores, and can pick up a copy. on Amazon UK here.