Monday, 14 October 2013

The Crossley ID Guide to Britain & Ireland

When I was first shown a copy of Richard Crossley's ID Guide to Eastern Birds (that's American birds of course) I was both stunned and speechless.  Richard had certainly thought well outside the box in putting that award winning volume together.  Nevertheless it was different.  For a start the author has used photographs set against a background of the sort of habitat you are likely to see them in and encompassed as many attitudes and poses that he can of any given species.  He has also arranged the species in a different order which is a challenge for many of us who are more traditional.

The Barn Owl plate with Cley windmill in the background

Well now Englishman Richard has brought his successful format to the British Isles.  The book only covers 300 species but concentrates on those you are most likely to see if you go about your birding on this side of the Atlantic.  The plates are generally fantastic and the background really stimulating.  If you look carefully you may be able to identify some of them.  It must be a tricky business taking so many individual images and collating them to make up a meaningful scene.  Having said that the plates have been achieved quite well only one or two images look a bit wooden or maybe out of place.  One or two look a bit like the magnificent displays one used to see in the better natural history museums.  They do the job very well giving the reader an opportunity to look at a species in all its plumage as well as in flight.  One plate does amuse me no end.  Red-throated Pipit is placed against a background of a village cricket match with a plethora of the birds feeding on the edge.  As a keen cricketer until old age took over I would loved to have played on this ground as I have still never seen Red-throated Pipit in the UK.

Long-tailed Tit

The introduction deals with using the book and a section on how to be a better birder including the old fashioned but still essential practise of taking field notes when observing birds.  Richard and his co-author fellow Englishman Dominic Couzens continue throughout the volume to make life as easy as possible to identify the different species of birds. The various sections are very innovative and include Swimming Waterbirds, Flying Waterbirds, Walking Waterbirds, Upland Gamebirds, Raptors, Miscellaneous Larger Landbirds and Songbirds. A weird decision you might think but it works.

  The authors make it quite clear that this book is aimed at beginners.  If not for those just starting out on birding then also for people who struggle with the conventional guides and need more options to make sure they know what they are seeing.  It achieves this but as a seasoned birder of 70 years I can see why I would turn to this volume especially on matters of ageing and sexing species.  I cannot find much to criticise but I was disappointed to discover that quite a few of the distribution maps are inaccurate. For example no Ospreys are shown nesting in Wales, Curlew is not shown to nest in East Anglia and Common Gulls are not shown as nesting in Suffolk and there quite a few more. In addition I found the use of the BTO codes in place of complete names annoying.  I understand the authors reasons for using them but I do not believe they are as widely used amongst birders as they think.

Having said this with the new BTO Atlas just a month away it will not affect the use of this enterprising and barrier breaking book.  If you are just starting out birding you will love it and in my opinion if you have been birding for a while you will still find it very useful.  At £16.95 this is a snip. I am looking forward to using mine in the field.

The Crossley ID Guide Britain & Ireland
Richard Crossley & Dominic Couzens
ISBN 978-0-15194-6
304 pages, 310 colour plates and 250 distribution maps


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  2. Having only had a quick glance through the book, I think it will be a suitable replacement for the RSPB book I bought over 30 years ago. I probably outgrew it as an ID guide, but found it the multiple views of each bird (drawings including some habitat) very useful when explaining the ID of a bird to novices. That book is now falling apart, so I'm pleased to see a suitable replacement on the market.