Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Birds of East Asia: A Review

I have to say at the outset that I am not a “professional” bird watcher.  Although, I could see myself at some time in the future settling down to watch birds do bird things.  My lack of mobility and limited (mobility scooter) transportation means that my main locations for watching birds are fairly specific.  Often, people think that disabilities limit your ability to be involved in something like bird watching, but it can still be a rewarding pursuit, with a few adjustments. 

Taoyuan City is “famous” for the number of parks spread throughout.  Most of them are beautiful little oases in high-rise neighborhoods.  So, my particular area of ornithological study is the urban park habitat.  Occasionally, I am able to go into the more rural areas to watch, but that requires a driver and someone who is interested in a quiet few hours.

I got involved in bird watching because I could recognize only a few of the birds I saw in trees, in rice fields and on poles near my home.  Not all of them are the same as California’s birds.  In fact, I have only seen a few that I recognized without the assistance of my trusty Field guide.

I suggested to my children that a field guide for Asian birds would be a perfect gift during the Christmas gift-giving season.  They laughed.  They told me bird watching is an old man’s sport; oh, the derision, I endured.  I was steadfast; a field guide was all I wanted.  They made other suggestions, I shrugged them off.  I really had no other needs or wants.  As Christmas got closer they got desperate, so they tricked me into revealing, once again, the name of the field guide I wanted:  Birds of East Asia, by Mark Brazil. 

So this is my review of that field guide.  In some ways, I think it is an excellent book.  There are a lot of beautiful, full-color renderings of birds in different positions.  For example, there are drawings of birds standing, flying over head, and flying at eye level.  The advantage of that is that birds rarely sit like museum exhibits for you to look at.  They are usually about some mysterious bird business, whatever it may be.

The descriptions of the habitats and ranges are quite good and the little maps are helpful.  There is some good taxonomic information; genus, and species.  Although, I have a tendency to “Google” them when I find them so that I can find out what order they come from.  For instance, I found a bird just last week called a Malayan Night Heron.  The drawing of the bird left off the crest that was obvious and visible, so to be sure of what I was seeing I used Google, which produced a large number of photos.  In addition to the corroborating photos, I found that the heron is of the order Pelecaniformes.  This is the same order as Pelicans, but according to the description and location of the bird, they are not really water birds.

The only other problem with the book is that it covers a large area:  ChinaTaiwanKoreaJapan, and Russia.  This is quite a large geographical area, so the range maps are a little too small to see clearly.  Remember, my children called this an old man’s sport.  I’ll cop to being a “not-as-young-as-I-used-to-be” man, I won’t go all the way to old, but even with my bifocals, the maps are a little small.  Taiwan is, after all, a tiny island in that large land mass.

Finally, the last problem, I have with this book is its size.  I think it’s a little heavy for a field guide.  My copy is paperback and I don’t like to take it out into the field because it might get destroyed.  I generally, try to photograph the bird and then come back and look it up.  It can be difficult if I come across more than a couple of birds because I have to take notes in order to remember locations and habitats.

In general, I am delighted with this book.  When I’m stuck in my office I find myself leafing through it and trying to memorize the drawings so I’ll recognize the birds immediately.  

The book is published by Princeton Field Guides, Princeton University Press, copyright 2009.  It is available for purchase at Amazon for $US 26.44.  Birds of East Asia link at Amazon

Other Posts you may be interested in:

Not Quite the Last of the Mountain Men
The Trees Are Alive With The Sound of Music
Eating My Way Through Taiwan:  The Stink of Adventure

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