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Helm Field Guides Field Guide To the Birds of Ghana Paperback – Aug 23 2011
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About the Author
Nik Borrow and Ron Demey are recognised authorities on the birds of Western Africa and are the authors of the highly acclaimed Birds of Western Africa (Helm).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is only the second complete book in a field guide format that covers any portion of western Africa, making this book most welcome. It illustrates all species known from Ghana and does so with excellent artistry.
The various plumages of male/female, breeding/non-breeding, and some immatures are shown for all species that show such differences. For those groups that don't have dramatic plumage variation (e.g., some warblers, flycatchers, bulbuls) only a single illustration is provided for the bird. As with most of the other passerines, these birds are shown in a standard profile pose. As another tiny critique, only a minority of the passerine species are shown in flight.
As one might expect, these illustrations come directly from the author's prior tome "A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa". It was nice to see some illustrations have been updated for this Ghana book. Some birds have been retouched or color-corrected such as the Ashy and the Cassin's Flycatcher (now lighter grays with more contrast) while others such as the Slender-billed and the Yellow-billed Greenbul as well as the Brown Babbler have been redrawn.
Across from each plate is a paragraph of identification material on each bird. About half the material of 2-8 lines focuses on identification notes. The key ID features for many of the species are emphasized by being printed in a bold font to draw the reader's attention to their importance. These descriptions cover the male and female plumages. Another nice touch is referring to the subspecies for many of the birds.
Additional material covers the bird's typical habitat, brief notes for some birds on behavior, and, nice descriptions of the vocalizations.
For each bird, a range map of Ghana with the adjacent countries is shown with multiple colors. The five status types represented by the maps are resident, partially migratory resident, non-breeding visitor, sparse non-breeding visitor, and breeding visitor. A couple of symbols also denote an isolated record or uncertain range extension. The map of this small country shows the major rivers to allow more accurate range descriptions. I also like seeing the range of the bird shown extending beyond the borders of Ghana.
If you're planning on birding in western Africa, you'll definitely want and need this book. The complete coverage of species with excellent plates will make your birding trip more successful. The only other western field guide of note is "Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal" by Barlow and Wacher. - (written by Jack at Avian Review, January 2011)
I've listed several related books below...
1) A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa by Borrow/Demey
2) Birds of Africa South of the Sahara by Sinclair/Ryan
3) A Field Guide to Birds of The Gambia and Senegal by Barlow/Wacher
4) Birds of Liberia by Gatter
5) Birds of Western and Central Africa by van Perlo
6) Field Guide to the Birds of West Africa by Serle et al.
7) Guide des Oiseaux de la Reserve de la Lope by Christy/Clarke
8) A Photographic Field Guide to the Birds of The Gambia and West Africa by Silva et al.
Photographing birds around and within 20 minutes of our home in the centre of Accra we have found birds that the distribution maps do not put in this area at all. Of note we have numerous verified photos including; Long-tailed Glossy starling (seen regularly around our home- close up photos), Piping Hornbill, Bearded Barbet, Speckle-breasted Woodpecker (not in book), Vitelline masked Weaver, Velvet-mantled Drongo and a pair of beautiful Grey Parrots of the 'timneh' race, that are not in the book at all. We have also a photo of the Grey-headed Bush Shrike that can be added to the x on the map.
All in all, a useful guide, but bird watchers should also make use of a comprehensive guide to birds of the rest of Western Africa.
As a field guide this book excels in that the format is easy to use and helpful in that plates are on the right and info on the left in typical field guide fashion but where this outshines the former guide is in the fact that the color range maps are with the text, not so with the former guide. This also helps in updated range information for example Black-shouldered Nightjar only had a few "X"s in the previous guide where there is current range information now showing it's known range in Ghana. This is a species I did see in Kakum but wasn't expecting as the range map showed it as on an X or two in the old guide.
The 145 plates are not crowded, with a few exceptions like raptors and seabirds where flight views are essential, and Nik's artwork is consistent and detailed throughout and the printing is bright and sharp. Across from each plate is information about size and description for several plumages where relevant and Habitat and habits and some notes about voice. There are also reference numbers to the Chappuis CD's, African Bird Sounds. Status and abundance are shown at the top right of each description and subspecies are mentioned in the text where relevant. Another benefit of the range maps is that they cover neighboring Togo, Eastern Cote D'Ivorie and southern Burkina Fasso so will work where the species overlap in those areas.
There is also a checklist of the birds of Ghana at the back with some of the names in three local dialects.
I wish I'd had this when I went there as just having a country specific guide would have helped narrow down the species occurring there for me to look through. The information is concise and needs to be for a field guide but there is a much larger and more richly texted edition of "A Guide to the birds of Western Africa" which you can use as a reference back in your hotel room or home. If you are going here I highly recommend this guide for use in the field and the more detailed, A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa, also by Nik Borrow on Ron Demey for more detailed accounts.
Birds of Western Africa (Princeton Field Guides)
A Guide to the Birds of Western Africa
My main "gripe" is concerning the problem that it's not always easy at first glance to say which name or illustrations belong together. This could have been facilitated by using - at times - a somewhat reduced illustration. But being an advocate of decently large pictures, I prefer drawing a few separation lines myself. No big thing for me, and thus I still think the book deserves five stars.
There is also a listing of local names in three widespread local languages where such names are known at all. This should help spreading some interest among the native people as well. As it is, we tend to consider it convenient to have such a book when visiting the area. And Ghana is small enough, and it has a wide diversity of habitats, to make it attractive for visiting birdwatchers. But the book's stated purpose is also to further local interests and understanding, and thus to help contributing to the protection of our European birds on their wintering grounds.
As more people spend more time in the field, there will certainly have to be some revisions. It's important to collect such data, hopefully by a local organization such as the Ghana Wildlife Society to which the book was donated on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Ala, the Swiss Society for the Study and Conservation of Birds.
The main problem that mars the guide is that the plates are printed too dark. This is especially noticeable in that brown coloration sometimes appears almost black, and is bad enough that it interferes with identification. For example, the chestnut cap of the Wire-tailed Swallow, a key field mark, barely contrasts with the dark blue body on plate 89. The brown throat of the female Common (a.k.a. Brown-throated) Wattle-eye also appears black unless it is studied very closely. (The illustrations here are taken from the more comprehensive Birds of Western Africa, and though I have not seen that book, I saw one similar complaint in a review of that book on Amazon). Hopefully this problem can be corrected in future printings. There are also some inaccuracies in the plates, e.g. the tail of the Fraser's (aka African) Forest Flycatcher looks too long to my eyes, and the eyes of the owlets look too large and cartoonish. If you want better illustrations I'd suggest Birds of Africa South of the Sahara, 2d ed., though that is too heavy for regular field use.
One small complaint is that abundance information is indicated by letter codes, but these codes are included on the far right-hand corner of the page very close to the binding. This means that you have to spread the book and strain a bit to read these. Since abundance information is one of the first things you want to know about a bird, it would have been helpful if these were placed further from the spine.