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Review: Advanced Bird ID Guide by Nils van Duivendijk

Posted by Martin Garner on Thursday 16th December 2010 | Reviews

A Review by Martin Garner

Advanced Bird ID Guide by Nils van Duivendijk

Back in 1980 I wrote a couple of pocket-sized booklets filled with the bullet points of key identification features for lots of really rare birds. Just in case one day I bumped into some of them and couldn’t remember what to look for.

I had a little dream. One day I would publish these little bullet point booklets – surely others beside me would value such a tool. I never got it published. Instead Nils van Duivendijk has done something like it, only made a much better job of it. The Advanced Bird ID Guide is far more comprehensive than anything I had conceived and much nicer looking! If you haven’t seen a copy yet, you may be a little taken a- back. It’s like no other ‘field guide’ indeed, bird book of any kind, which you will have seen before. No illustrations – well apart from 2 plates of comprehensive monochrome topographical illustrations near the start. The rest is text, just text.

Originally published in Dutch in 2002, this English version is extensively updated and superbly edited by Shetland Nature tour leader Rob Fray. Covering some 1,300 species and subspecies, it’s hard to image more detail and data squeezed into such a well organised, compact space.

First feel is of a handy compact, spiral notebook-sized soft back book. An inviting colour front cover with a ‘three- fingered’ adult female harrier – Pallid or Montague’s. These are not always easy so I decided to check the harrier section to see how well it would perform in helping me confirm (or otherwise) my identification hunch. A quick check reveals an immense amount of data on Harriers. And within less than 2 minutes the photo is easily assessed – yes it’s a Montagu’s.

Each species data section has pink, left hand margin highlighting which age/ sex / plumage category is being discussed. Next to this, the bullet point list of characters. This ranges from 2-3 lines (e.g. Mediterranean Strom Petrel) to 1-2 pages (e.g. American Herring Gull).

I have worked with Nils on the very thorny subject of Steppe Buzzard identification. So I am already familiar with this incredible attention to details and sharp eyes. As I have thumbed through the content, again and again I have discovered details about species and subspecies which are well beyond my ever ability to ever commit to memory. It’s hard to see how it won’t quickly become part of my normal kit – one for my car kit bag and one for the book shelf at home. At such a reasonable price too, it’s likely to reduce the hesitation to purchase. So Yes, I am a fan.

On our recent Shetland Nature autumn birding break we even came up with a new verb – ‘to Nils a bird’. Meaning: To gain more information of a bird identification features or perhaps to correctly age it or sex a particular individual– one just needs to ‘Nils it’. A quick and easy process!

Should you get one? No book is truly ‘essential’. But with my book shelves groaning and space at a premium- here is surely the greatest mass of bird identification data in one very small easily accessible place. I can safely say now, that mine won’t be available to be loaned out for the foreseeable future – so you need to get your own! For as little as £10.00 a proper bargain too.

Martin Garner