Arthropedia, An Illustrated Alphabet of Invertebrates by Vanna Bartlett
This book, by my friend Vanna Bartlett is the product of a 3 year labour of love. It is a glorious celebration of the wonderful world of invetebrates lavishly illustrated with Vanna's superb artwork. Vanna and her husband Jeremy have an amazing wildlife-friendly garden (and allotment) and many of the species depicted in the book have been seen in their own garden as well as on their frequent field trips. The book covers beetles, butterflies, moths, flies, wasps, bees, spiders, grasshopper, ladybirds, shieldbugs, dragonflies, damselflies and much more. The book is far from being just a picture book though - Vanna's text is clearly written from the heart and really conveys her love of invertebrates and well as no small amount of technical knowledge. It's a book that could certainly be read from cover to cover but to me the real joy is being able to dip in and out. A chapter just before bedtime is both relaxing and informative!
A Flora of Suffolk by Martin Sanford and Richard Fisk
This weighty tome is officially out of print and initially I looked at second hand copies on Ebay and Amazon but the cheapest I found was still GBP105! I therefore widened my search and after a quick phone call to Pemberley Books they managed to aquire one direct from the author for GBP42. I can highly recommend this company because they really went out of their way to help me.
Now to the book - well it's truly superb. The sheer amount of work that has gone into producing it means it must have been a real labour of love for the authors. It begins with detailed chapters on Soils, Landscape History, Climate, Habitats, The History of Suffolk Botany and Recording followed by a hugely detailed 'systematic list' of all the county's vascular plants and bryophytes. This includes a wealth of distribution maps, photographs and history of records.
It is, quite simply an amazing achievement and a book I'm overjoyed to now have a copy of.
A Birdwatching Guide to South-east Brazil by Juha Honkala & Seppo Niiranen
This book was a sheer impulse buy when I fancied a good read after seeing it on the shelf in the book shop at Cley visitor centre! It caught my eye with the richly illustrated pages including site guides with maps. Naturally (!) I got it cheaper much cheaper online (GBP23 instead of GBP35). It has been proving to be a great bit of bedtime reading on these cold winter nights where we dream of world birding in sunnier climes.
The book is 1/3 site guide and 2/3 photographic field guide. Although I have no immediate plans to visit this area of Brazil this has whetted my appetite an looks to be an excellent planning tool with tips on travel to the area, access details to the best sites, maps, birds lists, excellent photographs and species distribution maps.
Birds of Vietnam by Richard Craik & Le Quy Minh
I recieved a pre-publication offer for this book from Lynx Publications so with my trip to Vietnam coming up in January it was very well timed indeed! And I have to say this book is an absolute belter. Compared to other field guides covering SE Asia this one is streets ahead in terms of layout and artwork. The plates are simply stunning with very useful distribution maps shown right next to the species' illustrations whic is a nice touch and one I really like. I opted for the soft waterproof cover version rather than the hardback version and am glad I did because it looks durable and perfect for travel. I have yet the use the book in the field so the jury is out to a certain extent but I'm prepared to bet I won't be disappointed. Into the bargain it comes with a free download of a nice checklist of the birds of Vietnam and also QR codes by each species description allowing access to further information and photos.
STOP PRESS - having now used this field guide 'in the field' I can confirm it's awesomeness! Very accurate plates and descriptions and details of imminent splits too. The 2 authors are great guys - I now have my copy signed by them both ;-)
Roberts V11 Multimedia App - Birds of Southern Africa
This is an iPhone app that I found absolutely invaluable on my South Africa trip in September 2018. It's a complete field guide with not only with plates but several photos of each species, distribution maps, the ability to create lists, birds song and call recordings, loads of site information with built in GPS locator and loads more. It's not cheap at £30.99 but it replaces a field guide, site guide, listing software for your triplist and also saves downloading or buying separate bird call recordings. 10/10 for me - at least!
Link to the app page
Orchid Summer by Jon Dunn
I'm not exagerrating when I say that this is one of the most inspiring books I've read in years. The author deserves huge congratulations for a book that charts his quest to see all the British orchids in the summer of 2016 but is so much more than just a diary. There are well researched pieces of the history of the orchids and their discovery that paint such a vivid picture of Victorian orchid fever! So descriotive is his writing that you almost feel you are there with him in the woods, meadows and marshes where he finds his treasures. I found the chapters on The Burren and the search for Ghost Orchid particularly enthralling. Simply put - buy this book and be inspired!
Be sure to check out Jon's Orchid Summer website here which has photos of all the orchids he saw in chronological order
JBL Clip 2, portable bluetooth speaker
Having tried a few portable bluetooth speakers for playback use in the field this one is head and shoulders above the rest. The main problem I've had with others is the lack of amplified volume meaning the playback just wasn't loud enough to be of much use. This on the other hand has a much louder playback and has performed really well. It is also small, light and slimline enough to hang off your belt or belt loops without you really noticing it's there. Bluetooth linking to your own device (in my case my iPhone 6s plus) is really easy. I was lucky enough to use the 'make an offer' facility on Ebay and get mine for £26 but it generally retails for c£35. As ever, please make sure you always playback responsibly
Bushnell 8x42 'Birding Series' Binoculars
I bought Belinda a pair of these bins for £129 in Cley Spy in March 2016 ready for our trip to Borneo. Having tried out a Minox pair and a Hawke pair which were around the £100 mark these knocked the spots of both those on optical performance. The advantage of Cley Spy is being able to try optics out in their garden and even in very dull murky conditions the image with these bins was clear and bright. The focus was much easier than the others as it's not so critical (i.e. you can achieve focus even if you're a mm or two out with the focussing wheel). Close focus was impressive too with them focussing down to c2 meters. There is a very small amount of vignetting around the edge of the image but for bins of this price it is completely acceptable. The only downside with them is the size, although they are not too heavy they are quite 'long', purely a cosmetic thing I know but on the whole you get a lot for your money with these nice bins. Ideal for a beginner birder or even for a 2nd pair for the car.
Belinda christened them with a look at Lapland Buntings at Blakeney!
The Birds of Western Africa (2nd edition)
I bought this book in December 2014. Having arranged a trip to the Gambia in January I set about looking to see if I should update my id guide for the area prior to the trip. I have previously used the Helm guide Birds of The Gambia and Senegal (Clive Barlow and Tim Wacher) so the obvious choice for an update seemed to be the new Helm guide Birds of Senegal and The Gambia (Nik Borrow and Ron Demey). It seems that this is however just an extract from Birds of West Africa by the same authors and with the latter cheaper to buy on Amazon it seemed a no-brainer so I went ahead and bought it.
And I have to say it is rather disappointing. Text on each species is limited to a paragraph or two which is perhaps understandable to keep the book of manageable 'field guide' size but what really lets the book down is the quality of the plates which are a step backwards bearing in mind some of the superbly illustrated guides there are ut there these days. The plates are very diagramatical with black and red species such as the Bluebills on plate 250 seeming to have suffered particularly badly. Possibly something to do with the printing process? Plate 117, Bee-eaters has to be one of the worst plates I've seen for some while. Some are better than others though and in general the raptors fare pretty well. Text and distribution maps for each species are shown opposite the plates which is a layout that is user-friendly and one I like.
For about £21 I perhaps shouldn't complain too much and it's certainly got to be a better buy that the new Senegal/Gambia guide which is more expensive and just a subset of this book. In short, my copy won't be coming with me to the Gambia next month, I will stick with my old guide and the far superior illustrations in Birds of Africa, South of the Sahara which is reviewed further down this same page.
Rare Birds of North America
I received a copy of this excelent book for my birthday in May 2014. With the title I had my reservations about how useful this might be for an Old World birder but I couldn't have been more wrong. The species covered include many of our common species, WP vagrants and south and central American vagrants and as I've birded in these regions I've found it very interesting and informative. The chapter on migration and vagrancy in birds introduces some fascinating concepts.
Needless to say the plates are superb. I've shown a couple above to give the reader an idea of their sheer quality and accuracy.
I'd urge any birder from this side of the pond who has an interest of bird vagrancy to grab themselves a copy of this book that can double up as reference material but also looks great as a coffee table tome.
Birds of Kuwait - book review (click link for the review)
Christmas 2011 Book suggestions - 6 books (click link for the review)
Birds of Africa, South of the Sahara (2nd edition)
I bought this book at the Birdfair back in August based on the fact that 'it'll come in handy one day' and was glad I did. The visual appeal is immediately obvious as soon as you open the book as the illustrations are very good indeed. Based on the species I know well I'd say they are accurate as well as being well presented (between 4 & 7 species per page with sexes, colour morphs and other plumages shown where appropriate). Each page is laid out very well with lines between species illustrations which I've found missing in many guides.
To cover such a vast area in one book is a monumental task and the resulting book is necessarily a bit too big to take out into the field. With birding trips very unlikely to encompass the whole region anyway this isn't a problem as the birder would take a more specific guide out with them.
The one criticism I'd make with the book is that no attempt is made in the range maps to differentiate between breeding and wintering ranges or to shown areas where a species can be expected on passage. To be fair this is explained in the range maps section and is only a minor point.
All in all it's well at least a 9 out of 10 and is one of the best illustrated field guides I've seen yet.
At under £20 on Amazon at the time of writing it would be a shame not to buy this marvellous book!