Dr Peter le Sueur Milstein is a zoologist. The approach used in this book is completely different from the one used in field guides, and it makes for fascinating reading if one is an “armchair birder” and virtually compulsory reading for active stiffnecked twitchers. Dedicated to “the wonder of God’s great plan” this book discusses some fascinating aspects of taxonomy, biology, and behaviour of various African birds. The broader families are discussed, often too briefly even for my limited interest in classification, and I often found myself Googling for information on Asian, South American or Australian birds tantalisingly referenced. For me it is a glimpse into the world of order my father loved. He would have given this book a star rating simply on its taxonomical departure point.
Richly illustrated with over 450 photographs by a wide variety of photographers, this is a browsing, dipping, reading book. The front cover shows lesser jacana about to settle on its nest with four beautiful glossy milk chocolate brown eggs trickled with dark chocolate markings. Easter is approaching and nature, as always, gives human imitators some wonderful ideas. Some of the descriptions are amusingly apt. Milstein titles a trio of Wattled Cranes as “resembling a line of chorus girls”. Studying the photograph one must concede that the average chorus line wishes they operated with such gorgeous precision.
Lovely little anecdotes constantly enliven the text. In the section on swifts (easily confused with swallows by people like me) Milstein talks about the need for careful identification. “A constant reminder for identification care should be the carcass of a large road-casualty swift brought to a Hoedspruit bird expert by a passer-by. Only after he had fed it to an eagle did
the penny drop, too late – no white belly. It was not an Alpine Swift, but the first Mottled Swift record for South Africa, now confirmed by Rushworth. (2005).”
There are approximately 9000 species of birds world wide, of which about 900 are found in South Africa. Milstein discusses, throughout the text, the various threats to these birds, and those species which are vulnerable or endangered. Much of his academic expertise relates to the damage pesticides do to birds. Having visited the Montecasino Bird Gardens in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs where I saw a white-faced vulture unable to fly as a result of damage done by pesticides, this facet of the book is one which deeply touched me.
This is the kind of book which is nice to have back at camp, although it is not compulsory to actually have it in the car or the hide. However, if one does take it with one it does have the advantage of being bound in such a way that it will stay open on the dashboard or seat next to you. Remarkable Birds of South Africa by Dr Peter le Sueur Milstein is well worth the read especially at the rather reasonable price of R230.00.
Title: Remarkable Birds of South Africa
Author: Dr Peter le Sueur Milstein
Recommended selling price: R230.00