Beat About the Bush, Birds
The author, Trevor Carnaby, is an experienced professional Southern African field guide with an impressive list of credentials, not least of which is his book of the same title with the sub-title “Mammals”. The bird book is a hefty 764 pages of information based on the kind of questions people actually ask which makes it useful for both novices and fundis alike.
Let’s start with what this book is NOT. It is not a field identification guide. For that Carnaby recommends either the Sasol field guides or the Newman field guides. Rather, it is a behavioural guide. In the process of exploring with the book one will learn a great deal about birds and their identification.
The book starts, as most books do, with an introduction. Here we find an anatomical, general and behavioural glossary, a taxonomic chart, the meanings of scientific names (which you may skip if you passed matric Latin) and discusses endemic, vagrant, introduced birds and species.
The new names (and some three hundred birds have had minor or major name changes) of the birds are discussed, and knowing the reasons for the name changes often help to make the transition easier. Of course, novice birders don’t have the problem of having to alter descriptions on life lists. Familiarity with the old and new names really does spawn confidence where it does not breed contempt for those using the “wrong” one.
Speaking about breeding leads to one of the major themes of the book. Others are flight, defence and survival, foods and feeding methods, general behaviour, tracks, signs and clues, a “Did you know?” section and specialised sections on raptors, waterbirds, waders, shorebirds, groundbirds, nightbirds and general birds. Appendices include collective names, an index and references.
Richly illustrated with photographs and diagrams, this book is more user friendly than its statistics might indicate. For example, the cover photograph is of what looks to me like some bee-eaters (ok, I’m a novice birder). I check the information and discover the photograph is of white-fronted bee-eaters by Chris van Rooyen. Flicking to the index reveals that bee-eaters are discussed on pages 23, 30, 34, 535-537 generally and under “active defence” on page 300, “altrical bird group” on page 241, “bill” on pages 124 and 128, “blue-cheeked” on page 338, “bohms” on page 34, “breeding colony of white-fronted” on pages 218 and 536, “carmine” on page 60, “European” on page 167, “feeding” on page 536 … together with eighteen other references. If I follow them all I’m bound to know a great deal more about bee-eaters than when I was initially delighted to have made a correct broad identification.
The “Did you know?” section is quite fascinating. Here I learned that” penguins are unique in having uniform feathers over the whole body. The plumage is dense and does not trap air and affords neutral buoyancy. The wings have become modified flippers for underwater propulsion, with the wing bones being compressed or flattened for underwater “flight”. Unlike other avian divers, the wings rather than the feet are used. The head, feet and tail are used for steering. Penguin feet are hard and leathery and the toes are fully webbed. The prop-like tail may be used to assist with balance when standing upright on land.” Lovely to have that information when one is showing the children the penguins on Boulders Beach.
This volume on birds is interesting and useful and it is no surprise to me that so many nature enthusiasts recommend it so highly. I add my own recommendation to theirs.
Title: Beat About the Bush
Author: Trevor Carnaby
Recommended Selling Price: R395.00
Addo Elephant National Park 14 -16 July 2014 (well, the morning of the 17th, really)
KNP Sable Hide 21 December 2014
KNP Letaba 22 - 26 December 2014
KNP Lower Sabie 25 April to 3 May 2015