Birds of South Asia

When the first edition of this guide came out in 2006 it was greeted with some scepticism, due to the two-volume format (the first primarily the field guide, the second with the meat of the text and vocalisations) and its rather ‘advanced’, non-peer-reviewed splits. The guide as a whole reflected 10 years of hard graft, encapsulating a momentous effort that covered 1,441 species.

This second edition covers more than 1,500 species, the increased number due to the broader geographical coverage, new species recorded in the region, a new species to science and, of course, a few more splits (apparently only five are non-peer-reviewed – a very welcome achievement). An initial flick through revealed several welcome alterations, and the publisher and author should be applauded for taking in feedback from the first edition – for example, it is now in paperback and uses a colour-coded layout.

The plates in volume 1 are beautifully illustrated, and in particular the warblers, thrushes, larks and waders are exquisitely drawn by Ian Lewington, Thomas Schultz, Hilary Burn and Jonathan Alderfer respectively. Such illustrations can make much of the text largely redundant, though where it is needed – the bush warblers and female rosefinches, for example – Rasmussen excels in her attention to detail. A few plates suffer from ‘big bills’, most notably robins and shortwings, making it difficult to appreciate the jizz of the birds.

Vocalisations have been added to this volume, making it even more useful as a stand-alone field guide, in particular for nightjars. The maps are clear and well marked despite their small size, though in very few cases could be more precise, such as in Great Indian Bustard.

For those wanting to know more, the second volume covers all aspects of the species: vocalisations (including sonograms), habits, habitat, range and in-depth identification.

Overall this is a fabulous field guide, and improved on the first edition which itself was very good. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent is a more compact alternative, but for those lucky enough to live in the region or intending to make multiple visits there, I would highly recommend this latest edition.
  • Birds of South Asia: the Ripley Guide by Pamela Rasmussen and John Anderton  (second edition, Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2012).
  • 1,067 pages, 180 colour plates, black-and-white illustrations, 1,450   distribution maps. ISBN 9788496553859. Pbk, €55