Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere
The last couple of decades have seen a spate of specialist photographic guides to the more difficult bird groups, and the charadriiformes cause real headaches for birders, beginner and expert alike. Gulls have been dealt with in two excellent recent volumes, and plovers to phalaropes are already served by Paulson’s Shorebirds of North America and O’Brien et al’s The Shorebird Guide. It is into this market that Richard Chandler’s Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere bravely wades.
You can never have too many shorebird guides, but how does this title compare to the others? Firstly, the book has one of the most succinct summaries of moult and plumage cycle I’ve yet seen, as well as a useful table showing moult terminologies; no longer will you be trying to translate basic and alternate into calendar year or season – they’re all compared here.
Behaviour is summarised, and the distribution maps (absent in Paulson) for all 134 species found above the Equator are uncluttered and easily understood. Taxonomically, the guide is arranged in the familiar field guide order, with the requisite generally accepted splits, and each species gets two to six pages of images and information, arranged into identification of juvenile, immature and adult plumages, calls, habitat and distribution, racial variation and similar species.
Illustrations are always best for a general field guide, but good-quality photographs are required to illustrate the minutiae and variability of a group which, though beautiful, can also be described as essentially composed of brown, white, grey and black variations on a few themes. The images here are almost uniformly excellent, most having been taken by the author. They represent a fairly comprehensive selection of all ages, both sexes, and most subspecies.
Tables showing the differences between similar species and subspecies are particularly helpful. While making the reader aware of the possibility of exceptions, variation and intergrades, two Willet, three Black-tailed Godwit, three Short-billed Dowitcher and 10 Dunlin forms are all well described and illustrated. Separation of the Gallinago snipe species pairs will remain a headache, but helpful advice and information is given for birds in the field and hand. Even the recently rediscovered ‘White-faced Plover’ of coastal South-East Asia gets a couple of pages showing three different plumages.
In certain respects O’Brien et al has the edge, especially for comparison shots and highlighting field marks, but it concentrates on the Nearctic rather than the whole Northern Hemisphere. Chandler’s book would be a seminal work by any multiple-author team; the fact that it’s almost entirely the work of one enthusiast is a substantial achievement.
There will always be groups of birds that provide extreme ID conundrums, but this volume goes a long way to giving definitive information on many forms. Now I’m waiting for a similar tome on terns ...
• Shorebirds of the Northern Hemisphere by Richard Chandler (Christopher Helm, London, 2009).
• 448 pages, 850 colour illustrations, 13 tables, 126 maps, four line drawings.
• ISBN 9781408107904. Pbk, £29.99.
Available from Birdwatch Bookshop
First published in Birdwatch 207:46 (September 2009)