Book review: Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide

By Jim Eagles

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All you want to know about New Zealand's feathered friends.
All you want to know about New Zealand's feathered friends.

It's almost a tradition for birders to complain about their field guides: a particular variation of plumage - male, female, juvenile, mating - isn't shown; a rare bird is missing; or, alternatively, a lot of guides have so much about the occasional migrants you never see that there isn't enough space for adequate coverage of the common birds you see quite often; and so on.

Over the years Paul Scofield and Brent Stephenson, two of New Zealand's leading birders, have been among the complainers and now, with the help of Auckland University Press, they've done their best to provide the perfect guide.

Their book is lavishly illustrated with photos - Stephenson is also a top bird photographer - showing a range of angles and stages of the plumage cycle; there are generous descriptions of appearance, calls and behaviour, tips on how to differentiate between similar species and, as a delightful bonus, notes on the origins of Maori, English and scientific names. Rare vagrants are covered in a smaller section at the back.

The result is a superb guide to New Zealand birds and, unlike some, as strong on seabirds as on those of the forest.

If you're interested in our birdlife, either identifying the species you see or finding out more about them, this would be a wonderful book to have at home.

But is it better than the reigning champion, Field Guide To The Birds Of New Zealand? For me, yes. Birds Of New Zealand is more interesting to browse, carries more information and some will certainly prefer the fact that it uses photos instead of drawings (though it's also a bit more expensive). But there's apparently a new edition of the Field Guide about to come out which might change that verdict.

Of course, serious birders need a guide they can take into the wild and Birds Of NZ is even heavier than the Field Guide. Fortunately, the authors of the Field Guide have recognised this and produced a nice compact version, Hand Guide To The Birds of New Zealand. So, if you want the best of both worlds, have the new Birds of NZ at home and the Hand Guide in your backpack.

Comparisons aside, Birds Of NZ is a marvellous book, sure to delight anyone interested in birds, whether dedicated birder or enthusiastic nature-lover.

One quibble: just about every bird book published recently has had a kakapo on the cover and this one has followed suit. Surely AUP could have made a more original choice? Especially as that's one bird no one is ever likely to use this guide to identify.

Birds of New Zealand: A Photographic Guide by Paul Scofield and Brent Stephenson (Auckland University Press $59.99).

Jim Eagles is editor of Dawn Chorus, the magazine of the Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, and Miranda News, the journal of the Miranda Naturalists' Trust.

- NZ Herald

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