I visited Sumatra last year, armed with a fairly dated “A field guide to the birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali” by MacKinnon and Phillipps, and although I did get by with this guide, I felt an improvement was urgently needed.
I was therefore delighted to see this latest offering, Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea which is a landmark modern and easy to use publication, birds of this incredibly species rich region, covering all 1,417 species, including 601 endemics, known to occur across the Indonesian archipelago. This guide covers a region that spans an arc of more than 16,000 islands that stretch almost 5,000 km along the Equator, one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth.
This field guide is remarkably compact considering the number of species covered, and whilst it may not easily fit in a pocket, it is certainly not too large or heavy to carry in a rucksack in the field - though I am not sure how water resistant it would be in the event of a downpour. However, the font is rather small which may be a problem for some.
Anyone who has ever visited this, or indeed any rainforest region will understand the frustration in trying to identify birds from field guides; the plates full of side-on profiles of birds, whereas for the majority, all you see of them is their belly and undertail as you crane your neck to look up into the canopy, I felt a book just showing this angle would be more useful! Joking aside, the plates are superb throughout, with a list of 27 esteemed and highly talented artists to thank including such well-known names as Richard Allen, Hilary Burn, Alan Harris and Jan Wilczur to name but a few contributing. A major plus in this book is the inclusion of distribution maps which both MacKinnon & Phillipps and Craig Robson’s Birds of Southeast Asia lacked. Even better, these maps are placed by the species allowing quick reference to confirm their presence or absence when faced with similar-looking species rather than the species plates being separate from the descriptions and having to find the relevant page and read through the distribution range to see if the area you are in was included.
Without going into specific detail, the taxonomy of the species may take some getting used to, especially when trying to enter any records against existing taxonomic lists in BirdTrack or Bubo.org with various species’ names or taxonomic groups being different.
Overall though, Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea is a superb field guide, and will become the region’s standard field guide for many years to come.