A Complete Guide To Antarctic Wildlife
A Complete Guide To Antarctic Wildlife by Hadoram Shirihai A&C Black 2008 ISBN 9780713664065
I made an impulsive decision to visit Antarctica for the first time in December 2007. In deciding which field guides to take with me, Harrison’s Seabirds of the World seemed to be a vital tool, since for most of the trip we would be at sea. In addition, The Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica’(de la Pena & Rumboll) would adequately cover those areas where it was planned to make lanfdfall.
When I was offered a copy of Shirihai’s second edition of Complete Guide To Antarctic Wildlife to examine, I had already returned from my cruise. However, the memories were still fresh, and I was intrigued to see what I’d missed by not considering this volume prior to the trip.
When this book arrived through my letterbox at home, I heard the thump of it landing on the floor from the other side of the house. That was a surprise! With relatively few bird species to cover, I’d expected the book to be quite small, as field guides go. Rather it was a large format (255 x 180 mm) book and heavy (1.5 kgs), with 540 pages giving a depth of 32 mm. Not a pocket book, therefore.
Shirihai’s subject is greater than the simple Antarctic continent; the book covers all of the southern ocean, including all of the sub Antarctic islands, well beyond the limits of the Antarctic convergence.
The book is divided into three main sections:
Synopsis of the region
Here, Shirihai introduces Antarctica to his audience, explaining the fundamental geological basis of the region, it’s geography and climate, and the environment and habitats contained within it. Vegetation is briefly discussed. A full checklist of all the birds and marine mammal species found within the region, is provided. The section finishes with a brief history of man’s exploration of Antarctica.
It’s all fascinating stuff, and would have provided a solid grounding to my visit, had I read it before I went!
Species accounts (birds) and Species accounts (mammals)
These are the heart of the book, of course, and make up well over half of the volume. The taxonomy of many of the birds found in the region is still being debated. Where this is the case, Shirihai summarises the debates for each species. Whilst not reluctant to give his own opinion, he nevertheless presents a fair and even précis of the position to date. Having provided that, he then goes on to describe each species/subspecies in the usual format of identification features and distribution and biology. These are very detailed, and often draw on comparison with similar species, so that the reader is aware of potential confusion.
What, for me, makes these species accounts stand out as excellent, is the use of superb colour plates alongside superb colour photographs. The plates provide the quick and easy reference that birders have come to expect from the better field guides, while the photographs add a dimension of depth and detail, (and often jizz) to the subject which brilliantly complements the plates.. Working with relatively few species makes this possible, I suppose, but I can’t help wondering if this format is pointing the way to new a standard.for field guides.
The seabird section is a visual feast in itself, but that isn’t all. In addition, all of the species found on the sub-Antarctic islands are treated similarly, thus combining the cruise and shore trip elements of a visit in one volume.
Similar treatment is given to the marine mammals of the area with Seals, Whales and Dolphins all described, plated and (almost all) photographed. Sadly though, there is a printing error on Plate 33, with some data and some title information missing. Since this is designed for quick reference, this could be frustrating.
The final section of the book gives detailed information for each of the island groups covered. These would be particularly useful for landings, of course, though few are the fortunate souls who’ll be able to take full advantage of the checklists. Nevertheless, these descriptions round the book off nicely, and leave the reader with a sense of completeness. Some information on accessing the region is also included.
This book is undoubtedly a field guide, and an excellent one, but it is very much more than that. For most people visiting the area, the cruise ship is the only realistic option. The size and weight of the book is no disadvantage here, and the ‘orbiter dictum’ of the first and last sections offer the reader a much wider and deeper appreciation of the region than a simple field guide can ever provide. For birders, it’s the best aid to accurate bird identification in the area that I’m aware of. I wish I’d had it with me when I visited, and I recommend it to anyone who’s planning to visit the region.
Buy this book from www.nhbs.com
Created: 28th Jan 2008