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Field Guide to New Zealand Seabirds


By Brian Parkinson. New Holland (NZ), Auckland, 2006.

136 pages, over 50 full-page colour plates and other illustrations.

ISBN 13-978-1-86966-150-2.

Softback, 15.

New Zealand surely is the single most rewarding location on planet Earth to witness a diversity and quantity of seabirds whilst remaining land-based. A field guide focusing on New Zealand’s seabirds in principle is a desirable possession for any bird enthusiast visiting this fortunate country. This photographic field guide, though, does not fulfil expectations.

The book is structured into two main parts comprising an ‘Introduction’ followed by a ‘Guide to Species’. The short introduction of 14 pages provides a barely parsimonious review touching a number of key topics including impact of people, geography, topography of a seabird, and taxonomy. Most useful is a regionalised map followed by a checklist of species with locality guide that links species to region. A list of ecotourism and pelagic trip operators with contact details is an obvious omission.

There is no introduction to the ‘Guide to Species’ to explain, for example, what is treated as a seabird, plumage changes with age in albatrosses and giant petrels, and the impact of wear and moult. Facing pages are organised with two species accounts to the left and a large colour photograph of each species to the right.

Quality of the photographs is good with some excellent, but the great majority are pictured sat on the water or on land near nest sites. That is fine for cormorants and penguins. Flight shots in particular of Tubenoses would have been more appropriate. Also, for species whose plumage changes with age, two medium-sized photographs depicting two age groups would have been more helpful than the one large photograph. Occasionally part of a printed photograph is blown up and inserted within the original photograph, but this achieves little and certainly less than two different albeit smaller photographs.

Each species account has a small map, briefly outlines range, and recaps where the species may be seen. Notes on identification are brief, on similar species very brief, a status statement terse, with these normally followed by a few additional notes relevant to the species. There is scope and indeed space (many written pages were half-full) for more useful detail to be included at least on identification.

I see little point in producing a field guide that falls short of assisting observers to identify the species covered in the guide. This book does fall short for many of the species; notably the albatrosses and giant petrels, Procellaria petrels, Cookilaria Petrels, prions, frigatebirds, and skuas. So much more could have been achieved in the given space/budget. Even so I bought the book due to an inability to resist owning some of the cracking colour photographs it contains. It has some value.

Bob Flood

Originally published in Ibis