By Derek Onley and Paul Scofield.
Helm Field Guides, London,
240 pages, 45 full-page colour
plates and other illustrations.
1983, Peter Harrison published his pioneering Seabirds: an
Identification Guide followed in 1987 by a companion photographic
guide. He brought into the living room an incredible array of seabirds,
many of which live their whole lives beyond the ocean horizons seen
from land. For many of us the urge to go to sea to witness them became
utterly irresistible. Tubenoses Procellariiformes
soon became the star attraction. The fact that Harrison’s illustrations
and photographs barely resembled what we saw did little to dampen
identification progressed, but no field guide emerged on tubenoses of
the World with substantive improvements upon Harrison. Thus,
anticipation was high on publication of Onley and Scofield. When
delivered I ripped off the jiffy bag and flicked through the colour
plates. My goodness, they actually look like the real thing! Crikey,
some plates illustrate worn and in-moult plumages just like birds we
observe! A speed read of several species accounts revealed a
parsimonious text covering essentials of field identification.
paperback is well organised and text clearly written. All discussion is
informative, yet succinct. The book is comprehensive, yet of reasonable
size and weight, and comfortably fits even a small rucksack. The price
for what you get is most reasonable.
introductory text begins by listing 137 species along with subspecies,
abbreviated ranges, and links to plates. Next comes the hoary
unresolved ‘taxonomy and the species debate’ with an introduction to
main issues and an explanation about why matters cannot easily be
resolved. Then a summary of characteristics and taxonomic relationships
is given for the four tubenose families; Albatrosses, Storm-petrels,
Diving-petrels, and the wide-ranging Petrels and Shearwaters.
text on identification covers fundamental issues of the modern era.
Pros and cons of digital photography are rehearsed and we are reminded
to look at birds as well as photograph them! Problems of weather,
lighting and sea conditions are highlighted. Sections on size and
plumage follow. Impact on appearance caused by worn plumage is well
done and supported by helpful illustrations. Moult analysis is
introduced (1) as a means to separate difficult-to-identify species,
and (2) to explain impact of moult on plumage, flight jizz, and
identification. Flight jizz and wing moult are dealt with in
perfunctory fashion and warrant greater emphasis. For example, close to
home Wilson’s and European Storm-petrels fly side-by-side June-August
when many Wilson’s are in wing moult resulting in less accomplished,
more fluttery flight reminiscent of Europeans.
issues follow. A short section on ‘smell and sight’ and ‘chum and
chumming’ is missing, needing just a page or two. Such matters nowadays
are so much a part of everyday pelagic trips. In total the introductory
section is 26 pages long and is followed by plates, then species
species account builds upon foundations established in opening
sections. Information is given about taxonomy, distribution, behaviour,
jizz, size, plumage, moult and wear, and identification including
confusion species. Supporting plates illustrate species and confusion
species side-by-side, some in worn plumage, others in wing moult. It
all ties together rather neatly.
a crude ‘test’ of species accounts and illustrations I concentrated on
identification problems that vexed me in the past. I found in the main
Onley and Scofield would have been of value. For example, they explain
well how to differentiate between Wandering and Royal Albatrosses. They
go beyond Harrison’s and Gibson’s approaches to separating the
Wandering Albatross taxa by developing eight typical plumages. They
make the separation of non-juvenile Northern and Southern Giant Petrels
straight-forward. Helpful tips are given for prion identification.
Separation of Procellaria petrels from each other and like petrels and shearwaters is dealt with in a systematic fashion. I could go on …
first read I had issue with some text or illustrations, not
surprisingly with North Atlantic tubenoses where I am most experienced.
Madeiran Storm-petrel illustrations should show a greater bill bulk and
straighter trailing edges to wings. Contra to Onley and Scofield,
Madeirans do come to chum and routinely associate with fishing vessels,
at least off St Helena. Contra to Onley and Scofield, it is not usually
impossible to see yellow webbings of Wilson’s Storm-petrel in the
field, which we see routinely off Scilly as a result of chumming
methods employed. Underwing differences that separate Scopoli’s from
Cory’s Shearwater are explained in vague terms, ‘Scopoli’s has a less
extensive dark tip to the underwing’, and could be more informative,
‘Scopoli’s diagnostic underwing feature is dark bordered white inner
webbings to primaries giving the impression of white fingers extending
beyond underwing coverts into the primaries’. The debate over
field separation of Fea’s and Zino’s Petrels needs fuller coverage. And
have now used the book for over a year. In so doing I have encountered
a number of further errors. The book is far from perfect. That said,
Onley and Scofield do not claim to have written the final word on
tubenose identification. Indeed, they invite criticism to help them
enhance future editions. Whatever, this book is by far the best
available on the market that covers all of the World’s Tubenoses and
still offers a value for money purchase.