I suspect, for most readers of BB, there is no doubt that the Collins Bird Guide (HarperCollins 2023) is the gold standard for guides currently on the market; so, you’ll understand the high praise inferred when I say that The Australian Bird Guide (Bloomsbury 2017) has always reminded me a lot of the Collins Bird Guide. The artwork is fantastic, the coverage is comprehensive and, perhaps most importantly, the layout is well thought out and easy – and enjoyable – to use, with species illustrations arranged in horizontal sections along the right-hand page and text on the left. The only downside – not surprising for a guide covering over 900 species and spanning 600 large-format pages – is the book’s size and weight. Cue the Australian Bird Guide: concise edition.
Remarkably, this pocket-sized guide still manages to cover more than 700 species; but how have the authors managed to miniaturise this guide, and has the dramatic slimming-down been to the detriment of its usefulness? First of all, the 200-or-so rare vagrants have gone. Secondly, the text has been trimmed to just a few lines on behaviour, status and voice – but, nonetheless, all of the necessary elements remain. Maps are still present, too, and barely any smaller than in the large-format guide. The plates are where most of the changes have been made, but they have been reworked in an extremely efficient way rather than simply chopped and shrunk. In the large-format version, all birds of a given species in a plate are illustrated at the same size – in the concise version, there is generally a main figure with other, scaled-down illustrations. In many cases, the extent of variation shown in the plate has been reduced, such that four or five (or more) illustrations in the large-format original have become two or three. The Slender-billed Thornbill Acanthiza iredalei plate is a good example of this: the large-format edition illustrates five birds, including geographical variation, juvenile plumage, and a bird in flight, which shows the species’ rump pattern. In the concise edition, there are just three illustrations: one adult, one juvenile and the flying bird. Except, rather than use the entire flying bird to illustrate just the rump, the front half of the bird has been tastefully erased. Similarly, just the head of the juvenile bird remains, which is where the subtle differences between it and the adult lie, while other plates have been adapted to overlap illustrations that before were a little more spread out. I was extremely impressed at how well the authors had managed this ‘trimming down’. The end result is a book where a lot has been removed but that still feels as complete and well-laid out as the original.
For residents of Australia, the completeness of the full-sized edition makes it an essential reference to have; but for those of us who are visiting and perhaps don’t require such in-depth coverage of vagrants and subspecific variation in the country, this new concise edition makes for the perfect birding companion. The quality remains top class, and the guide’s reasonable price and remarkably small size only add to its appeal.