I recently got my hands on a copy of Birds of Europe: Second Edition (Princeton Field Guides). This review will be done in two parts; I will post the conclusion after I have had a chance to use the book in the field when I visit the Netherlands in late August. What follows here are my initial impressions of this new field guide.
While I was a budding birder living in the Netherlands, I used a Dutch field guide called Complete gids Vogels van Nederland. I can't help but compare the new guide from Princeton Field Guides, Birds of Europe: Second Edition, with the Dutch one. The Dutch guide has lovely, large illustrations, sometimes arranged with distracting backgrounds. The Princeton guide, on the other hand, has several varied and clear illustrations to aid in identification per species.
So you know where I'm coming from, as an example, see the pages for the Ruff (Kemphaan in Dutch) from both books shown below (the blur between the pages is from my scanner). The Dutch guide has 10 images spread over two pages, with a habitat background that, to me, really distracts from noticing important field marks. The Princeton guide packs in 18 images of the same bird and they are all crisp and clear, with important field marks noted by some of the illustrations. Plus three other species are also fit onto the same two pages.
The images are small but outstanding, showing most species in varying plumage (seasonal and age-based). In all, the Birds of Europe covers over 900 species (including introduced species and rare vagrants), with over 3500 well-arranged and well-marked illustrations. In my opinion, the images just cannot be beat.
The text is also outstanding. Each species is also given a thorough, detailed description. After an overview, fine details on identification and voice are presented. Key ID points are noted using italics. The writing is detailed but familiar, not technical. For each species, its status in Great Britain and Ireland is indicated by using a short code. This is surely handy for the large audience of this guide - the majority of English-speaking birders in Europe are in the U.K. and Ireland - while not distracting birders elsewhere.
One thing I really like about how the book is laid out is the family overview preceding each section. Here is what the Warbler section looks like.
In this case, each genus under Warblers (Sylviidae) is described.
One thing I miss in this guide is a similar visual summary. I find myself using the family overview pages in my Sibley quite often to quickly find the bird I am looking for. I will pay special attention to this when I am using the Princeton book in the field, to see if my instincts are right.
The book is also lacking a quick (one- or two-page) index, but I can live without this feature. Otherwise I'm really pleased with the layout and look of the book.
The thick paper cover is not too much sturdier than the average paperback; I can imagine a well-used book will quickly begin to show its age (my old Dutch guide benefits from a plastic jacket). My review copy has only been traveling around my office for a couple of weeks and the corners are already starting to fray. As long as the binding holds, I can't imagine this would be a huge problem - it's just something I noticed.
The book is well-sized for use in the field. It's only slightly bigger than Sibley's Eastern guide, at 488 pages compared with Sibley's 432. It feels just a bit heavier. It fits perfectly in my field bag.
I'll be thumbing through this guide for the next couple of months, dreaming about seeing species Arthur and I didn't manage to find in Holland previously. Our Dutch and Europe lists are actually pretty pathetic, so I have high hopes we'll be able to add several species to our life lists. I am really looking forward to using the guide in the field later this year! Stay tuned for part two of the review, to be posted sometime after September 3rd.
Disclosure: This is my own original, honest review of Birds of Europe, a copy of which was provided to me free of charge by the publisher.