Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Saigon has fallen

This is a somewhat peculiar field guide, first published in 1975 and regularly reprinted since. “My” copy is from 1995. Since it’s a reprint of the original edition, Ho Chi Minh City is still called Saigon, while Myanmar is still Burma. The guide covers Myanmar, the Malaya peninsula, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Presumably, the book was rushed to the printer shortly after the fall of South Vietnam! Curiously, it also covers Hong Kong (not a part of South-East Asia) and contains checklists of birds found on the islands of Hainan and Taiwan (not part of South-East Asia either). A total of 1198 species are presented.

The book is obviously written by “nerds”, and like true nerds, they have spent considerable time sorting out the English vernacular names for the various birds, and occasionally invented new ones. The four page long explanation as to how this was done is at least good for comic relief: “All compound group names composed only of nouns were hyphenated or joined into a single word…Wherever a group name is used for more than one species, each species in the group is indicated by a different adjective”, et cetera. You grok? The addresses to societies of bird-lovers are also funny. One of them is the Oriental Bird Club…in Bedfordshire! Still, that may be easier to find than Hoi Dieu Hoc Viet-Nam in “Saigon”…

The field guide itself is downright annoying and has all the traits users of field guides love to hate. Texts and illustrations are not on facing pages, the color plates are not found in one single section but interspersed throughout the book in a bewildering fashion, and many plates are in black-and-white! Nor are the birds shown in the same order as in the text, although on this point there is a logical explanation: the authors wanted to group similar-looking species together for easier identification.

I admit that I don't like the layout of this volume, and I will therefore only give it two stars. And I still don't understand why Hainan and Hong Kong are included in a guide to SE Asian Aves…

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