A rough History of Field Guides

 

Hi-

the Modern field guide ***  didnt really exist til Roger Tory Peterson brought out his Guide to US Birds in the 1950s. It was mostly (!) illustrated in b/w.  The publishers didnt expect it to sell- it did.

In Britain the Observers book of birds was probably the most portable guide until Peterson (with Mountford and Hollom) brought out the European version.  ( A British Guide by ( excellent) illustrator Richard Richardson never caught on- shame- it had decent pics of Lapland Buntings etc.  that arguably were better than the PMH. )

Peterson was  still the best up to 1976 ( a good re-vamp - previous to this juvenile waders were NOT illustrated in 90% of field guides !!! ) despite the appearance of the Hamlyn guide ( Singer) and the  Collins Birds of Europe with North Africa and the Middle East  (Heinzel Fitter Parslow)  guide which  showed us a whole load of new spp.  Various smaller guides appeared using colour codes, arrows etc. to help our ID. Most didnt make much impact. Pocket guides began to appear as printing techniques improved.

In 1980 or so along came the Shell guide. Small illustrations but accurate- good jizz- and lots of rarities at the back. Then things speeded up a bit. A young artist named Jonsson from Sweden appeared with a series of small guides, and we all knew that bird illustration had changed forever. By the time he had produced a huge one- off  combined European guide various others were in preparation ( like the Collins ) and several specialist volumes were appearing. The  two MacMillan Guides to ID  ( Vinnecombe and then Shirihai) covered tough species and the Colston Lewington Alstrom guide to real rarities set new standards.

In 2000 the Collins guide appeared and it looks as though that will be the standard for the next 20 years.

:)

Photo field Guides had arguably always been a poor relation- you needed multiple dozens of  photographers ( and there weren't that many camera jockeys) to pay royalties to ( EXPENSIVE)  and the birds seemed to smell Kodachrome 400 at 300 yards; However a corner may have been turned as Digital cameras obviously give off no odours ( citation needed) and the arrival of 'Britain's Birds'  in 2016 may have turned a corner for the Photo Guide.

S

 ***  Guides to birds have existed since the 19thy century-  see Gould, Bewick etc.  J.G. Keulemans was the leader in the  British Victorian era until Thorburn arrived . George Lodge was also a major force. Books such as Dressers Birds of Europe weighed about a ton.  Witherby's Handbook of British Birds was the major reference work but had 5 volumes. Smaller versions appeared much as Birds of the Western Palearctic did in the 1970s-90s.

 

 

For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • That's very interesting Seymour. Were there really no field guides until the 50s ? Dad had some printed plates showing different species of thrushes & owls...will take a photo if I can find them...think he had them framed. I suspect they were American as there is an American robin on the thrushes page. In style they look very 19th century. I wonder where they came from ?

    I had a Peterson guide. I won it at the age of 9 at a country show for correctly identifying 25 native British birds from photographs. Apparently I was the only child to get all 25 right. I was presented the book by famous wildlife artist David Shepherd, who signed it for me. Sadly, I think I left it in a previous place of employment & despite several requests they have failed to return it to me.

    You'd think that considering all this I'd be better at identifying birds nowadays wouldn't you ?!

  • Just dug out my 1954 copy of Petersons guide,cost me 25 shillings (£1.25p in modern brass) that would be 2 or 3 weeks paper round money.It was certainly quite an eyeopener in bird i.d.Before that a lot of our i.d. was handed down from the few more experienced bird watchers that were about.Funnily enough one person that taught me a lot was our local gamekeeper,a breed of person that is often decried nowadays

    Pete

    Birding is for everyone no matter how good or bad we are at it,enjoy it while you can

  • In reply to Bella:

    Hi S!

    Indeed very interesting. My first guide was the Obsever's Book of Birds given to me by my dear old Grampa. He also gave me the Observer's Book of Bird Eggs but explained to me that the practice of taking birds eggs was no longer legal.

    He was a lovely man my grampa and although not officially a birdwatcher he saw my interest at a young age and we would watch out his back window and identify the garden birds. Thats how it all started for me :) The interest soon became an obsession and although I clearly never got as in to it as some, its something I know will remain with me forever.

    I never have owned that Collins book that everyone raves about though ;)

    Cheers

    DPC

    Cheers

    DPC

    "dawn is mine, but I will share it, with whatever bird will wear it"

  • Hi

    I'm using my old Hamlyn guide which cost £1.75 in 1975. It has sentimental value because my Dad bought it for me when I first showed an interest in birds as a youngster, but it's falling apart now.

    What do people think of some of the latest guides that have photos instead of illustrations?

  • In reply to Wingnut:

     

    Hi-

    there has yet to be a best selling- Birder approved photo guide to compete with an illustrated one.

    It's the difficulty of getting photos of birds in different plumages and of similar spp. in the same pose for comparison.

    S

    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • In reply to deadpolecat:

    deadpolecat said:
    My first guide was the Obsever's Book of Birds given to me by my dear old Grampa

    Same here.    I am still waiting to see the black woodpecker that I was so fond of in that book.  Because it was in there I thought I could find it anywhere.  I can't recall the book saying it wasn't a british bird.

    The Cotswold Water park sightings website

    My Flicker page

  • In reply to Bob Philpott:

     

    Hi-  I have a pre- 1938 Observers Book of British Birds and Black Wp isn't in it!

     

    S

    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • In reply to seymouraves:

    I am not that old!    Don't tell me I was looking for a bird that wasn't even listed but I thought it was.

    The Cotswold Water park sightings website

    My Flicker page

  • In reply to seymouraves:

    They finally did one that I like!!!

    S

    For advice about Birding, Identification,field guides,  binoculars, scopes, tripods,  etc - put 'Birding Tips'   into the search box

  • My Wild Guides British Birds gets most use nowadays and Dick Forsman raptor guides although the old Collins photo Raptor guid is still pretty good

    Pete

    Birding is for everyone no matter how good or bad we are at it,enjoy it while you can