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Newman's Birds of Southern Africa - Review

With any book review, I undertake; I always try to remain as objective as possible. With this latest review, however, I must admit that I had to work a little bit harder to ensure that I maintained the same approach.

When I started birding, I was gifted with a field guide by a good friend. The problem was that whenever I saw a bird as a new birder, I struggled to find it quickly if at all in the guide. The field guide I had was packed with great information and accurate illustrations – the problem was that for a new birder it was not very user-friendly. I eventually saved my pennies and brought a Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa Guide. Suddenly, I had found a guide that ‘spoke my language’ as a new birder. This book was laid out in such a way that even the newest and most inexperienced birder was able to navigate through its pages and find the birds that they were seeing relatively quickly. For the first few years of birding, my Newman’s Bird Guide became my ‘go-to’ field guide and helped build my foundational birding knowledge.

I now get to review this field guide that has always had a very special place in my heart as, a more experienced birder – but at the same time one who still is new enough in birding to remember what it was like to struggle with identifications. I can actually remember going on bird walks and being shown other field guides by more seasoned birders, telling me that I had the wrong guide and that I should change – so the question is do I still see the Newman’s as a field guide that is worth getting?

For so many people that have had the privilege of meeting Kenneth Newman, he is not only spoken of as a great birder but also as a true gentleman. This guide in many ways flows out of his desire to simplify bird identification – as a newer birder this was reflected in the usability of the guide. Harvey Tyson wrote a tribute to Kenneth Newman which is included in the guide and says the following "His guides followed a clear, instantly grasped formula inspiring similar bird guides here and in many countries. If you go back to his simple step-by-step route to bird identification, set out in different words in almost all his works, you will see how effective his teaching is and how big his influence has been."

The commemorative edition has been revised by Kenneth Newman’s daughter, with the support of the well-known author and bird artist Faansie Peacock. The field guide covers the Southern African region – meaning South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Mozambique, as well as the southern seas.

The endemic Knysna Turaco graces the cover of this edition and it is available in either a softcover or with the PVC protective cover. The gold writing on the top of the commemorative edition gives the cover a nice classy feel to it. Something to note is that the Newman’s is not as wide as the Robert’s and the Sasol field guides, which may make it just a little less cumbersome when being used in the field.

The book starts with a comprehensive section that assists people to identify the birds that they see them. This is something that sets the Newman’s apart from the other guides found in the Southern African market. It starts with the six points that are important when it comes to identifying the birds that one would see on the field – relative size, bill shape, and colour, length, and colour of the bird’s legs, plumage colours or markings, habitat, and activity.

I remember when I got my first guide, every time I saw a bird I would end up paging through page after page of bird families until hopefully, I managed to find the bird that I was looking for. The Newman’s has simplified this process and makes the world of birding just a little more accessible for even the most novice birder. Once you have gone through the six points – you now look at what group the bird belongs to. There are twelve different groups that this book suggests a bird could belong to:

1) Ocean, offshore and subantarctic birds

2) Inland waterbirds

3) Ducks, wading birds, and shorebirds

4) Terrestrial birds

5) Raptors

6) Colourful, medium-sized birds

7) Nocturnal birds

8) Arial feeders, hole-nesters, and sociable birds

9) Insect-eaters

10) Insect-eaters, fruit-eaters, and omnivores

11) Specialised feeders<