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A guide to the Birds of Thailand
by Boonsong Lekagul and Philip D. Round
 
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This classic book was the first guide to the region featuring all species in 135 colour plates and published in 1991 it is still an invaluable tool when birding in this country. Several features of this book were excellent innovations; the key to bird groups on the opening page being one with the inclusion of the Thai names for each species being another, something which has created an interest in the local population and ultimately has contributed to the rise of bird watching and conservation amongst Thais.

A very interesting feature of this book is that the first 34 pages are devoted to providing information on habitat types, regional highlights and gives some indication to the key birding sites within the country and some of the tips given in this section are very useful indeed.

The illustrations in this guide are adequate for their purpose, usually capture the correct pose of the birds and attempt to point out some of the diagnostic features of most species. Some of the illustrations seem a little "cartoonish" but in actuality are extremely useful for identification, more so than many more detailed illustrations in other books; the picture of Bay Owl is a good example of this. Some bird families could have been dealt with better though, particularly the Hornbills; the size and magnificence of these birds doesn't come across at all, although they are always adequate for identification. The only group of birds that aren't illustrated comprehensively enough to always identify birds seen in the field is the raptors, which don't show enough plumage variations for those not already competant with these difficult species to confidently make an identification.

The text for each species is not particularly extensive, probably due to neccessity considering the number of species involved, but is very selective in the information it gives; only giving call descriptions where sensible and describing behaviour that is helpful in identification. An indication of the abundance of the species is given, which can be very useful, but can often be slightly out of date. Another helpful inclusion is that of describing the habitat and altitudes where the species can typically be found.

The main weakness of this pioneering book is the fact that it has never been updated, so that some of the information is out of date; particularly the distribution maps and abundance. Since publication many species have been added to the Thai list and a number of others have been split; obviously these are not included in this book and some species are referred to by their old, pre-split, names which may sometimes prevent correct identification.

Overall this is a fantastic book which I still consider essential to any birding foray into Thailand despite the fact that it is slightly out of date. For those that wish to obtain this book before travelling to Thailand a few copies are for sale on Amazon.com. The Bird Conservation Society of Thailand (the Thai BirdLife partner) have some copies available and buying a copy from BCST will directly benefit conservation in Thailand. BCST's e-mail is bcst@bcst.or.th or, I have been told, there has been a reprint and once again this excellent fieldguide is widely available in bookshops in Thailand.

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