About a year ago we told you about the real James Bond, the author of the best field guide to the birds of the West Indies. Ian Fleming borrowed the famed ornithologist’s name for his famous fictional spy.
Now a new field guide to West Indies birds is on the way, about to be published by Princeton University Press. The latest in Princeton’s Illustrated Checklists, it is the little book you want to carry when you travel anywhere from the Bahamas to Grenada. “Bond, James Bond” is about to be supplemented by Norman Arlott.
Mr. Arlott is not a spy as far as we know, although he is British. He is a fine illustrator of birds. Arlott has illustrated field guides to the birds of China, Europe, Japan, and Russia. In Birds of the West Indies he illustrates and very briefly describes each of the 550 species of birds that live, breed, or pass through the islands.
Many flights to the West Indies from the U.S. connect in Puerto Rico. The book will make you want to get off the plane and stay a few days so you can go in search of the male Pin-tailed Whydah. In breeding season (April to November), its tail grows like Pinocchio’s nose, starting out at a modest 11 centimeters and growing to 33 centimeters. (Page 168) And you’ll wish for an agreement of some kind with Cuba so Americans can again explore the avian richness of that island and see Grundlach’s Hawks and Cuban Parakeets. Being British, Mr. Arlott can go there at will, look at birds, and legally smoke Cuban cigars.
The book is a perfect size for a field guide. 5 inches by 7.5 inches and 240 pages, it weighs in at 14 ounces. (400 grams.)
Generally, we have a prejudice against field guides that put the range maps at the back of the book. It can be a pain to look at the bird, find it in the book, then flip to the back to assure yourself that your identification comports with the bird’s likely range. However, it is not a problem with this field guide. The brief textual entries always name the islands where the birds are found and you’ll always know what island you’re on. For instance, if you are on Petit St. Vincent – and if you are, you have no idea how envious we are – you might see a White-necked Jacobin Hummingbird. But you’ll know you’re in the Grenadines and the text will tell you whether that bird ever visits the Grenadines. You’ll have no need for the range maps. In fact, if you really need to shave weight you could excise the last 70 pages of the book, tape the rest together and save about 4.3 ounces or 167 grams. That weight savings can matter at the end of a long day trekking up and down Caribbean hills on a hot day.
The book retails for $24.95. If you are going to the West Indies, don’t leave home without it
Thanks to Doug Jansen for the photo of the Pin-tailed Whydah and the Creative Commons license to use it.