Comments on Pterodroma Petrels...


HomeBirder Special Pelagics | Sapphire Pelagics | Weather | Travel & AccommodationPreparationPhotos PageOnline StoreArticles 
Multimedia ID GuidesVideo PageShark Tagging | LinksContact Us



Neil Cheshire, UK
To read Neil's review from Sea Swallow Click here

John Wall, NY, USA
Read John's brief review on the World Twitch website here.


Peter Harrison MBE, WA, USA (Zegrahm Expeditions)
This is the second in the series “Multimedia Identification Guides to North Atlantic Seabirds” and covers perhaps the most enigmatic seabird group of all, the Pterodroma Petrels.  Worldwide there are some 32 species/taxa of pterodroma, nine of which breed in the North Atlantic added to which, a further species, the Great-winged Petrel has been a claimed if unsubstantiated sighting.

As a group the pterodromas pose one of the greatest seabird identification challenges due to their pelagic habits, remote breeding islands, complex plumage patterns, and murky taxonomy.  Bob and Ashley are thus to be congratulated in what surely is the best text and images so far published on the North Atlantic pterodromas. There are over 300 pages of text that simply overflow with not only detail but passion and colourful descriptions so that some are “petite,” others “brutish.”  The colour photographs, the majority unpublished, are outstanding and eclipse any collection so far published.  Martin Elliot’s images are masterful and this is complimented with two DVDs with at-sea coverage and full narration.

This is an important publication in seabird literature, it sets new standards, and will increase our understanding of these “winged runners,” the Pterodromas.  Beginners and experts alike will learn much from this quite exceptional publication which has been well-researched and meticulously presented.

Tom Johnson, USA

Tom's review from Birding 66.1:

Few birds are as amazingly tough, enigmatic, beautiful, athletic, and rare as the gadfly petrels. TheMultimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Pterodroma Petrels is a new reference to 10 taxa of these fascinating birds found over the Atlantic Ocean. The guide consists of a 316-page book,  illustrated with numerous excellent photos and painted plates, and two DVDs with videos and voice-overs to teach about petrel identification.

This is the second installment in Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher’s Multimedia Identification Guide series, following the authors’ widely acclaimed Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel (2011). From a North American perspective, this guide supplements other references treating species that have occurred off our Atlantic coast: the Black-capped Petrel, Bermuda Petrel, Trindade Petrel, Fea’s Petrel (both the Cape Verde and the Desertas birds), and Zino’s Petrel are all treated in depth. The authors are from the United Kingdom, so there’s an overall British “flavour” to the text, but the book is of true utility anywhere in the North Atlantic, covering as it does such potential vagrants as the Atlantic Petrel and Kermadec Petrel—common species in the South Atlantic that might be expected to occur in the North Atlantic one day. Though the technical identification focus might make it seem to cater only to the hard-core seabirding crowd, the clarity and beauty of this guide make it accessible to any birder or ornithologist with even a passing interest in the subject.

The obvious benchmark works are Flood and Fisher's own Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel and Steve Howell’s 2012 Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America. The format of the new guide closely follows that of the authors’ earlier volume, offering in-depth analysis of a small group of target species, complemented by video sequences  with interpretive voice-overs drawing the viewer’s attention to key characters and nuances of flight style. Because the flight styles of the various Pterodroma petrels are relatively uniform in comparison to the unique flight habit shown by some storm-petrels, the videos here are not quite as important, but they are still effective at reinforcing characters discussed in the text, conveying a sense of the birds’ dramatic movements, and affording the viewer practice in developing those critical search images that we would otherwise spend years in the field acquiring.

Howell’s Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America has, of course, a much broader taxonomic focus than the present book, but both titles cover most of the same Pterodroma species. As neither has yet been documented from North American waters, Howell does not treat the Atlantic Petrel or the Soft-plumaged Petrel in detail; both are included in Flood and Fisher. It should also be remarked that the two works treat different taxa of the “Great-winged Petrel,” with Howell focusing on records of the “Gray-faced Petrel” from Pacific North America and Flood and Fisher on the nominate “Great-winged Petrel.”

By concentrating exclusively on the Pterodroma petrels, Flood and Fisher are able to provide more complete information about the identification and variation of those target species than is found in Howell 2012; furthermore, the variety and quality of photos of the gadfly petrels are better in Flood and Fisher’s new volume. Of course, the tight scope of the book also means that the reader has no opportunity to compare the various Pterodroma with full accounts of some of the look-alike shearwaters, as is afforded by Howell. Fortunately, the authors here do address, helpfully if briefly, such transgeneric identification issues as the Black-capped Petrel vs. the Great Shearwater or the Trindade Petrel vs. the Sooty Shearwater; they even branch out to discuss the potential for confusion of jaegers and skuas with the Kermadec and Trindade Petrels.

I find the texts in the new guide clear, compelling, and extraordinarily detailed. The discussions of difficult identifications both acknowledge the relevant literature and add the authors’ interpretations and clarifications: For example, they refute previously published accounts to the effect that Kermadec Petrels had been documented in the North Atlantic.

Extra space is given to groups that pose identification problems, the most notable of these  the “feae complex,” comprising the Zino’s Petrel and the two subspecies of the Fea’s Petrel. The authors even take up case studies of particularly vexing identifications like the Norwegian record of a Soft-plumaged Petrel and the Zino’s Petrel from North Carolina (coming soon to an AOU list near you). Editing and manuscript review was clearly a priority for the authors, and I have noticed only very minor errors in my use of the guide: in one case (p. 177), the waters off North Carolina are referred to as the “northeast Atlantic” instead of the “northwest Atlantic.”

While I am impressed with the clarity of the text, the lack of a subject place marker on each page is a bit baffling. If you’re searching for an important detail in the text, the absence of a header or footer makes it a minor struggle to relocate key sections without resorting to the table of contents. Both Howell and the new Peterson Reference Guide to Seawatching demonstrate the effective use of such guides on each page, and I rely heavily on them when seeking out specific information.

My other minor gripe involves abbreviations. I find the use of four-letter codes (ATPE for Atlantic Petrel, etc.) throughout the text disruptive of the reading experience. I suspect that the use of these codes was a space-saving measure, but it only serves to compromise the clarity of the authors’ text.

The quality of the photographs, by a range of top photographers, is superb; all of the taxa treated in the guide are represented by sharp, well-lit images of birds in flight and at rest. Mike Danzenbaker’s Bermuda Petrel photos are phenomenal, and photos of similar caliber are presented for each species in the guide. As someone who spends a lot of time photographing seabirds from ships and understands the difficulty of taking good photos of Pterodroma petrels, I am amazed by the dedication and skill that are so obvious in the images presented here. In addition to field photos, shots of museum specimens highlight key differences in wing patterns (such as those between the Kermadec and Trindade Petrels), and in-hand photos of live birds emphasize the differences in bill structure between such closely related taxa as the Zino’s and Fea’s Petrels.

Martin Elliot’s lovely paintings of petrels in flight and at rest add some of the elements found in a traditional field guide; these images are accompanied by bullet points emphasizing the important field characters all on one page. Elliot’s painting, while differing somewhat from Ian Lewington’s nearly photographic realism in the plates for Storm-Petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel, works very well to convey plumage detail while maintaining the broad strokes of proportion and structure.

The identification sequences included on the first DVD are a mix of still photos and video sequences  with voice-over by Bob Flood. While all of the stills are top notch, the video sequences are of variable quality. While cinema buffs might think some of them so shaky as to be borderline unwatchable, I find the shots highly useful in the context of field identification. The “amateur” quality of the video is freely admitted in a disclaimer, with an explanation that will resonate with anyone who has ever raised a camera, or even binoculars, on a moving ship. Indeed, the video very much represents typical at-sea encounters with Pterodroma, emphasizing patterns and contrast and highlighting the difficulty of resolving fine details without the aid of still photography. For viewers missing freeze-frames in the video, remember that you can always hit “pause” to take a longer look at a particular petrel pose.

I am a bit perplexed by the use of video to explore the same features already emphasized in the text; for example, the head and wing patterns of the Zino’s / Fea’s complex are found in the text and in the DVD. The DVD time dedicated to these redundancies could have been more effectively devoted to slow-motion sequences or freeze frames.

Another highlight of the guide’s video material is the second DVD’s section treating the history of human interactions with the Bermuda Petrel and the Zino’s Petrel. The narration—by David Wingate (godfather of the Bermuda Petrel), Jeremy Madeiros (Conservation Officer and the Bermuda Petrel’s current guardian), and Frank Zino (along with his father, responsible for much of the knowledge of Zino’s Petrel on Madeira)—drives home both the fragility of seabird breeding systems and the resilience of Pterodroma even when the deck is so heavily stacked against them.

The video narrative of the Bermuda Petrel traces the transition from David Wingate’s role in the species’ rediscovery, habitat stewardship, and nest site innovations to Jeremy Madeiros’s recent translocation and geolocation projects; these individuals have made a true difference in the conservation of a species. For the Zino’s Petrel, Frank Zino paints an impressive picture of the struggle of the tiny population on Madeira to overcome a plague of introduced housecats and a human-caused fire that spread across the breeding area in 2010. Neither the Zino’s Petrel nor the Bermuda Petrel can be said yet to enjoy anything like long-term security as species, but these examples of discovery and conservation give us real reasons to hope and to act.

The Zino’s and Bermuda Petrel stories, combined with helpful flight video of all taxa and even some illustrative discussion of far-flung Atlantic islands, really round out the guide and give the viewer a very good taste of these special birds. The print portion of the guide can easily stand alone as a fine treatment of an enigmatic group of seabirds, but in combination with the two excellent DVDs, this is a full experience that you won’t want to miss.

The knowledge and passion of Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher saturate their new guide to these birds, and it’s gratifying to know that several more additions to the Multimedia Identification Guide series are on their way. With its scope limited to ten taxa that are very difficult to observe without a voyage far out of your way, this guide is a specialty work. In spite of its rather high cost, this volume is a fantastic resource that will be appreciated far beyond its target audience of seabird specialists. This is exactly the sort of inspired work that can transform even the most steadfast landlubber into a desperate seabird addict, while also providing an exemplary target toward which future authors can aspire.

Derek May, UK
I recently ordered your two published books on Petrels, (and look forward to further publications) and have to say was amazed at the brilliance of the whole endeavour. The whole multimedia concept works really well. On first reading the books, I was a touch dismayed that the text was to a degree on a parallel with the narration on the DVDs (I had to see the vids before reading a single word...). It took a while for it to dawn upon me (being a touch slow!) that the pictures and the video are all part of the same thing, namely: identifying the birds, and that any repetition was only making things clearer in my head. Hence! I have seen a few Petrels whilst seawatching over the years. I had dictated notes on the said birds but that hasn't given rise to a positive ID, at least until now! Thanks to the simple and yet deep treatment of these birds that you give, and my scant notes on skipping, floating, shearing, dangling, hoping, dancing, ballerina like antics... etc that I have made over the years, the hitherto unknown birds are rendered as pretty certain IDs. Many thanks for such a great insight into birds that occupy such a rarefied place, the like of which we will never know. 

Many thanks.

Pete Morris, UK

Pete's review from Seabird 26:

This is the second of four planned multimedia guides to North Atlantic Seabirds and follows on from its successful and well-received predecessor that covered storm-petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii. This volume covers just nine species of Pterodromas (Trindade Pterodroma arminjoniana, Kermadec P. neglecta, Atlantic P.incerta, Great-winged P. macroptera, Bermuda P.cahow, Black-capped P. hasitata, Soft-plumaged P.mollis, Fea’s P.faea (including Cape Verde P. [f.] faea and Desertas P. [f.] desertae) and Zino’s Petrel P. madeira). Anyone that has been privileged enough to see any of these species will know that they are the ‘holy grail’ of all North Atlantic seabirds - rare, unpredictable and extremely hard to see well. As a result, it pays to make sure that one is fully armed with as much knowledge as possible for that rare occasion when one makes contact with any of these birds, as assigning many of them to species is far from straightforward in what may be just a fleeting view!

The book follows the same format as the first volume. In a nutshell, the guide commences with a comprehensive overview which introduces the genus, and discusses the various areas that need to be assessed when attempting to identify species, such as important plumage features, flight action, structure and jizz. This is followed by the extremely comprehensive species accounts and identification sections where the nine species (and various colour morphs) are assigned to four confusion groups. This section not only compares similar Pterodromas with each other, but also looks at other potential confusion issues such as skuas (with Trindade and Kermadec Petrels) and Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis (with Black-capped Petrel).

I was a little apprehensive as to how a whole volume (and 2 DVDs) could be devoted to the identification of just nine species, but soon learnt that the title is a gross understatement of the information presented. Sure, the focus is on the identification, but a huge amount of other information is also brought to us. Many aspects of conservation, ecology and distribution are explored in detail and there are special feature ‘insets’ on subjects such as the Varanger Soft-plumaged Petrel, the ‘snowy-winged’ petrel off Madeira and the conservation efforts to save Bermuda Petrel and Zino’s Petrel (the latter two presented superbly on DVD 2). All of these sections add great value to the title.

The detail of information presented is unrivalled, and suffice to say, all that is currently known about this group, from an identification perspective at least, is here. The coverage of the much ‘feared’ Fea’s group (Zino’s, Desertas and Cape Verde Petrels, the latter two treated as conspecific in this guide though dealt with separately) is superbly comprehensive. Occasionally, identification points are a little laboured or repetitive, but I guess the need to drum home certain confusion issues and the points to look for, in the brief views one may obtain, is paramount. The guide is generously illustrated throughout with 100s of well-chosen (and well-taken) photographs, as well as great distribution maps and some excellent plates by the talented Martin Elliot. The accompanying DVDs have some surprisingly good footage (I know what it’s like just trying to watch them from a boat!) of all of the species, and this really does help to crystallise what Pterodromas look like in real life, and in some ways confirms that in many situations, the best way to prove an identification is to take a good photograph. Seeing all of the features, such as bill structure, clearly in the video clips can be surprisingly difficult, as it would be in real life, but the provided commentary does agood job of focusing the viewer on the key features. Indeed the DVDs help bring the wealth
of personal field experience that the authors
clearly have to the reader/viewer.

Once or twice I found myself a little confused. Surely Herald Pterodroma heraldica and Trindade Petrel do not both breed on Round Island? I assume this is a hangover from when the two were treated conspecifically as Herald Petrel, and in fact surely just Trindade occurs there. I also found it a little confusing that ‘Fea’s Petrels’ are sensibly captioned to specific form where possible (Cape Verde or Desertas) and then sometimes compared to Fea’s in the broader sense (hence potentially comparing like with like). Indeed, the use of abbreviated names (ZIPE, CVPE, DEPE and FEPE for the Fea’s group for example), whilst in many ways logical, seemed to complicate things for me, but this may be a personal problem rather than one that would apply to all readers (especially those with less addled brains!). These, however, are minor points in the grand scheme of things.

It is also useful to compare this volume with Howell’s excellent guide to North American tubenoses, which covers the same species except Atlantic Petrel (Howell, S. N .G. 2012. Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide. Princeton University Press. See review: Seabird 25: 70–71). Both offer a series of excellent images and identification information, but clearly Flood & Fisher’s book has a much smaller remit and is therefore able to deal with the subject in far greater detail (such as the much more comprehensive coverage of the ‘Fea’s’ group). This title also has the added advantage of bringing the excellent video clips to the viewer, making the whole multimedia experience that much more complete.

So to sum up, this is an incredibly in-depth look at some of the most exciting and seldom-seen Western Palearctic (and potential Western Palearctic) birds which I can thoroughly recommend to anyone with an interest in the subject. And watch out for the UK’s first acceptable Trindade Petrel or seen (rather than data-logged) Bermuda Petrel. My money’s on it being off the Scillies and videoed by the authors! 

We are grateful to Pete Morris and Seabird for the review of our multimedia ID guide Pterodroma Petrels. One small correction, if we may. Pete says, not surprisingly, "Surely Herald Pterodroma heraldica and Trindade Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana do not both breed on Round Island?" In fact, Ruth Brown and colleagues demonstrated that both taxa do indeed breed on Round Island, along with Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta, and that they appear to be interbreeding.

Bibliography
Brown, R. M., Nichols, R. A., Faulkes, C. G., Jones, C. G., Bugoni, L., Tatayah, V., Gottelli,
D., & Jordan, W. C. 2010. Range expansion and hybridization in Round Island petrels (Pterodromaspp.): evidence from microsatellite genotypes. Molecular Ecology 19: 3157–3170.

Brown, R. M., Jordan, W. C., Faulkes, C. G., Jones, C. G., Bugoni, L., Tataya, V., Palma,
R. L., & Nicols, R. A. 2011. Phylogenetic relationships in Pterodroma petrels are obscured
by recent secondary contact and hybridization. PLoS ONE 6: e20350. doi: 10.1371/journal.
pone.0020350.

Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher, Isles of Scilly, UK


Hiroyuki Shimizu, JPN
Your guides arrived. I found them fascinating. They give me a strong desire to see the birds in the field!

James Goetz (USA)
 I am home for the holidays and received the Petrel book. Congrats. It's magnificent!

Ned Brinkley, USA
I have received your book and CDs and have begun to devour slowly. It's just an amazing feat to have brought together all this material and presented it so clearly - but also to spend the time to set aside claims like those of Imber. And certainly you've been part of the leading edge of pioneering this material, along with Shirihai and others.  I agree with you (and not Shirihai) about the Norway Soft-plumaged Petrel.  And I appreciate the time you take with the NC Zino's Petrel, a bird I saw but assumed back then it was just some sort of variant of Fea's/Deserta's (alas, the Zino's I saw 10+ years ago in Madeira were too few - only the one at sea and dozen displaying at night).

One thing that occurs to me after reading your Kermadec material - Brian Patteson and I examined all photos and both films of the Hawk Mountain Petrel.  I think that bird was very likely a Kermadec.  I wish that someone with comparative experience could screen those movies.  The complicating factor is that there is a blob of white _plumage_ in one wing.  But structure and plumage (and white primary shafts) otherwise seem to me, after reading your account, to indicate Kermadec.

Anyhow, I am delighted to have received this...

Jonathan Key
Read Jonathan's review for the BTO magazine Click here

Nils van Duivendijk, NLD
Read the review by Nils on the Dutch Birding website Click here

Richard Bonser, GBR
To read Richard's review for Birdwatch Magazine Click here


ANTONIO SANDOVALREY, ESP

Antonio's review from Ardeola, below:

In their introduction to this magnificent book the authors write: "An encounter with a pterodroma leaves you with a strange kind of euphoria, a tingle or buzz that does not wear off for days, even weeks, and resurges every time that you recount the story to others, or think about it in a quiet moment. Pterodromas are very special!" If you have had the good fortune to observe these birds, then you will clearly understand the authors when they say, "Pterodromas arguably are the most desired of the tubenoses by the great majority of North Atlantic seabirders.” I know what they mean. At the time of writing, I have had 23 observations of pterodromas from Cape Estaca de Bares (Spain), and a handful of sightings from a boat in Madeira. The memory of each of these sightings makes my pulse race, and I want more! This in part is why I enjoyed this treatise on identification so much. In comparison, I have not encountered a text as creative as this one: because of its approach and rigour; the quality of text, photographs and illustrations; all complemented by the extraordinary videos. This is the best tool that could possibly fall into the hands of a European seabirder. It is possible to read the text and view the video at the same, and this is very informative. It stimulates your imagination and spurs your desire to get to see these birds, both from a headland and from a pelagic trip, in one of the most exciting birding challenges that you can enjoy in the Western Palaearctic.

This multimedia guide to identification covers all species and subspecies found in the North Atlantic. The book is divided into five major sections. The first section gives a summary of the taxonomy and status of pterodromas in this part of the planet. The second section is a complete introduction to the genus, and includes aspects of morphology, biology, moult, age, colonies, and conservation. The third section explains the method proposed by the authors to identify the different species: jizz, size, structure, plumage, and flight behaviour. It is here where the authors emphasise the utility of photography and video to capture information that is often missed by the human eye during a fleeting pass by the boat of one of these birds. The text discusses errors of hasty identification that are possible.

The fourth section deals with the distribution and identification of each of the species, and includes comprehensive information about their jizz, size, structure, plumage aspect, flight behaviour and some possibilities for confusion. These are complemented with great photographs and effective maps which reveal, for example, that geolocator studies showed two Pterodroma cahow out of ten recovered spent several weeks between Galicia (Spain) and the south of Ireland, coming within 125-150 miles of each location. And this is a species whose population is estimated to be 300-350 individuals! The species accounts also deal with worrying issues of conservation, such as with Pterodroma madeiraThe text includes additional summaries of efforts to protect the birds and their breeding areas.

The fifth section is more fascinating from the point of view of identification. The section deals with separating groups of species that have similar characters. There are many pages that have four or six photographs taken at half distance that facilitate comparison between similar species, and sometimes between similar seabird groups (e.g. shearwaters and skuas). The text and images offer a complete and very effective presentation of information. The authors also include detailed analyses of some famous records, such as the Pterodroma mollis photographed in Varanger (Norway), approved by the national rarities committee, but considered Pterodroma madeira by a first-rate specialist in this genus.

There may be some people who find too much repetition of the same or very similar details in different sections. In my opinion this is a success, not failure. Far from slowing down reading, it stimulates and strengthens understanding.

The only thing that I felt was missing is information about the characters of these birds flying past a headland. Pterodromas are not seen frequently from headlands and so it would help if criteria were given to help secure ID during a headland watch?

Preceding the Bibliography and Appendices are great illustraions by Martin Elliott. My favorite is the small illustration on page 267 showing a Pterodroma cahow over waves.

Before finishing the book, the authors give a synthesis of the details that we must look for to correctly identify each taxon covered.

Could there be anything more? Yes, the video. This offers valuable extra insights. The video helps you to better enjoy and learn more from the book. The book includes two DVDs with a total of 120 minutes of excellent images that help you to understand what these birds feel/look like at sea, and how they differ from each other. The DVDs include evocative shots of some remote islands where the pterodromas breed, and short documentaries on the history of conservation of Pterodroma cahow and Pterodroma madeira. Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher also did the desktop publishing of the book with professional-looking results.

This work and its forerunner in 2011 Storm-petrels and Bulwers Petrel (see review in Ardeola 59: 341-343) offer a new direction in the publication of identification texts about seabirds. We are promised two further volumes. Many of us look forward to seeing these forthcoming books almost as much as we look forward to seeing a new pterodroma.


John Martin, GBR
To read John's review for British Birds Magazine Click here

Steve Mason, GBR
Just read the BB review of ‘Pterodroma Petrels’ & thought I'd send my thoughts on it because I think it is unfair on you guys and I wonder if JM read the same book as me. It started off rather negatively saying you included Great-winged & Kermadec with no records in the North Atlantic and left out Stejneger’s & Mottled, but this is misleading. JM makes it sound like you screwed up and he knows things you don’t. Actually, you guys clearly state your rationale & this makes complete sense! I would definitely include Kermadec with so much controversy about it in the Atlantic and with people like Imber saying it does occur regularly, and Great-winged with a claim for the North Atlantic and largish population in the South Atlantic. But why would you include freak records of Pacific breeders? Wonder why JM didn’t point this out? And he never noted that you give short accounts of White-headed Petrel & Kerguelen as well so that all species regularly occurring in the Atlantic are covered.

I don’t understand why JM finds it confusing to have the ID inset on P. feae complex straight after the same complex is dealt with in the main text. Seems the logical place for it to me!

I also don’t understand why JM says there is a lack of clarity in book layout. It is a very simple layout and if you want to know where anything is then go to the contents list!

The thing I disagree with most in the review is criticism of inclusion of ‘every last snippet of information’ you guys have about these birds. I feel the complete opposite. I want it all. I see your guides as mini handbooks. Why don’t you stress this point in your own spiel?

The other really misleading thing in JM’s review is comparison of price per species covered versus Howell’s tubenose guide. What an unfair comparison. Howell produced a formulaic fieldguide, yours is a mini handbook with 2 DVDs. Howell is no good to me if I had a tricky storm-petrel to ID or for that matter if is I was trying to sort out a Fea’s/Zino’s. I need the detail in your guides.

Looking back, I see JM reviewed the Howell guide and found it faultless! Funnily enough, one of the thing JM accuses you of, ‘couldn’t see everything in the video said in the narration’, was one of my main criticisms of the Howell guide … what I mean is you very often can’t see in his photos what he writes in the captions.

Don’t mind if you use my rant on your website...

David Jones, GBR
Totally agree with Steve Mason's comments on BB review, but would like to add my view on a few things: Firstly, there's an important question to be asked here - If you encounter of difficult pterodroma (or storm-petrel, for that matter) in the Atlantic, what is your primary reference source? In other words, what guide would you use to identify it; the multimedia guide or Howell’s guide? In my opinion, it’s a no-brainer – try and confidently identify a Zino’s using the info in the latter guide; you can’t. Thus, the price per species argument is a moot point. In addition to the more extensive text in the former, you get illustrations and video footage – surely, this content costs a lot to produce, and, it’s your choice whether to purchase or not. So, when you’re stuck on the identification of, let’s say, a Trindade Petrel (or a fregetta storm-petrel), you’ll wish that you splashed on the North Atlantic series!

Secondly; I just don’t get the comment about the quality of the photos vs the Howell guide – I think a fair assessment would be ‘acceptable to good’ for Howell, and ‘very good to stunning’ for the multimedia guide – the latter guide has some of the best images ever published!

Anyway, keep up the good work! And love the first 2 books - when's the next one due out!?!


Leandro Bugoni, BRA
Astonishing work, buddy!! I’m really proud to have made a tiny contribution and very happy in having such material to go onboard, or leave with my student going to sea. Will be enjoyable to go slowly through the content of your book.

Mark Darlaston, UK
I would like to congratulate you on another brilliant multimedia guide. This new approach of combining a traditional ID book with actual videos really works well and is very instructive in developing ID skills, for what are very difficult seabird groups. Those videos are simply stunning, even though I'm unlikely to ever see many of these species, to actually see their dynamic flight is awesome and a thrill to watch - worth getting just for the videos alone!

Richard Crossley, USA
 
... Funnily enough I was just talking about you with Tom Johnson. He had just bought your book and we both think it is excellent. Books really are changing and it will be interesting to see what direction everything takes going forward.

Dani Lopez-Velasco, ESP
To see Dani's review on the Birding Frontiers website Click here

Andy Stoddart, UK

Written for RARE BIRD ALERT THE birdnews service.

There can be no more exciting seabirds than Pterodroma petrels – sharp-winged, elegant and dynamic, they exude pure excitement. Also adding to their aura is the fact that all the species which occur in the North Atlantic are rare. This combination of looks and rarity makes them an irresistible, if often unattainable, target for birders and an admirable focus for Bob Flood and Ashley Fisher’s latest multimedia guide.

This book and its accompanying two DVDs cover nine species ofPterodroma petrel – Trindade, Kermadec, Atlantic, Great-winged, Bermuda, Black-capped, Soft-plumaged, Fea’s (including Cape Verde and Desertas) and Zino’s. The book begins with an introduction to its structure and format and then introduces the genus, discussing a wide range of generic identification issues. This initial section already tells us that this guide is going to be thorough. It covers in great detail issues such as assessing jizz, plumage patterns, size, structure and flight action.

Then come the all-important species accounts. These all follow the same format, detailing taxonomy, nomenclature, status, distribution, population size, conservation status and identification. Each species account is lengthy, detailed and comprehensive and copiously illustrated with range maps, diagrams and photographs, many of exceptional quality. This is by far the most extensive treatment of the Fea’s Petrel group ever put together and should be a ‘must read’ for all seawatchers. Particularly tantalising are two other species which may one day bless someone in Britain or Ireland with their presence – Black-capped Petrel (already on the British List) and Bermuda Petrel (shown by geolocator data to have graced our offshore waters already).

The second half of the book focuses purely on identification, now revisiting all the species within their ‘confusion pair’ or ‘confusion group’, comprising either other Pterodromas or other seabirds, notably skuas and Great and Sooty Shearwaters. Again, this section is hugely detailed and thorough.

Interspersed throughout the book are instructive ‘asides’ – short insets which discuss particular issues which otherwise do not fit readily into the overall structure. These are both varied and fascinating, addressing such topics as the ‘Varanger petrel’ of June 2009 (accepted by the Norwegian Rarities Committee as a Soft-plumaged Petrel), the famous ‘snowy-winged’ apparent Zino’s Petrel photographed off Madeira in May 2010 and, a particularly good read, the conservation history of both Zino’s and Bermuda Petrels.

The book concludes with a superb set of identification plates by Martin Elliott (whose artwork also enhances other parts of the book), a series of Appendices (including some interesting material on taxonomy), an ‘ID jogger’ section and extensive references.

This book impresses most of all with the thoroughness of its approach. It is massively-detailed, well-researched and enhanced by the authors’ considerable, and often pioneering, field experience . My only criticism is that the highly structured and formulaic text is a little dry and somewhat repetitive. This is, however, perhaps inevitable, and perhaps even obligatory, in an identification book and, arguably, it enhances the learning process.

More likely to appeal directly to the imagination are the two DVDs. Here we finally get to see what the birds really look like careening across a wild sea. Now, all that we’ve read in the book comes to life before our eyes. Pterodromas are of course hard to find, let alone film, but all the species are covered and all are of surprisingly high quality. Some of the footage can even be rated as ‘very good’, a remarkable achievement given the problems of heaving decks, wild seas and small, rapidly-moving and often distant birds.

The commentary focuses again on the identification aspects and, although not grating, it is a little dry and, as in the book, somewhat formulaic and repetitive. Nevertheless, the video clips manage to convey the real excitement of these birds. One truly gets the feeling of ‘being there’. Just as enjoyable are two sets of interviews – the first with David Wingate and Jeremy Madeiros, leading lights of the Bermuda Petrel rescue project on Nonsuch Island, Bermuda, and, even more engaging, a terrific interview with Frank Zino about the conservation history and challenges of Madeira’s Zino’s Petrels. After something of an assault by identification criteria, these sections are a real tonic.

Finally, the book has a substantial and quality feel. Designed and laid out by the authors, it nevertheless has the appearance of a professional publishing house product. It is appealing and a joy to handle as well as being hugely informative.

There is no doubt therefore that the authors have succeeded in producing the most detailed and thorough, as well as attractive and accessible, treatment ever of this enigmatic seabird group. Gathering together all our prior knowledge of these birds and adding their own insights and experiences too, this is a magnificent achievement which will become the standard work on these charismatic birds. It is, however, a book for the more scientifically-minded and identification-focused birder. A more general reader may find the content a little dry. Nevertheless, if you yearn to see a Pterodroma off your local headland then buy this guide, watch the DVDs and feed your dreams.


David Wingate, BMU 
As I have been house sitting a cottage in Somerset I have only been checking my post box infrequently, but the book had arrived when I checked two days ago. I have been going through it ever since…simply can't put it down!  This is an absolutely brilliant job with superb photos and illustrations. I consider it one of the very best bird books I have ever seen and put it on a par with the superb Lynx Edicions "Handbook of the Birds of the World" series.
 You can be very proud of this accomplishment, so take some time off now, get out on that ocean and find the first record of Cahow in Scilly waters!
Giuseppe Ascione, ITA
Your fantastic book is arrived this morning!  A magnificent book and a great work!!! Thanks a heap!

Nils van Duivendijk, NLD
I have just started to look into the guide: this has to be a huge amount of work indeed and the result looks just amazing! Congratulations!


Harro Mueller, DEU
Hi Bob, do you remember the movie "Little Big Man"? Ok, what a Little Big Book!! I admire your and Ashley´s complete intention for the subject and the combination of passion for the seabirds and the discerning reviewing of the topic. The picture work is fantastic as well. There is terrific a lot to learn from your work. It´s simply excellent and a new fudamental milestone. Chapeau! 


Douglas B. Koch, USA
Awesome book!


Dominic Mitchell, GBR
A very quick thank-you for the complimentary copy of your new book. I have hardly put it down this weekend - a huge volume of information distilled and presented to the reader. You should be very pleased with it.
Wayne Strong, GBR
Wow! It's really good, both book and DVD's. The art work and photos are superb and the video brings it all to life so well. What comes through is your enthusiasm and infectious passion for the subject. Reader beware! Look forward to the rest of the series.
Mark Darlaston, GBR
I would like to congratulate you on another brilliant multimedia guide. This new approach of combining a traditional ID book with actual videos really works well and is very instructive in developing ID skills, for what are very difficult seabird groups. Those videos are simply stunning, even though I'm unlikely to ever see many of these species, to actually see their dynamic flight is awesome and a thrill to watch - worth getting just for the videos alone!

Mike Danzenbaker, USA
This is a work of beauty.

Michael Brothers, USA
I wanted to let you know how fantastic I think your new publication is. I brought it to the Records Committee meeting for Florida last week and was lucky to get out of the meeting with it. Everyone was very impressed! Thanks for such a major contribution to the field identification of seabirds.
Back