The Michael Morcombe

Field Guide to Australian Birds

All Paintings, Text, maps and Photographs by Michael Morcombe

The result of about 14 years of research, artwork and writing since its first beginnings, this guide embodies a number of design concepts which appear most useful in a field guide.

From the beginning of artwork (about 1987), the paintings were arranged in strips across the page, exactly opposite the text. Backgrounds were omitted so that most identification text could be placed with the illustrations. This shifting of identification text from the left hand page has made available space for more detailed bird calls, behavior and other text

The number of species shown on each page has been given careful consideration. If there are very few, just two or three, there must be much page turning to compare species within any large group of similar-looking species.

On the other hand, a large number of species per oage gives little space for the artwork,captions or text for each species, and makes a book of many more pages. Four species seems to be about right, but his is an average, with the actual number varying from one to seven, depending upon the complexity of these species.

Page size is at the larger end of the field guide range. Again, a trade-off between comprehensive content versus small with reduced content.

Thin lines separate the text for each species, with left and right pages aligned. Wing and tail tips often extend above and below these boundaries...otherwise, the illustrations are much too small. However the captions always remain between the lines of the species to which they refer. While the basic function of these captions is to point out and explain identifying features, some refer to differences between races, and at other times to behavior characteristic of the species, often useful in assisting identification.

Many flight positions are included; often there is a fleeting glimpse of white-tipped tail feaqther, orang underwings, white wing spots, which may be just the clue needed to give a name to the bird.

Included in this guide are illustrations of the nests and eggs of most of the bird species that breed within Australia. In some instances a distinctive nest may identify a bird of rather nondescript plumage, but often the design and construction is fascinating in itself.

Accompanying text, which if included at at all in other guides, then takes up part of the very limited space on the identification pages, reducin g descriptions of behavior and calls, which are covered in greater detail in this book.

With many Australian birds, subspecies can be quite distinctive....indeed many have been full species and have long held widely recognized common names. It is therefore desirable to map the more distinctive races. and this has been done with a different colour for each subspecies.

A second, unique feature of these maps, is that each colour is graded in three steps, from a deep hue to a pale tint. The mid-tone shows the generally accepted range of full species, or of subspecies. The palest tint represents any poorly defined marginal distribution, where there have been few or doubtful sightings; here the species could not reliably be found. At the other extreme, the deepest colour is where the greatest number of sightings have been recorded in past national bird surveys.

These maps give useful trip-planning information, most valuable for tourists seeking a maximum number of species within a limited time. In the case of birds of arid regions, these zones are an average; dry-country bird populations especially of nomadic species, will vary with rainfall.

Published & distributed by Steve Parish Publishing:

Author email contact:


More in Video version at Update Sample
and in Update Family Group 12, Cockatoos, Lorikeets, Parrots etc. Also, video action comparison between Greenshank (below) and Marsh Sandpiper.






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