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Sasol Birds of Southern Africa - 3rd Edition Reviewed.

Like many other birders, I have been eagerly awaiting the new Sasol. It appeared on the shelves last week, and at first glance looked as if it had changed in a number of respects. As a twitcher the first thing that one notices is the new birds in the book - I was able to do some armchair twitching and added species like Damara Hornbill and Orange River White-eye to my life list without moving away from the living room!!

I have now had time to read through and examine the book in greater depth. Perhaps the biggest advance is the identification hints, which are integrated into the plates. These provide pointers to the key field characters to look for, and will enhance the identification skills of novices birders and experienced twitchers alike.

The book includes no less than 31 new species, and if you are still using the first edition of Sasol, you will be missing a lot more! Also of great value is the inclusion of the new names, with old names provided in parenthesis where these are substantially different. The sequence of birds is still as for Robert's and Roberts numbers are retained. This will enable us all to make the gentle transition to the point when Roberts VII arrives which will present a new taxonomic sequence as well. All of this has been achieved without huge upheaval, and for most species, page numbers are still the same as Sasol II.

Maps have been updated, and in many cases go beyond the Atlas of Southern African birds. A new feature is the inclusion of shading in to depict areas where the bird is more sparsely distributed. The maps have also been re-designed, and as with the text are easier on the eye. A small niggle might be that the use of shading to depict areas of sparse distribution does not seem to have been applied consistently to all species.

Many new illustrations have been added, and some superfluous ones removed. For a number of species illustrations have been amended to render them more accurate, and overall the quality of the illustrations is very high. In many cases illustrations have been re-organised allowing for some to be larger than in Sasol II, and superfluous decorative foliage etc has been removed, making for a cleaner look. For example the vulture plate on page 89 allows for better use of space and larger images on the same sized page.

A field guide of this nature is a hugely complex undertaking and their will be gripes and gremlins. Some of the new additions involve compromises - Wahlberg's Eagle has been moved from the plate of other large brown eagles and placed with Buzzards and Gymnogene. I could also not find the Livingstones Flycatcher using the index. In a few cases (Slaty Egret being one) distribution maps have not been updated to include new data

Overall however, the new Sasol is quite a step forward as far as field guides are concerned, and I have no hesitation in exhorting all birders to get in touch with BirdLife Head office immediately and order your copy of the new Sasol.

Appendix - New species added (from Sasol 2nd Edition)

Magellanic Penguin
Tristan Albatross
Northern Royal Albatross (split)
Buller's Albatross
Salvin's Albatross
Chatam Albatross
Indian and Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (split)
Spectacled Petrel
Western Reef Heron
Greater Spotted Eagle
Hottentot Buttonquail
Great Knot
Cape Gull (since removed from the list for Robert's VII)
Slender-billed Gull
Grey-headed Parrot
Damara Hornbill
Eastern Clapper Lark
Cape Clapper Lark
Agulhas Clapper Lark (Clapper Lark split since removed from Robert's VII list.)
Bimaculated Lark (removed)
Cape Longbilled Lark
Agulhas Longbilled Lark
Karoo Longbilled Lark
Benguela Longbilled Lark
Eastern Longbilled Lark
Cinnamon-breasted Tit
Karoo Thrush
Luapula Cisticola
Orange River White-eye
Citrine Wagtail
Northern Grey-headed Sparrow
Damara Canary

Review by Etienne Marais

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Web Site Updated 31 May 2006 © Indicator Birding