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Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago: Greater Sundas and Wallacea. 2nd Edition

By James A. Eaton, Bas van Balen, Nick W. Brickle and Frank E. Rheindt. 2021. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. 536 pages, 232 colour plates (2,800 illustrations), 1,350 maps. Hardback ISBN 978-84-16728-43-5. Price EUR 38.90. Flexi-bound ISBN 978-84-16728-44-2. Price EUR 34.90.

Review by Frank Lambert

Only four years after being first published, James Eaton and colleagues have provided us with a fully revised and updated field guide, partly made possible by the pandemic keeping the authors out of the field. Nevertheless, a second edition is certainly justified, as anyone able to compare the two editions would quickly see, although it may not be greeted with enthusiasm by anyone who purchased the first edition but has not yet had an opportunity to use it. For a review of the first edition, please click here.

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This guide covers a biogeographic region comprising more than 17,000 islands stretching some 5,000 km along the equator, including not only most of Indonesia, but also the small countries of Brunei and East Timor, as well as the East Malaysian (Bornean) states of Sabah and Sarawak. It does not include the eastern Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua (the island of New Guinea and its satellites). Maps inside the book covers show this region and name most of the important islands, though unfortunately not the major rivers on the larger islands. Altogether, this excellent guide describes an incredible 1,456 species, of which 628 are endemic to the area of concern, and 106 are vagrants.

The brief introduction to the book is almost identical to that in the first edition, setting out to define the geographic limits and describe the biogeography, topography, climate and habitats. It also includes a section on conservation, an ornithological history and, perhaps of more interest to many users, a succinct section on taxonomy and systematics. The illustrations mostly originate from Lynx’s Handbook of the Birds of the World series, but a considerable number were also done especially for this field guide. Indeed, 325 new figures have been added to the second edition and nearly 500 other figures were improved. In particular, there are many new figures of birds in flight, especially in the sections on waterbirds, pigeons, raptors and hornbills. The addition of new figures and increased number of species has required the addition of eight plates, and the book is 40 pages longer than the first edition. Twenty-eight artists contributed to the paintings in the second edition.

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Considering the number of taxa covered, this guide is reasonably sized. While it won’t fit in most pockets, it is certainly not too heavy to carry in the field. One consequence of producing a manageable size is that the font is rather small. The guide is similar in size to Craig Robson’s excellent guide to the Birds of South-East Asia, but unlike it, Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago includes maps for almost every species. As with the first edition, and bird guides in the Lynx and BirdLife International Field Guides Collection, the maps are to be found on the plates themselves. This arrangement leaves more room for text on the facing page, where all the details about the species are to be found (although I prefer the format of Birds of Colombia, also published recently by Lynx in 2021). One minor but important improvement has been a completely revamped Index, which many users found to be wholly inadequate in the first edition.

The individual species accounts provide key information about taxonomy, voice and identification features, including notes on similar species where relevant: this edition has more emphasis on the ‘similar species’ sections, which should prove especially useful for identifying lesser-known and trickier species. The maps have been improved by the addition of new base maps (see example plate above), so as well as the single, archipelago-wide map used for all species in the first edition, there are now specific maps for species confined to the Greater Sundas, Lesser Sundas or Wallacea. The maps also differ in having new colours for ‘passage migrant’, ‘introduced’ and ‘extinct’ distributions, while the tick boxes alongside the maps that featured in the first edition have been removed.

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The first edition contained some taxonomic decisions and suggestions that attracted disapproval from various quarters, but as I predicted in my review of the first edition, subsequent research has vindicated many of those taxonomic decisions. Much of this research was carried out by the authors, who have produced an impressive steady stream of taxonomic papers since 2016. This is one reason why the number of species has increased from 1,417 species (including 601 endemics, 98 vagrants) in the first edition, to 1,456 now. Other reasons for this increase include a considerable number of accepted new records and the addition of newly reported vagrants. Indeed, much has been discovered about the region’s birds in the four years since the publication of the first edition, as more and more birders have recognised the incredible riches of the avifauna and visited Indonesia and Borneo. This is hardly surprising, since Indonesia has far more endemics than any other nation, and the most species of any country outside South America.

Although few new taxa have been discovered between the publication of the two editions, there are two worth mentioning here: Cream-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus pseudosimplex, a cryptic Bornean endemic described in 2019 (Shakya et al. 2019) and Glissando Babbler Pellorneum saturatum, another overlooked cryptic Bornean taxon that doesn’t even feature on world checklists (but see Lim et al. 2017, Collar & Donald 2020). Another small-island leaf warbler Phylloscopus sp., recently found on Selayar, is also included, awaiting formal description, whilst a possible new grasshopper warbler Locustella sp., with a distinctive song (e.g. Xeno Canto #601648) from the Mekongga Mountains of Sulawesi is presently under genomic investigation. Another major discovery since 2016 has been the documentation of the striking Black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata, known from a single specimen of uncertain provenance at the time the first edition was published, but now known to inhabit rugged karst slope habitat in South Kalimantan (Akbar et al. 2020). It had been ‘missing’ for 172 years before its discovery by local birders: a truly remarkable find!

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Globally Threatened Bird Species by Country

This diagram illustrates not only the incredible number of endemics found in Indonesia, but also that Indonesia has more threatened birds than anywhere else. This image is from the BirdLife data zone. Plenty of other useful information and statistics about the threatened birds of Indonesia and elsewhere can be found on the BirdLife International website.

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In the first edition, a good number of new English names were adopted that could confuse some users, such as Bloodhead instead of Crimson-headed Partridge Haematortyx sanguiniceps, Heinrichia (Great Shortwing) Heinrichia calligyna, Rhinortha instead of Raffles’s Malkoha Rhinortha chlorophaea, Jay Shrike instead of Crested Jay Platylophus galericulatus, Sumatran Rimator instead of Sumatran Wren-Babbler Rimator albostriatus (note that the genus Rimator may be merged with Napothera, so that using the English name Rimator may prove to be short-lived) and Mountain Leaftoiler instead of Mountain Tailorbird Phyllergates cuculatus.

Such changes may be justified on taxonomic grounds, but there were other English name changes that seemed a little unnecessary, such as changing White Cockatoo to Umbrella Cockatoo Cacatua alba, Long-tailed Fantail to Charming Fantail Rhipidura opistherythra, and White-shouldered Triller to Lesueur’s Triller Lalage sueurii. With the publication of the second edition, we find even more new names to familiarise ourselves with, mostly a result of taxonomic changes. In this edition, these include three species derived from the splitting of Short-tailed Babbler, these being Mourning Babbler Pellorneum malaccense, Leaflitter Babbler P. poliogene and the aforementioned Glissando Babbler, as well as Malayan and Bornean Swamp Babblers (P. rostratum and P. macropterum respectively); these derived from the splitting of White-chested Babbler. Cerulean Silktail Eutrichomyias rowleyi has also been adopted as the English name for what was formerly called Cerulean Paradise-flycatcher following the discovery that this species is most closely related to scattered members of a newly recognised, ancient family, Lamproliidae. Other, perhaps less familiar, so species derived from splitting of existing taxa that feature in the second edition include Sabah Partridge Tropicoperdix graydoni, Scaled Lory Eos squamata, Minahasa Hooded Pitta Pitta forsteni, Charlotte’s Bulbul Iole charlottae, Tenggara Friarbird Philemon buceroides, Javan Oriole Oriolus cruentus, Javan Pied Starling Gracupica jalla and Deignan’s Prinia Prinia polychroa.

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While the first edition did not recognise the widely accepted splits within the Red-bellied Pitta Erythropitta erythrogaster complex, in the second edition we find some of these now recognised, with six species, and the recent split of Elegant Pitta Pitta elegans into three species (Yue et al. 2020) is also incorporated. On the other hand, the lumping of Garnet Pitta E. granatina and Black-crowned Pitta E. ussheri, as suggested by the work of Shakya et al. (2020), is not followed. There are numerous other splits and recently recognised species in the guide, including a significant number of taxa elevated to species level in Java and from the chain of islands off west Sumatra – the Barusan Islands, stretching from Simeulue to Enggano.

The Foreword to the second edition reminds us that the taxonomic studies that have resulted in such splits and the necessity of “inventing” new English names is ongoing, and that there are likely to be future taxonomic insights relevant to this part of the world that include species such as junglefowl, redshanks, swiftlets, leaf warblers and shortwings. Indeed, Heinrichia Heinrichia calligyna, previously known as Great Shortwing, probably involves 3-4 species, all endemic to the mountain tops of Indonesia. Like the cuckoo-doves, and some of the other polytypic species that were split in the first edition (including boobooks, whistlers, leaf warblers, drongos, fantails and myzomelas), various species covered by this guide seem destined to be subjected to more taxonomic shake-ups in the near future. Indeed, some of the named species have still to be formally described, such as Mount Mutis Parrotfinch Erythrurua sp.

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The book contains some unverified splits, such as Black-headed Kingfisher Actenoides capucinus and Flores Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus floresianus (see Collar & Donald 2020) and it may seem to some users that the authors have tended to split too many taxa, but there are many taxa here that have not been recognised as full species, even though they have been split elsewhere, including Tricoloured Grebe Tachybaptus tricolor, Eastern Cattle Egret Ardea coromanda, the drongo cuckoos Surniculus spp., Javan Broadbill Eurylaimums javanicus, various serpent-eagles Spilornis spp., Eastern Grass Owl Tyto longimembris, Sunda Scops Owl Otus lempiji, Plain-backed Kingfisher Actenoides regalis, Morotai Pitta Pitta morotaiensis, Striated Swallow Cecropis striolata, and Nias Hill Myna Gracula robusta, whilst Sulawesi, Sula and Kai Cicadabirds (split in the first edition) have been lumped as Common Cicadabird Edolisoma tenruiostris. One thing that seems a little irregular with regard to this guide is that Lynx would publish field guides that do not follow the HBW and BirdLife International Checklist of the Birds of the World, since Lynx is the major proponent of this evolving world list, although personally I do not have a problem with most of the taxonomic decisions followed by Eaton et al.

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Finally, it should be noted that the second edition includes a 23-page list of Indonesian bird names which will certainly help some users, and that an Indonesian-language version of this guide is being prepared.

The second edition of Birds of the Indonesian Archipelago is a first-rate field guide and essential for anyone visiting any part of Borneo or the numerous Indonesian islands stretching from Sumatra and Java to Sulawesi, Timor, Halmahera or the Tanimbar Islands. The authors’ vast experience of the region’s birds has provided us with an indispensable field guide that should not only encourage more visitors to this remarkably diverse region, but one that will become the standard field guide until the next edition arrives. It may also encourage users to search for some of the 'missing species' that have not been reliably seen for tens of years, such as Rück's Blue Flycatcher Cyornis ruckii, and Dulit Partridge Rhizothera dulitensis.

Whilst owners of the first edition may be tempted to use that guide instead of the second edition, they are significantly different, and it would be well worthwhile getting the second edition if you are visiting the parts of the Oriental region covered by this guide.


Scientific papers mentioned above

Akbar, P.G., Nugroho, T. W., Suranto, M., Fauzan, M.R., Ferdiansyah, D., Trisiyanto, J.S. & Yong, D.L. (2020) Missing for 170 years—the rediscovery of Black-browed Babbler Malacocincla perspicillata on Borneo. Birding Asia 34:13-14.

Collar, N.J. & Donald, P.F. (2020) Taxonomic insights on Asian birds published in 2018. BirdingAsia 34: 27-46.

Lim, H.C., Gawin, D.F., Shakya, S.B., Harvey, M.G., Rahman, M.A. & Sheldon, F.H. (2017) Sundaland’s east-west rain forest population structure: variable manifestations in four polytypic bird species examined using RAD-Seq and plumage analyses. J. Biogeogr. 44: 2259-2271.

Shakya, S.B., Irham, M., Brady, M.L., Haryoko, T., Fitriana, Y.S., Johnson, O., Rahman, M.A., Robi, N.J., Moyle, R.G., Prawiradilaga, D.M, & Sheldon, F.H. (2020) Observations on the relationships of some Sundaic passerine taxa (Aves: Passeriformes) previously unavailable for molecular phylogenetic study. J. Ornithology 161: 651–664.

Shakya, S.B., Lim, H.C., Moyle, R.G., Rahman, M.A., Lakim, M. & Sheldon, F.H. (2019) A cryptic new species of bulbul from Borneo. Bull. Brit. Orn. Club 139: 46-55.

Yue, A.Y, Ng. E.Y.X., Eaton, J. A., & Rheindt, F.E. (2020) Species limits in the Elegant Pitta (Pitta elegans) complex from Wallacea based on bioacoustic and morphometric analysis. Avian Research 11:42.

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