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.
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.
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.
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!
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.