“Always accept a cup of tea, unless you are going to miss your flight home, and even if you don’t take sugar.” –Birds of the Middle East, Code of Conduct, p. 13
Recently released by Princeton University Press, the second edition of Birds of the Middle East by Richard Porter and Simon Aspinall is a must-have for birders wishing to visit the Arabian Peninsula, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, or Cyprus. The guide covers over 800 species, arranged with color plates on the right and text on the left. The text includes physical descriptions and descriptions of habitat and voice. Range maps are displayed directly to the left of the text and specify whether the species is a resident, migrant breeder, or seen in passage/winter only.
This field guide became my faithful companion on my recent ten day trip to Israel, where I visited Haifa and Akka (also called Akko). The format of the guide is reminiscent of National Geographic’s Field Guide to the Birds of North America, and I found it easy to use because of this familiarity. Also of note is a table comparing various aspects (wing-tips, bill, leg color, and status) of large white-headed gulls. Although I did not have much time to pick through gulls along the Mediterranean, I would imagine this table is immensely helpful in narrowing down gull identifications.
Perhaps least helpful were the vocal descriptions. They were minimal and often included phrases comparing the song to another species, which isn’t too helpful if you’re not familiar with most of the species in the Middle East. That said, the authors acknowledge the “limitations of phonetic transcription” (12). They suggest acquiring a sound guide or using internet recordings.
I highly recommend this field guide to any birder, beginner or advanced, visiting the Middle East. Most of the plates are true to life and the physical description thorough. More importantly, the information is packaged in a user-friendly format.