Safariosophy Reviews… Faansie’s Bird Book

Our cubs are going to be birdwatchers. Right from the beginning. Sure, they’re not even born yet, but I’m already working every angle to ensure their future as bird nerds. While other babies look at board books that teach them to say ‘cat’ or ‘puppy’ or ‘cow,’ ours will be learning ‘crested barbet’ and ‘lilac breasted roller.’ While we’re at it, ‘black throated wattle eye’ and ‘chestnut vented tit babbler.’ If you’re going to do something, do it properly.

They’ll be the obnoxious four year olds on a safari who know EVERYTHING. “Sorry Mr. Safari Guide, but that’s not actually an olive thrush — look at the MALAR STRIPES.

Pretty pretty malar stripes…

Or they’ll rebel against me in the ultimate way and won’t care about nature and will instead be interested in creepy dolls and pointless iPad games. *shudders at the thought*

But I’ll give it my all. And now I’ve got the best possible weapon at my disposal: Faansie’s Bird Book.

And here it is…

Before this book was launched a few weeks ago, I had already purchased a few bird books for the babies. Struik’s ‘My First Book of Southern African Birds Volumes 1 and 2’ are lovely books with big bold pictures and facts in Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans, as well as English. We’ll get a lot of use out of them for sure. But they’re limited. SO limited. What happens when we’re out birding and we hear our first scaly throated honeyguide? That’s not in the books, along with about 680 other birds we could come across as we adventure through Southern Africa.

I could hand the kids my copy of Roberts (okay, one of my many copies of Roberts) or let them play with the excellent app, but that’s a little… boring. Do they really want to know that the yellow breasted apalis gleams 81% of its food items from leaves? Probably not. Yet.

I imagine they’ll want to know how cool a bird is, how many points it scores for rare it is, whether it’s likely to try and steal food from the braai and whether it pees on itself. That kind of thing.

White headed vulture. Passes for ‘cool?’ Definitely.

Faansie Peacock, the birding legend behind Chamberlain’s LBJ’s, saw a much needed gap in the market for a full sized, totally comprehensive (he rightfully calls it ‘fully fledged’) field guide that doesn’t over complicate things and makes birds super fun. Even larks. Faansie’s Bird Book is as big and has as many pages as the rest of my ‘adult’ bird books. 722 birds in total. In that sense, I feel like this book treats kids with the dignity they deserve for being tiny humans who can absorb more information than we as adults could ever dream to. It doesn’t talk down to them.

It’s fully fledged y’all…

Instead of ordering the birds in the book based on the latest DNA discoveries, the book is divided into sections that make sense, like runners, sleepers, suckers and plungers. Like, ‘what’s that bird doing? It’s walking? Cool, let’s try the walkers section first.’ The sections are colour coded too. If that’s too complicated, the whole book uses the rough size of a dove as a benchmark. Is the bird bigger than a dove? It should be somewhere in the first half of the book. Smaller? Try the second half. Winning.

Scattered throughout the book are little snippets of information and quick questions designed to make kids think about what they’re seeing. Faansie’s brilliant drawings of each of the birds really help to highlight the defining features and subtle differences that lead to frustration-free identification. I’ve already used the book to successfully settle a rock thrush identification issue. Faansie makes it clear and simple. Thanks for that.

Wattled Starlings without the wattles. Makes identification that little bit trickier, but this book’s got that covered…

As a competitive little bunny, I’m crazy about the points system in the book’s ‘Bird Nerd Game.’ I’m yet to tally up the points from my own life list, but I’m going to. I’m curious, okay? Kids can even take their point totals and post them to Faansie’s official website where they can see how they compare to other tiny twitchers. I love this! And my kids will WIN. #overachievingmiddleclassmom

Yellow Billed Oxpeckers. The children shall twitch these. 4 points.

But let’s just cross out the ‘for kids’ bit in the title for a moment. I’m a FGASA Level 3 safari guide and I’ve learned new things I’ll be able to share with safari guests, whilst paging through this book. And I can already see the ‘Cisticola Help File’ on page 349 replacing two of my LBJ books. Everyone needs a Cisticola Help File. Also, separating the ‘creepy crawly warblers’ from the ‘woodland warblers’ and ‘wetland warblers?’ Genius. And very, very helpful, especially for someone who still has a tendency to give up on warblers rather than take the time to work through the possibilities.

Even better, my boyfriend insists he’s not a birder, but admits his experience with this book is turning him. He likes that the Pel’s fishing owl we saw a few months back gets him 20 points. And the way the birds are organized in the book makes way more sense to him than Sasol or Roberts ever will. It’s meant he can jump straight to the ‘favourites’ section and start brushing up on the exciting and colourful birds that act as gateway birds, eventually leading to full-on addiction. This book has given me a birding buddy for life. Yay! I’m sure we’d both agree that we’ll be happy to be seen in any bird hide with this book in our hands, even if the kidlets aren’t with us.

We’re expecting twins, so we’ve bought them each a copy. People always expect twins to share stuff – birthday parties and personalities and matchy matchy clothes, but they’re their own little people, and they’ll inevitably have their own bird lists. Sharing a bird guide is totally out of the question. So we already have the books, but the question is now whether those books will survive mom and dad’s thorough usage until the kids have hands big enough to grip them. Probably not. And then we’ll be happy to buy two more copies. And when the kids have chewed up those, we’ll gladly buy two more.

Front and back…

Final verdict?

I have dozens and dozens of wildlife guide books. And not one has come close to impressing me like this one has. That’s why I’m writing about it. Buy it for the littles in your life. Or for yourself. And whether you’re a new birder or a total expert, you’re not going to be disappointed. I promise.

Where to get your little mittens on one (or three): Buy direct from the author himself at www.faansiepeacock.com. Each book is R490 including delivery in South Africa, which is truly bargainous. If you buy two copies, it’s R880 and if you buy 3 (like we did) you’ll save R200 and pay R1270.

Happy birding, kidlets!

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