An era of phenomenal photographic field guides is dawning, its golden rays finally extending all the way to the blue-water beaches of the Caribbean islands. Only last year, I declared Birds of the West Indies by Herbert Raffaele to be the finest field guide to the entire region. Visitors to Jamaica would still do well to purchase that excellent reference but not until they’ve invested in the new leading guide, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica.
A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica by Ann Haynes-Sutton, Audrey Downer, Robert Sutton, and Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet is quite simply magnificent. The guide covers every bird species in Jamaica through as detailed species accounts describing key identification features, voice, habitat, confusion species, status, and distribution. What makes this guide shine, however, are the 650 crisp, clear, vivid, and uncannily accurate color photographs.
The photographer Yves-Jacques Rey-Millet has fulfilled the promise so many photo field guides fail to attain: images that are actually more useful than painted illustrations. Most bird watchers are familiar with the frustration that results from trying to match a poor photograph to a bird in the field, particularly a female of juvenile of a dimorphic species. Yet, A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica depicts every bird with remarkable clarity often through just a single image but employing as many as four when necessary. I love Raffaele’s illustrated guide, but to be honest, I didn’t even recognize my first Jamaican Vireo in the field against the image in that book. This photographic guide, on the other hand, offers perfect representations of the vireo in all its big-headed glory, along with the elaenias, euphonias, and solitaires that prove troublesome in previous works.
A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica possesses an unimpeachable pedigree. Ann Sutton and her late husband Robert are probably the most famous names in Jamaican birding (after James Bond, of course!) Ms. Sutton remains intimately connected to nearly everything of ornithological import on the island. Audrey Downer, another renowned Jamaican ornithologist and nature writer, co-authored the original version of this guide with Robert Sutton.
In conclusion, this book, published by Princeton University Press, is simply the best one could ask for when watching the birds of Jamaica. If A Photographic Guide to the Birds of Jamaica has any flaws, I haven’t found them yet. In fact, this small, power-packed publication seems to me like the paragon of what a photo field guide encompassing as many of 300 species should aspire to. If we’re lucky, we’ll see more guides like these in the near future.