One of the many things I enjoy doing when travelling abroad is to browse at bookshops, be it the big boys like Borders and Kinokuniya, to the more humble and domestic / local book stores. I can usually be found either in the law section (boring) or in the nature section comprising plants and animals. I usually enjoy browsing through the local publications, notwithstanding the language barrier as they are often a treasure trove of information. In my last trip to Bangkok, I ended up with 15 pocket sized books on different types of of plants. I may not be able to read them, but as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.
During my recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, I made a beeline for Kinokuniya at KLCC because they usually carry a pretty good selection of books on both botany and zoology. I ended up with 2 books, one of which is apparently out of print and can only be found in selected bookstores. Butterflies of Borneo & SE Asia by Kazuhisa Otsuka, 2001 is essentially a hardback field guide to the most frequently seen butterfly species in Borneo and South East Asia. It has vivid descriptions and insightful behavioural observations which are accompanied by 650 colour photographs to bring to life a selection of 200 butterfly species. It is a pretty good guide for beginners, but perhaps less useful for field work because unlike other guides, the species are not presented in taxonomic order, but by habitat and environment. According to the author, this makes the book more practical and handy. Where a particular species is found in a wide range of environments, the author has categorised it by placing it in the area where they are most commonly observed. I am not sure how effective this is.
Kazuhisa Otsuka was born in Tokyo in 1936, where he is now a staff member of the research institute on evoluntionary biology. His research on butterflies has taken him to Taiwan, Madagascar, Galapagos, Himalayas, Andes and of course, South East Asia. He started studying Borneo's butterflies in 1976. He was also sent to Sabah by the Japan International Cooperation Agency to assist the Board of Trustees of the Sabah Parks from December 1997 to December 1999 and was involved in collecting specimens and in training programmes for the Kinabalu Park's staff.
Another great book for beginners to the world of insects is DK's Handbook on Insects by George McGavin. We all love DK's publications and illustrations because they provide just about the information you need without being too wordy, plus it contains loads of photos, illustrations and quick facts. This book covers over 500 insects, spiders and other terrestrial arthropods but focuses mainly on 300 of the main insect families and covers the incredible diversity of the group, complete with clear photos, precise annotations and detailed descriptions which will help the beginner identify different insects quickly and easily. It also covers everything from chief characteristics including physical features to life-cycle, habitat and larval stages. It's pocket size makes this book handy and perfect for nature lovers on a hike in the woods.
The last 2 books on my recommendation list relate to birds. The first which I got from Borders in Singapore is yet another DK publication called 'Bird, the Definitive Visual Guide" It seeks to be an informative and comprehensive visual guide, aimed at being a great compendium for bird aficionados and avian neophytes alike. More than 1000 species are profiled in the book's huge catalogue, which contains descriptions and thousands of photographs of a worldwide selection of birds, as well as up-to-date data on classification, distribution and endangerment as compiled by Birdlife International , the leading global authority on the state of the world's bird populations. While it aims to be the most compelling and awe-inspiring guide of its kind, I feel that it lacks detail. Still, it is a must have for any beginner, even though it costs SGD 74.90.
A much more affordable alternative (SGD 47) is the 'Encyclopedia on Birds' by Christopher Perrins. It lives up to its title as this is fairly thick publication by the Oxford University Press. Whilst it is not arranged in the exciting DK style, it is a more compelling reference guide as it provides quite a lot of detail. In my view, this is the definitive single-volume guide to the birds of the world. It is written by a team of renowned biologists and conservationists and offers accessible coverage of every family - their form and function, distribution, diet, social behaviour, and breeding biology - giving special attention to environmental and conservation issues. The Encyclopedia's clear, readable text is supplemented by a wealth of photographs showing the wide diversity of birds in their natural habitat, as well as beautifully detailed illustrations depicting representative species in each family. In addition 'Factfile' panels throughout the book, with distribution maps and scale drawings, put key data at the reader's fingertips, ensuring that this comprehensive reference work will appeal to amateur birdwatchers and student and professional ornithologists alike. You can find this at Page One, VivoCity.