The Birds of Trinidad & Tobago
When it comes to illustrated guides, realism is generally the name of the game. This makes sense given the subject matter and intended use, however not all field guides were illustrated by professional artists and sometimes it shows beautifully.
Given the number of early guides illustrated by experts in their fields, I imagine it’s quite a challenge to outsource anything so specialized as the knowledge of all birds of a particular region.
I’d also guess many of the earliest guides were made by their authors for the very reason that no other person could at the time. At least, I suspect this was probably true for ornithologist Geoffrey A.C. Herklots and his incomplete but quirky book The Birds of Trinidad & Tobago.
The edition shown here is a 1965 reprinting of the first edition published by Collins of London in 1961, featuring the bright-orange dust-jacket and cloth-binding of the original.
As was typical of guides at that time, the book is largely made up of detailed text descriptions, with a dozen or so double-sided plates depicting noteworthy birds from the breast up.
Included within the text are line-drawings by Jackson M. Abbott, as well as a number of black-&-white paintings that group birds of a similar kind together.
While not exactly photographic in their depictions, the illustrations from both Herklots and Abbott make up for with character what they lack in realism. The birds breathe life in spite of the ironic fact they were probably shot dead out of the sky before being drawn.
Nevertheless, the art is affectionately rendered with the kind of empathy that an animator would give to his cartoon characters, and this lends the book an artistic appeal absent from most field guides.
About the Author and illustrator
Geoffrey A.C. Herklots was a British botanist, ornithologist and author of several illustrated books on various subjects, including one other ornithological work, Hong Kong Birds. He also had an orchid named after him — Eria herklotsii — which is a hard flex indeed.
Jackson M. Abbott was an American painter and Lieutenant Colonel stationed in Trinidad during the war, who offered his field notes and sketches to be included in the book. He has a wetland in Virginia named after him. Boom. Atomic flex!
I picked up my copy for c$19.99 in a used bookstore in Toronto and found inside it a purchase receipt from 1968 and a type-written letter from an assistant curator at the Royal Ontario Museum’s ornithology department, recommending the book to one Dr. Bruce Charles (the book’s original owner).
Thanks for keeping it nice, Bruce — it will be well taken care of.