January 22, 2016

BirdingMongolia Review #2

Osao Ujihara & Michiaki Ujihara 2015:
An Identification Guide to the Ducks of Japan

Among the community of worldwide gull watchers the name Ujihara is strongly connected to their brilliant website about gulls (see sidebar for a link) and to all, who wondered why there had been no updates since a while, here comes the answer: The authors, Osao Ujihara and his son Michiaki Ujihara, have switched from gull studies to studying ducks, and on 2 November 2015 their new book “An Identification Guide to the Ducks of Japan” (ISBN 978-4-416-71557-4) has been released. It is written in Japanese and “westerners” might wonder whether it would be worth buying it. To cut a long story short: Yes, buy it!

My statement probably needs some foundation which will follow below.

Both authors have studied ducks in detail for 30(!) years now. Mostly, they observed wild individuals but captive birds of known age had also been scrutinized. Several online galleries had been used widely during the preparation of this book and the authors have travelled to North America to complete their knowledge about ducks. As being well-trained from many years of gull watching, they were sharp-eyed enough to discover even a new field mark to tell Eurasian Teal from Green-winged Teal. This new criterion for the ID of these notoriously difficult-to-identify twin species can, of course, be found in the species account of their new book.

The book contains details on the plumages of no less than 46 species of duck, including Lesser Whistling Duck, Common Shelduck, Ruddy Shelduck, and even Crested Shelduck. This means that all species ever been recorded (or claimed) in Japan are dealt with on a total of 303 pages.

Page 4 to 15 serve a s a quick guide by showing all species standing and in flight, in male and female plumages so that a quick glimpse to these pages will lead the observer to the (hopefully right) species account. The introduction (p 16 to p 30) treats the general layout of the species accounts, duck topography, the development of the plumage from duckling to adult with lots of photographs, examples of plumage aberrations, and much more.

The species accounts give the Japanese, scientific and English names of the species. A distribution map informs about the species’ breeding and, if not resident, wintering ranges. This is followed by a text (useless if you cannot read Japanese) which informs about the general features of the species, its distribution, habitat, behavior and voice before a detailed description regarding the identification of each plumage is given.

Despite the fact that the text is of little use to westerners, for the ID process, the main parts are the illustrations and photographs anyway. Each species has been painted by the authors and the illustrations are both very modern and accurate (means you can even trust the colour of the irides!). All that is needed for a thorough duck ID and hence also for any kind of related research, is shown and one even can tell the differences between different feather generations.

Some of the photographs from the Baikal Teal chapter
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Illustration of the plumages of Falcated Duck
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Illustration of the plumages of Baer’s Pochard
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Each chapter (apart from the one about the probably extinct Crested Shelduck) is also accompanied by three (species that are very rare in Japan: Lesser Whistling Duck, Cotton Pygmy Goose, Steller’s and Common Eiders, Barrow’s Goldeneye) to 30 (American Wigeon), but usually 8 to 10 photographs. In total, 639 photographs have been published, of which only 40 had not been taken by the authors (all those used by other photographers are quoted below each photo). Almost 90% of the pictures are from Japan and c14% of the shots show captive individuals.

Illustration of the plumages of Common Goldeneye
© O. Ujihara & M. Ujihara

Captions for illustrations and photographs likewise contain plumage abbreviations in English, so all readers will be able to understand what the respective picture is all about. Whenever necessary, feathers important for either identifying the species or the age or the sex of the bird in question are shown in additional illustrations and/or photographs.

Intermingled between the species accounts readers will find additional chapters, i.e. about male-like plumaged females (p 157 to p 163) or about the many duck hybrids which are shown in paintings as well as photographs (p 147 to p 156 for dabbling ducks plus p 296 to p 300 for diving ducks).

As a conservationist I would have liked a more thorough treatment of hybrids between the critically endangered Baer’s Pochard and other species, as it seems increasingly likely to come across such hybrids. However, hybrids are unprecedentedly well covered by this book and with this set of excellent illustrations of “pure” birds it should be possible now to track down the odd hybrid carrying genes of Baer’s!

As the book shows rare species for European and American readers, buyers from both continents will surely benefit from purchasing it.

There is, of course, a major caveat: The text is in Japanese and this will be a bit discouraging for Non-Japanese birdwatchers. With a little cross-referencing it should however be possible to navigate through the vast information given. Nowadays it should be possible to put an English version on the market, especially as the book is currently only available for Kindle (c28€/c30US$). This is a well made book which deserves a much wider distribution and an English version would guarantee this.

Congratulations to the authors! And a heartfelt Thank You for their permission to show the title page and illustrations from their book here!

If you are interested, please go to Amazon Japan.

Unfortunately, the paperback version of this book is already out of stock and it is unclear when more will be printed.

Andreas Buchheim

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