The Stans (Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan)…those mysterious enclaves in the heart of the Asian continent have been somewhat of a natural history mystery for ages. Communism, radical jihad, conflicts, and just plain tribal shenanigans have all conspired to hindered the unfettered access of those wishing to chronicle the region’s unique wildlife and birds. There have been an intrepid few that dared enter into the heart of the continent. Grigory Grumm-Grzhimaylo was one of those hardy few. The Russian naturalist explored Central Asia between 1884 and 1890, and he covered at least 5400 miles. He traveled the Silk Road into the Alai Mountains and the mighty Tien Shan range. Grumm-Grzhimaylo collected over 1000 bird specimens and almost uncountable insects. His contribution to the natural history of Central Asia cannot be overstated, and his adventure is one that I dream to experience for myself.
Now with the release of the Birds of Central Asia from Princeton University Press, I began to dream of the high plateaus, deserts, forests, and jagged peaks of the region (all of which remind me of Montana). I imagine working hard to catch glimpses of Himalayan Snowcock, or spotting regal Steppe Eagles circling overhead. Birding along the Silk Road, a modern-day Marco Polo with binoculars, such are the nature of the daydreams.
The guide itself follows the standard Princeton format with informative text on the left page, and accompanying illustration printed on the opposite page. The text is generally concise with key identification attributes in bold text. As far as the voice subsection goes, I have never been a fan of phonetics, but how else can you describe the vocalizations of a bird in print? The illustrations, for the most part, are adequate, although they can appear to be cartoonish at times and too granular in other circumstances.
My minor quips aside, I found the Birds of Central Asia to be another excellent field guide from Princeton University Press. You may never get to the Tien Shan, but you can always dream, and this text is this dreamer’s new friend.