Something I like to do before birding abroad is create a large print, quick index for the book’s inside cover. Yes, the book comes with a terminal index, usually in tiny print and lengthy, which is to say, awkward in the field while fumbling for glasses and flipping pages. Some books have pictorial quick indexes; small pictures of birds with page numbers on the inside cover. I find these excruciating to use unless I am very, very familiar with the birds; like at the end of the trip. Here are the first few lines of an index I made for travel to Borneo. It was three columns and fits inside the front cover of the book. The name corresponds to bird groups, the number to page.
Having a quick index inside the cover speeds up finding the correct plate, and the process of making it increases my familiarity with the book and its organization. Arguably, birds in field guides are generally arranged in taxonomic order, but not all authors strictly follow this, preferring to group similar appearing species on the same plates for ease of identification. Also, when in a new location there may be families whose taxonomic affiliations are unfamiliar to the user. Regardless, I find that having a large print, easy to read, alphabetically arranged index at the front of the book invaluable. I’ve included my index from Phillipps and Phillipps, Birds of Borneo on the trip report page (here) if you’d like an example.
To make a quick index I typically leaf from one end of the book to the other typing the family or group names and page (or plate) numbers into a spreadsheet (like Excel) where they can be quickly alphabetized. I tend to include more rather than less at this point, all the major families plus any odd species or small groups that look difficult. Large difficult families are often broken up into useful groups by the authors, a helpful arrangement I’ll repeat in my index. I then move it to a Word document for cell and page layout. Large fonts and bolding, cell borders, margin sizes, and color can improve readability, but it is whatever works for your eye, so try some different formats and print a few drafts. If tight for space, families of birds most likely to stand still can be simplified. For example, herons, egrets, spoonbills, and ibis work under one heading if they fall sequentially in the book. I usually print a draft copy for my pre-trip studying so I’ll pick up any errors. The final is then printed on letter sized label paper (white and sticky backed) so it is easily applied. You can expose as much or as little sticky back as you want for application to the book, you don’t have to stick it down so much you can’t remove it later. Note that some indices can be found on line, for example, John van der Woulde’s web page has a great selection available for download http://home-1.worldonline.nl/~jvanderw/indexesfieldguides.html or via John van der Woude’s web page at www.jvanderw.nl (great trip reports too).