Birds of Prey of Georgia. Materials towards a Fauna of Georgia. Issue VI. 218 pages, 2 maps and many tables. Tbilisi, Georgia: Institute of Zoology, Ilia State University, 2013. Paperback, no price given, ISBN 978-9941-0-5397-9. Contact email (author): firstname.lastname@example.org.
The republic of Georgia has only recently been put in the spotlight and brought to the attention of bird of prey enthusiasts worldwide with the establishment of the Batumi Raptor Count project (http://www.batumiraptorcount.org), which has documented the previously unknown scale of raptor migration along the Eastern Black Sea flyway. However, Georgia has a lot more to offer with respect to birds of prey than just this impressive migration. For such a small country, it hosts a high diversity of breeding raptors and is also important as a staging and wintering area for several raptor species. Georgian scientists are, of course, well aware of this. Alexander Abuladze has been actively researching the Falconiformes of Georgia for over 40 years and a large part of his life's work is here summarized as the first thorough overview of the country's raptors. Until now, only the field guide Raptors and Owls of Georgia (Gálvez, R.A et al. 2005; reviewed in Ibis 147: 852–853) existed; the information provided in that guide on raptor distribution and population trends is limited to what would be considered appropriate for birdwatchers using the guide rather than being of great interest to scientists.
The preface of Birds of Prey of Georgia provides a detailed summary of population trends and some general information on migration and wintering. It also announces several other planned publications on birds of prey in Georgia, each of them dedicated to a specific theme: migration, wintering and their conservation. The current issue is principally focused on the breeding raptors and their biology.
Individual species accounts make up most of the book. For every raptor species ever recorded in the territory of Georgia, Abuladze provides an in-depth overview of all available data on their occurrence, population size, breeding success and diet. Almost all of the data come from the author himself. Probably the most valuable feature of this book is not only that it presents the content of many articles published in Russian to English readers, but that it finally brings together all the different data collected on various field trips and presents them here systematically. To emphasize that this is not the work of one individual, the author is meticulous in acknowledging in some detail the contributions made by a large number of friends and colleagues.
This is clearly not a field guide, or an atlas, as the author simply lists the different regions where the species occur. Readers who are not acquainted with the geography of Georgia may have difficulty visualizing the species' distributions. Nevertheless, despite being a little dry in its presentation and not in perfect English (although this is unlikely to cause major problems of interpretation), the book is a detailed and very informative reference on the biology of the country's breeding raptors.
A History of Polish Birds. 226 pages; numerous black-and-white and a few coloured illustrations, 3 tables and 3 appendices. Krakow: Institute of Systematics and Evolution of Animals (Polish Academy of Sciences), 2012. Hardback, €30.00 (Europe), €40.00 (other countries), ISBN: 978-83-61358-44-2. Website: http://www.isez.pan.krakow.pl., &
This unique monograph of the fossil birds from Poland is the result of many years of work by its three authors, started by the late Zygmunt Bocheński and successfully continued by his son Zbigniew Bocheński and Teresa Tomek. It is important to emphasize that most of the results presented come from their own studies.
The book is essentially divided into three parts. The Introduction presents the history of studies of Poland's palaeoavifauna, brief assumptions and the results of those studies. There is also a detailed list of localities and their distribution, their stratigraphy and results of absolute dating against the background of chronological divisions of Poland from the Palaeogene to the Holocene, according to various authors. This part is very important for readers from other countries. The data are also summarized in three tables.
The next and largest part of the publication is the descriptive summary of all the bird taxa from Poland, many of them illustrated in black and white. Each taxon description, besides the scientific name, includes the acronyms and description of localities, chronology of the strata where the bird remains were found, the history of studies conducted and information about literature sources as well as the taxon's status in the past and now.
A four-page summary of the most important results from detailed studies makes up the third part. The picture of the past distribution and occurrence of the birds in Poland reflects the fact that most data on the fossil avifauna come from cave localities where the deposition of the remains was often associated with the activity of predators or man; such localities are mainly located in the Krakow-Wieluń Upland, the Carpathians, the Sudetes and the Świętokrzyskie Mountains. As a result, only about a dozen taxa dominate in the palaeoavifauna of Poland from the Neogene and Pleistocene localities; the remaining taxa are less abundantly represented and many that certainly occurred in Poland were not found as fossils. Likewise, among the localities from the period between the Holocene and the Middle Ages, most were associated with human settlements in the environs of rivers and lakes. The result is an uneven distribution of localities and lack of data from many parts of the country. In total, 257 bird taxa have been described from Poland, 28 of them now extinct. Most data come from the end of the Pleistocene and from the Holocene. This part of the book also discusses the extinct taxa and species whose occurrence in Poland was short-lived, as well as the first appearances of these taxa and members of the extant fauna in the fossil record. A supplement to the chapter comprises a summary of abundance of bird taxa of different families in each chronological period, a list of references and three appendices. The first appendix contains the chronology of occurrence of the bird taxa in Poland, the second an alphabetical list of all the localities, their acronyms, distribution and literature references, and the third a table of acronyms with their full names, location and references.
A History of Polish Birds is the first comprehensive account of all the available data on the fossil and recent bird fauna of Poland. Previously, most of the information was scattered among numerous papers that were hard to access, this being mainly true of archaeological sites from the Holocene up to the Middle Ages. Furthermore, the data were mostly published in Polish and thus inaccessible to many foreign scientists. Because of its geographical position and geological history Poland is important from the point of view of the evolution and palaeogeography of birds and other faunas. The publication is hence very valuable, and I think it will be repeatedly cited and used not only by numerous ornithologists and palaeo-ornithologists, but also by specialists representing other branches of science, as well as others interested in the topic.
Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology. xiv + 444 pages, colour illustrations. Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013. Hardback, US$35.00, £25.00, ISBN 978-0-674-07255-8. Website: http://www.hup.harvard.edu.&
This book is a timely tribute to the great Alexander Wilson, appearing in the bicentennial of his death. His life has been well covered by previous authors so thankfully most of these details are summarized in the second chapter: his early years in Scotland, emigration to the USA, employment as a school teacher and subsequent obsession with producing an illustrated book on the birds of his adopted country – a task that fully occupied him until his death in 1813, at the age of 47.
The bulk of the book, and the most important part, is the 216-page third chapter that shows how Wilson went about illustrating his multi-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814) and includes a portion of Wilson's text for each species that is presented. All known drawings and paintings by Wilson are gathered together for the first time, some of which were discovered in the archives of the Paisley Library and amongst descendants of Wilson's colourists. It is a wonder that so many have survived, as they were produced only to allow the engraver to complete the plates; indeed, Wilson would often cut them up or use the reverse side for additional work. For each drawing there is a short commentary covering various topics, perhaps giving an explanation for the presence of glue marks or iron oxide and the way each was used in the process of preparing plates. At other times, the authors refer to Wilson's details of plumage and structure, comment on his use of coloured inks, compare drawings with proof plates, or discuss his development as an illustrator and his progression from subjects on simple perches to the more complex backgrounds of his later work. Although they do not say so, the artwork is presented chronologically, in the same random order that Wilson used. This whole section is so fascinating it deserved to be in a larger format to display the artwork and plates at or near their original size, and perhaps improve the unhelpful layout and allow the commentary to appear less often on a preceding page or overleaf.
Another chapter covers Wilson as a pioneer ornithologist in North America: the first to adopt the Linnaean system there, the first to provide quantitative data, the first to tackle the economic value of birds, as well as covering a larger portion of the USA and including more birds than any previous author. For his ground-breaking volumes he had to study bird behaviour, acquire specimens, make drawings, compile text, hand-colour tens of thousands of bird engravings when he couldn't afford to hire colourists, and travel thousands of miles seeking subscribers. The last chapter concerns Wilson's legacy: the achievements of a few succeeding North American ornithologists (Audubon, Ord, Bonaparte, Nuttall, Brewer, Baird and Coues).
In conclusion, there are two appendices. On the Shoulders of Giants: Wilson's Predecessors provides short biographies of Catesby, Edwards, Forster, Linnaeus, Pennant and others whose publications would have been available to Wilson in the Philadelphia libraries. Their work on North American birds (mostly from specimens sent to Europe) provides an outline early history of North American ornithology (though it was a surprise to read that ‘In 1780 Captain Cook and his companions returned from their third voyage into the northern Pacific and the Arctic Ocean.’). Appendix B, Wilson's Contemporaries and Correspondents, consists of biographical sketches of six ornithologists (Bewick, Brisson, Brünnich, Latham, Pallas and Vieillot) and 14 correspondents, including Charles Willson Peale, Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson.
There is rather too much repetition between chapters and appendices, and certain points are repeated too frequently. Burtt and Davis's claim that Wilson was unique in the way he observed birds in the field is surely contradicted by the highly accurate observations of J. A. Naumann, Gilbert White and other European naturalists. Neither was Wilson the only early ornithologist to keep birds in captivity to study plumage. George Montagu habitually kept wildfowl, waders and other birds for this purpose but he is not mentioned anywhere, perhaps because his Ornithological Dictionary and Supplement (1802, 1813) were not available to Wilson (the result of British blockades).
The authors are to be congratulated for bringing together Wilson's surviving artwork and giving him the honour he deserves as the Father of American Ornithology.
The Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World, 4th edn. Volume 1 Non-Passerines. l + 461 pages, tables and 1 figure + CD. Eastbourne: Aves Press, 2013. Hardback, £60.00 (+£7.50 p&p), ISBN 978-0-9568611-0-8. Website: http://www.avespress.com.& (eds)
The fourth edition of the Howard & Moore (H&M) world checklist first published in 1980 is a substantially new publication recognizably building on its immediate predecessor (reviewed in Ibis 146: 366–368). In the last few decades there have been many single-volume world checklists, some catering for specialist markets and others with less clear objectives. In 2003, the third edition of H&M set new standards for such lists and the fourth edition again raises the bar. The editors pitch H&M at the more academic reader and reference is frequently made to Peters’ 16-volume Check-list, now very out of date. H&M has become the intellectual successor to Peters and it deserves to gain wide use with its detailed documentation and clear presentation. However, the price of what will be a two-volume set (£140 plus postage) will undoubtedly restrict sales to general readers.
A tidal wave of phylogenetic studies in the last decade has brought a revolution to our understanding of the higher-level relationships of birds. Taxa previously regarded as quite distantly related have been brought together in new classifications and some major groups have been split asunder. Once again, familiar arrangements in field guides are in turmoil. Although this is work in progress, an introductory chapter by Joel Cracraft expertly draws together recent research and explains the major changes, highlighting strengths or weaknesses in analyses and discussing the support for various proposals. This accessible overview leads to a classification presented in a table and a phylogenetic tree, which provide the structure for the main part of the book.
The core of the volume is the list of birds to subspecies level. Details are given of tribe, subfamily and family, but not the higher levels – order, in particular, would have been useful. For this, the reader needs to refer to Cracraft's table. Authorship and date are provided for all generic, species and subspecies names, but not references to original descriptions or a synonymy. Many historical subspecies were named on slight differences and much work is needed to remove those that fail to meet a rigorous level of diagnosability. Although the editors have made a start on this for the Western Hemisphere (based largely on the Birds of North America series), the subspecies included in H&M otherwise draw heavily on the Handbook of the Birds of the World (HBW).
The editors have used an ‘updated version of the Biological Species Concept’. Although a couple of references are given, it would have been helpful if they had summarized this updating. Similarly, their operational procedure for the delimiting of allopatric species was comparison with ‘the level of divergence associated with known cessation of gene flow in related taxa’, but more detail on this crucial process would have been welcome to help assess the credibility of decisions at this level. Frequently, alternative treatments are referenced in footnotes. As an example, while recognizing Black Scoter Melanitta americana as a separate species, the inclusion of deglandi within Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca is qualified with the comment that it is treated as a separate species by Sangster et al. in Ibis 147 (2005): 821–826 (the List of References is on the CD). Copious footnotes on every page cover taxonomic treatments and nomenclatural issues and are a strength of this edition. Despite years spent by an international team working under the auspices of the IOC and trying to achieve some consensus over English names for species, the editors have perpetuated a measure of confusion and, for some species, have followed their own rules and preferences, justified in part by dubious reasoning. Brief statements on distribution are given for all terminal taxa, though there are inconsistencies in the treatment of introduced species in particular: Canada Goose Branta canadensis is noted as introduced to the UK, but not Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata or Western Capercaillie Tetrao urogallus. There are a number of appendices in the book and on an accompanying CD, several relating to obscure nomenclatural matters. Online updates are included in the price.
There is much common ground between H&M and Norbert Bahr's recent The Bird Species/Die Vogelarten (reviewed in Ibis 154: 417). Bahr includes publication details for all names, type localities and a synonymy at the genus level but not for species or subspecies. So far, it covers only the Charadriiformes and it may be many years before completion, which gives H&M a clear advantage.
The new edition of H&M is an important contribution to the unfortunately necessary process of cleaning up and maintaining the names of birds, essential to all ornithology. It incorporates much new information on taxonomy and nomenclature and should be a basic reference for the compilers of other lists and bird books. The editors and their colleagues are to be congratulated for their industry.
Australian Bird Names: A Complete Guide. xv + 336 pages, black-and-white illustrations. Collingwood, VIC: CSIRO Publishing, 2013. Paperback, AU$ 49.95, ISBN 978-0-643-10469-3. Website: http://www.publish.csiro.au.&
This interesting and well-produced book explains the meaning and history of the current common and scientific names of over 850 species, and provides stories and comments on other common names going as far back as the late 1700s (steering clear of synonyms for scientific names). A nine-page Introduction considers the derivation of common names from old British names, indigenous names, other languages, early settlers and those created by ornithologists, noting especially the contributions made by John Latham, John White, John Lewin, John Gould, John Leach and Gregory Mathews, as well as the more recent ‘Official Checklists’ of the RAOU (1913, 1926, 1978) and Christidis and Boles (1994, 2008; for reviews, see Ibis 138: 582–583 and 150: 842–843) – the latter being the list on which the book is based. The process of providing scientific names is briefly explained, along with the reasons for occasional name changes.
For scientific names, the families, genera and specific names are given, each with author and date, followed by pronunciation and meaning, e.g. ‘Maluridae Swainson, 1831 [mal-OO-ri-dee]: the Delicate-tail family, from the genus name Malurus’. The authors admit that their translations are rather loose and acknowledge that there is no correct way to say scientific names, and so offer them only as a guide.
For common names, the authors go back to basics and explain the meanings of such words as goose, duck, petrel, eagle, falcon, snipe, pigeon and robin, as well as giving the origins of more typical Australian bird names such as Helmeted Friarbird Philemon buceroides, Gibberbird Ashbyia lovensis, Macleay's Honeyeater Xanthotis macleayanus, Australian Logrunner Orthonyx temminckii, Bell Miner Manorina melanophrys, Forty-spotted Pardalote Pardalotus quadragintus, Mulga Parrot Psephotus varius, Paradise Riflebird Ptiloris paradiseus and Western Whipbird Psophodes nigrogularis. Aboriginal names such as Brolga Grus rubicunda, Budgerigar Melopsittacus undulatus, Chowchilla Orthonyx spaldingi, Currawong Strepera graculina, Galah Eolophus roseicapillus and Kookaburra Dacelo novaeguineae are not always explained but usually turn out to be onomatopoeic. A huge range of Colonist and folk names are presented, including Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, Razor Grinder Myiagra inquieta, Joggle-joggle Lophochroa leadbeateri, Noisy Micky Manorina melanocephala, Four O'Clock Pimlico Philemon corniculatus and Jacky Winter Microeca fascinans, though only the first and last of these names are currently accepted. It was interesting to learn that Rosella Platycercus spp. is derived from Rose Hill Parrot (from Rose Hill west of Sydney) but that Corella Cacatua spp. has an obscure Aboriginal history.
Species accounts are rarely less than eight lines and occasionally extend to 30 or 40 lines, especially on the few occasions that subspecies names are included. From time to time the text is enlivened with light-hearted comments, e.g. ‘Common Myna Sturnus tristis … from Latin tristis, sad, gloomy, downcast – because of its colour? Or maybe because the bird thinks nobody likes it?’ This flippancy is not overdone, but lightens the general scholarly tone.
In a few places where the authors are unsure about names, a little extra research would have provided the answers; it usually doesn't take long with the online Biodiversity Heritage Library. They say that the Partridge Pigeon Geophaps smithii (Jardine & Selby, 1830) is named for either Sir James Smith or Sir Andrew Smith but the text to Selby's colour plate is headed: ‘Sir J. E. Smith's Pigeon’. For Erect-crested Penguin Eudyptes sclateri Buller, 1888 they swither over which Sclater was intended, yet the original description clearly says it was dedicated to the ‘Secretary of the Zoological Society of London, Dr. P. L. Sclater’. For Kerguelen Pintail Anas eatoni (Sharpe, 1875) they correctly identify Rev A. E. Eaton but state that ‘he had no discernible connection with the bird’. In fact, Eaton was the naturalist on one of the 1874 Transit of Venus Expeditions and spent several months on Kerguelen Island, later providing Sharpe with skins, eggs and notes about the Pintail. For Herald Petrel Pterodroma heraldica (Salvin, 1888) they say that Salvin ‘shed no light whatsoever on his choice of name’, but as the type specimen was secured by John Macgillivray, it has long been accepted that the bird was named after his ship at the time, HMS Herald.
These few shortcomings do not detract from the overall quality of the book and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested in the birds of Australia. Because the country's bird list contains many Palaearctic and Asiatic migrants, it should also appeal to a much wider audience.
Birds and Habitat: Relationships in Changing Landscapes. (Ecological Reviews.) xii + 542 pages, numerous black-and-white figures (including photographs), tables and text boxes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Hardback, £70.00, ISBN 978-0-521-89756-3; paperback, £40.00, ISBN 978-0-521-72233-9. Website: http://www.cambridge.org.(ed.)
We all associate the different species of birds with their living in particular habitats and the word habitat occurs throughout the ornithological literature; often, we barely pause to think about it. Here, Rob Fuller has drawn together more than 30 authors to contribute 20 chapters (six of which he wrote or co-authored himself) on a wide range of aspects related to habitats. The subject is made the more complex because many habitats – and most of those discussed in the book – are changing as a result of human management.
The book is divided into three parts: ‘The complexity of patterns and processes’, ‘Case studies of habitat use and selection’ and ‘Wider perspectives’. In some ways, the first chapter (by the editor) is the most important; it sets the scene with an attempt to define habitat terminology and provide an overview of concepts. It also includes a particularly useful box (‘Some definitions concerning habitat and landscape’); the author stresses that these are based on human perceptions of the environment and it is exceedingly unlikely that the birds ever perceive the habitats in the ways that we do. Also, it is hard to define the habitat requirements of each species both because some ‘generalist’ species may occupy what seem to us to be a very wide range of habitat types, whereas others, ‘specialists’, seem to be severely restricted in the range of habitats that they are prepared to occupy. A further complication is that a species may occupy different habitats in different parts of its range or at different times of year (Chapter 3, with useful tables of examples).
The book is largely about European perspectives, with UK studies predominating. A complication is that some generalizations that seem to be valid in some areas do not appear to hold in others (e.g. Europe vs. North America). However, a number of authors usefully compare their Europe-based findings with equivalent studies in North America and one chapter entitled ‘Birds in cultural landscapes: actual and perceived differences between northeastern North America and western Europe’ compares the findings from the two regions in depth. Another, ‘Australian birds in a changing landscape: 220 years of human colonisation’, contrasts the ways in which birds have responded to landscape changes in Europe with those that have taken place on the far shorter timescale in Australia.
The chapters cover a wide range of habitats from coastal (quite a bit on shorebirds, but not on seabirds), through wetlands, to woodlands, upland and arctic areas. Inevitably – and necessarily – there is much mention of habitat changes and fragmentation. Habitat heterogeneity has often declined as a result of the remorseless drive for ever-higher yields, yet many species require a mix of habitats to obtain a satisfactory diet, especially those in which the young birds switch diets as they grow. Forest fragmentation is important, not just because the forests are reduced in size but also because the amount of edge is greatly increased and different species seem to value edges in different ways.
It is impossible in a short review to give credit to the full range of subjects covered here. Nevertheless, such is the richness of the content that everyone will find something of value. It is a book that should be read by everyone who wishes to further their understanding of the world around us, scientists and conservationists alike. The extensive bibliographies at the end of each chapter are in themselves a mine of information.
Birds of the Masai Mara. (WILDGuides: Wildlife Explorer Series.) 176 pages, over 300 colour photographs, 1 map. Princeton, NJ & Woodstock (Oxford): Princeton University Press, 2012. Paperback, US$27.95, £17.95, ISBN 978-0-691-15594-4. Website: http://www.nathist.press.princeton.edu.
For the vast majority of its visitors, the Masai Mara National Reserve is famous for the ebb and flow of the Blue Wildebeest Connochaetes taurinus migration, which arrives north from calving on the Serengeti short-grass plains in August and September, and brings the drama of river crossings, and the inevitable spectacle of Lion Panthera leo, Leopard Panthera pardus and other carnivore kills. Yet the backdrop to this mammalian spectacle is also one of Kenya's best birding destinations, and it has been long overdue a dedicated guide.
For several years, the author, Adam Scott Kennedy, managed Naibor Camp, and Birds of the Masai Mara is one of two books to result from his sojourn there. Written with his wife and collaborator, Vicki Kennedy, its sister volume, the Animals of the Masai Mara (Princeton, 2012), tackles the mammals and reptiles. Like other WILDGuides publications, the book is robust and well designed, the perfect size for safari and likely to survive in the field. As Kennedy acknowledges, the work also owes a debt to his friend Brian Finch, a pioneering birder whose work in the Mara transformed our knowledge of its birds.
Although its origins lie in helping local guides distinguish commonplace species, Birds of the Masai Mara is largely aimed at generalist birdwatchers, and tackles over 200 species (almost half the birds recorded in the game reserve). Kennedy has arranged the species by habitat, not in the systematic order common to field guides. This works well, with plains, marsh and water, woodland, acacia scrub, and forest selected, as well as sections on village birds, those ‘of the air’ – swifts (Apodidae), swallows and martins (Hirundinidae) and Eurasian Bee-eater Merops apiaster, and ‘night birds’ in the form of two owls (Strigidae) and one nightjar (Caprimulgidae). Photographs and a thumbnail sketch explain each habitat, with typical species inset, and there is a map of the Mara showing watercourses, roads, and the major lodges, airstrips, gates, and places referred to in the text.
With a few exceptions, Kennedy's pictures (a small proportion were taken by other photographers) are outstanding and carefully laid out to allow for easy comparison. Sex, age and plumage variation and flight images are all provided. Descriptions are generously written, easily interpreted, and often include notes on behaviour and habitat, as well as calls. For many, he has included short anecdotes, such as the origins of some common names, which enliven the text.
Kennedy follows the nomenclature of the Bird Committee of Nature Kenya, preferring plover to lapwing, for example, and confines scientific names to an annex. Purists might baulk at this, but the Birds of the Masai Mara is perfect for its declared audience. References to other books and online resources are provided. Although I should have liked more on the conservation issues that influence the Mara and Kenya, that is not the book's aim, and if copies find their way into the hands of the driver-guides, and into the schools that surround the park, perhaps a new generation of people will be inspired to ensure the region's wonderful avifauna will continue to prosper.
El Libro de las Rapaces. x + 320 pages, numerous colour photographs, text boxes. Barcelona: Photodigiscoping, S.C.P., 2011. Hardback, £44.95, €54.00 (for orders, contact: http://www.nhbs.com), ISBN 978-84-939534-0-9. Websites: http://www.editorial.photodigiscoping.com, http://www.ellibrodelasrapaces.es.(ed.)
The stated aim of this beautifully produced Spanish book is to provide a ‘global vision of the world of raptors’ and even if this may seem ambitious, it indeed touches on a variety of aspects not frequently covered in books about birds of prey.
There are 23 chapters, each dedicated to a different species (except one that treats both Red Kite Milvus milvus and Black Kite Milvus migrans), thus covering 24 species of diurnal raptors – all of the breeding species in Spain except Eleonora′s Falcon Falco eleonorae. The most striking feature of the book is the inclusion of more than 250 carefully selected and high-quality photographs taken by many Spanish photographers. A longer text in each chapter (see below) is followed by a brief descriptive account of the species’ distribution, biology, habitat, threats and conservation status. There are chapters that also include a description (and photographs) of the different plumages observed in the species. This topic is sometimes covered in great detail, so that, for example, 14 pages are devoted to it in the case of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus, thus also presenting a thorough review of moult in large raptor species.
The main species texts were written by different authors, each having considerable personal experience of the species. Among them are Spanish scientists of repute, members of conservation NGOs or of regional administrations managing raptor conservation programmes, wildlife photographers (such as the editor of the book, Marcos Lacasa, who wrote about a third of the chapters), and falconers or naturalists who have spent a long time observing these birds. A few of the texts follow a more ‘traditional’ structure in describing the species’ ecology and their main characteristics. However, most include more personal accounts about the relationship of the authors with the described species – mention of awe-inspiring moments while observing or monitoring them, and so on. A wide variety of topics are also discussed: among others, expectations, failures and the finally successful installation of nest cameras in Bearded Vulture nests; detailed descriptions of various conservation programmes in certain regions of Spain (the recovery of the Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus population in the Pyrenees following the release of captive-reared birds; the conservation programme for Spanish Imperial Eagles Aquila adalberti and the Osprey Pandion haliaetus reintroduction project in Andalucía, and the programme for the recovery of Montagu′s Harriers Circus pygargus in Catalunya); a review of the reasons for the lack of positive responses of Bonelli′s Eagle Aquila fasciata populations to conservation programmes; or a personal view of the problem of poison for the conservation of raptors in Spain. Additionally, some species accounts include boxes describing particular aspects: e.g. the meaning of the yellow colour in the face of the Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus; a report on the results obtained from satellite tracking of various raptor species in Spain; a description of the clearing of a carcass by vultures in a supplementary feeding place.
The texts are uneven, not only in content, but also in style. Also contributing to this uneven quality is the fact that the list of references included at the end of the book for further reading, which might have formed the basis for the texts, seems idiosyncratic. However, despite this heterogeneity, or maybe even precisely because of it, the book provides not only a diverse (not necessarily thorough) view of raptor species in Spain and some of the studies or conservation programmes carried out there, but also of the variety of people that are passionate, both professionally and personally, about this fascinating group of birds.
El Libro de las Rapaces is aimed at a wide readership and hopes to encourage people to continue watching, studying and conserving this wonderful group of birds. The strong conservation interest of the editor is shown not only in the texts, but also in the fact that part of the income from sales is to be donated to the ‘Proyecto Percnopterus’: the creation of a supplementary feeding place aimed at studying the effect of these sites on the breeding success of Egyptian Vultures, and on the capacity of the species to expand its breeding distribution.
A Saga of Sea Eagles. viii + 248 pages, numerous colour and black-and-white illustrations, 4 appendices. Dunbeath, Caithness: Whittles Publishing, 2013. Paperback, £19.99, ISBN 978-1-84995-080-0. Website: http://www.whittlespublishing.com.
It seems incredible that 30 years have gone by since the publication of John Love's classic account of the White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla reintroduction experiment – The Return of the Sea Eagle (Cambridge University Press, 1983; reviewed in Ibis 126: 267). He left the story, full of anticipation and hope, when the first (unsuccessful) nesting attempts were just being made. So much has happened since that a new look at the situation was more than justified. The present volume takes us to the end of 2012.
To sum up: by the end of that year, there were 66 breeding pairs and a grand total of 467 young Sea Eagles had been reared successfully since the first youngster left its nest in Mull in 1985. A computer model drawn up after the original programme was completed indicated that the rate of population growth and breeding productivity might not actually produce a viable population, so the bold decision was made to embark on Phase 2 – a second series of releases in western Scotland. The desired result was duly achieved and next came a new release programme in eastern Scotland – and a controversial programme for East Anglia being argued over and eventually put on hold. Meanwhile, a reintroduction scheme was initiated in Eire.
John Love has been at the heart of much of this work since the very beginning. He has made this new book very much a personal history of events, often going off into fascinating (and frequently amusing) accounts of his own and his fellow workers’ adventures. His first book has long been out of print, and remains fairly difficult to get hold of, so the fact that the new volume covers a lot of the history he wrote about before is actually very useful to anyone coming newly to the Sea Eagle story. Another 30 years of experience have also helped with broadening his horizons and updating many aspects of the tale: the chapters dealing with the justifications of the reintroduction programme and the possible problems of livestock predation (more perceived than real) make particularly interesting reading.
Sadly, there has been some illegal killing of Sea Eagles, inevitably recalling the old (and equally misplaced) antipathy towards Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos where lambs are concerned, which at least seems to have receded somewhat. Getting the rural population on the side of the new Sea Eagle population in Scotland has been a priority for all those involved in the reintroduction projects. This has been remarkably successful, with the birds fast becoming an important and spectacular tourist attraction and popular catalysts for small booms in local economies.
This is an important little book, as much for its wealth of information and insight as for its value as a very detailed historical record. It is superbly illustrated, with masses of colour photographs and lots of the author's wonderful drawings. The saga of our Sea Eagles is now scattered across a great many formal and informal publications – we should be enormously grateful to John Love for pulling all these strands together for us, and for doing it so well.
Islands Beyond the Horizon: The Life of Twenty of the World's Most Remote Places. xiv + 228 pages, 20 colour and 21 black-and-white photographs, 1 map. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. Hardback, £16.99, US$29.95, ISBN 978-0-19-960649-8. Website: http://www.oup.com.
This book is a pleasure to read. The author's style is crisp, vivid and clear. Facts and figures are woven into the text so seamlessly that you arrive quickly at the end of one island story and want to jump off and immediately leap on to the next one.
I have visited one-third of these 20 islands, and share Roger Lovegrove's passion and fascination with the geography and history of so many remote and often inaccessible islands around the world. In fact, one of these, in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, is actually named Inaccessible Island and I can vouch for the accuracy of the name. He has chosen well to focus on some well-known isolated islands, such as South Georgia and St. Kilda, and to bring to our attention a number of very distant and obscure ones such as Halfmoon Island (the Arctic one, not the Antarctic one) and St Peter and St Paul Rocks, some 950 km off the Brazilian coast.
As an experienced and knowledgeable naturalist, he reflects on the impact man has had on every island he has visited and inhabited. It is not a happy history, and he presents well-researched and up-to-date information on the state of play in the more recent past and highly commendable efforts now being made to redress the imbalances. Only in the last decade, he argues, have we begun to appreciate the appalling damage we have wreaked on the wildlife of distant islands and have started to do something about it. Eradication of rodents, although expensive and daunting, is proving to be one of the most beneficial conservation measures undertaken.
The author asks some challenging questions in his Epilogue. With modern travel shrinking the world, and island life changing forever as a result, should visitor numbers be controlled? Do the changes which we might assume improve their quality of life bring more, or less, contentment to the people living there? And finally, will remote communities slowly become homogenized and lose much of their distinctiveness?
The most difficult question to answer, however, is this: what is the one species of bird which occurs on every one of the 20 islands described in this book? You will have to buy the book to find the answer. I can guarantee that you won't regret your purchase.
Derbnik [The Merlin]. (In Russian, with Contents, summary and table captions in English.) 256 pages, 10 chapters, 58 colour photographs and maps, 6 tables, frontispiece by Vadim Gorbatov. Vitebsk: Vitebsk State University Press, 2013. Limited edition hardback (250 copies), US$25.00 plus p&p from the authors (email@example.com), ISBN 978-985-517-382-4., &
In 1991, in Belorussia [now the Republic of Belarus], a set of documents was signed known as the Belavezha Accords, which put an end to the USSR as a state. Twenty-two years later, in 2013, the authors of this book – ornithologists living in Belarus, the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan – have shown that the links between the former USSR republics are difficult to break. Superbly illustrated and published under the aegis of the Ministry of Education of Belarus, the Ministry of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation and the Naurzum State Nature Reserve (Kazakhstan Ministry of Environmental Protection), this monograph on the Merlin Falco columbarius revives the format of species accounts characteristic of Ptitsy Sovetskogo Soyuza [Birds of the Soviet Union] edited by G. P. Dementiev [Dement'ev] and N. A. Gladkov (Volume 1, which includes raptors, published in 1951 in Russian, 1966 in English translation). Written by field ornithologists renowned for their accuracy and known for their studies of the species in the past three decades, the book is the most extensive presentation of facts about a species within the borders of the former USSR I have ever seen. Morozov et al. describe the distribution, food habits and breeding details of five Merlin subspecies living in Eurasia (Falco columbarius aesalon, F. c. insignis, F. c. pacificus, F. c. pallidus, F. c. lymani).
You will not find details of Merlin taxonomy or information on nomenclatural revisions, modern genetic cladograms and/or phylogenetic trees; there is no diagnosis of the subspecies, merely a description of their main features and their dimensions. The latter are based on the authors’ own measurements and an extensive literature search. With regard to the latter, it is almost impossible to find a Merlin account published even in an obscure collection of papers somewhere in a remote corner of Russia or Kazakhstan which is not cited and thoroughly evaluated by the authors. In addition, they examined all available collections of skins and listed all specimens relevant to the distribution, phenology and breeding of the species. With its apparently near-complete coverage of the Russian literature (there are some 800 references, the majority in Russian) and summary of Merlin specimens held in the collections of the former USSR, Derbnik is an impressive work. There is also a discussion of nesting habitats and the type of nest-sites favoured in various regions. Written in the style of Dementiev & Gladkov (1951), this book is a special one, as anyone bold enough to write something similar in the next 20 years would probably not need to check the original references, such is the thoroughness with which the authors went about their task. Yet what we have is a book containing lots of facts but lacking any large-scale conclusions or hypotheses.
There is no general summary analysis of ring recovery data that should be accessible from Euring, but some published records of ring recoveries are included and much information is presented on the phenology of migration. The distribution records are presented in astonishing detail and are good enough to be converted into a GIS system. A most attractive feature is the superb frontispiece illustration by the renowned wildlife artist Vadim Gorbatov. Limits of space clearly imposed some constraints: you will find no humour in the book and no language-rich descriptions, only lists of facts, which naturally gives the impression of something rather like an encyclopedia. Nevertheless, the book is a must for those who are fluent in Russian and have a serious research interest in small falcons.
On the Rocks. (Wildlife and People Series.) xii + 292 pages, numerous colour and black-and-white photographs by the author, artwork by John Busby. Peterborough: Langford Press, 2013. Paperback, £20.00, ISBN 978-1-904078-56-2. Website: http://www.langford-press.co.uk.
In the first instalment of his autobiography An Appetite for Wonder (Bantam Press 2013), Richard Dawkins makes passing reference to Bryan Nelson in Niko Tinbergen's Animal Behaviour Group Annexe in Oxford as follows: “known to me in my first six months only from the enigmatic notice on his door: ‘Nelson is on Bass Rock’”. On the Rocks is effectively Bryan Nelson's autobiography of this and other absences, a lyrical, highly entertaining odyssey of behavioural studies on Sulidae and other seabirds around the world.
The zeitgeist is indeed his pioneering study, accompanied as he was on so many of his adventures by his wife June, of Northern Gannet Morus bassanus on the Bass Rock in Scotland's Outer Firth of Forth. Nelson's island-hopping began serendipitously not long after he arrived at Oxford University's Edward Grey Institute to do a postgraduate study under David Lack, who set him the task of building on David Snow's work on Blackbirds Turdus merula. However, Nelson was increasingly drawn to the Tinbergen group where students were ‘rumbustiously engaged in studies of animal behaviour’. Inspired by an early experience on Ailsa Craig, Nelson persuaded Tinbergen to let him study Gannet behaviour on the Bass Rock under the inspirational guidance of the late Mike Cullen.
Three summers on the Bass perfectly fed Nelson's appetite for experience and he is generous in his debt of gratitude for that. Thus began a journey which joined the dots of gannet and booby distribution and behaviour in the Galapagos, the Guano Islands of Peru, the Indian Ocean's Christmas Island, Aldabra, and Cape Kidnappers. To this smorgasbord add a sprinkling of remote Scottish islands, the desert oasis of Azraq, Laysan Albatross Phoebastria immutabilis on Hawaii, and a bittersweet sojourn on Aldabra studying Great Frigatebirds Fregata minor.
Throughout, Nelson was evidently an inveterate and highly articulate chronicler. As such, On the Rocks, which surpasses the efforts of many bespoke travelwriters, reaps the harvest of the diaries and photographs he logged assiduously along the way, as if there were always a wider audience in mind. Nelson's narrative is beautifully complemented by the vignettes of John Busby, his oldest friend from St Andrews days. For a typical example of Nelson's eye for quirky, anecdotal detail, read the description of preparations for take-off on a rickety aircraft from Galapagos to Ecuador.
On the Rocks in no way attempts to synthesize the author's scientific papers and ‘massive tome of nearly a thousand pages about gannets and boobies’. Rather it is a personal reflection on a lifetime's work. Outstanding is his pivotal role in saving Abbott's Booby Papasula abbotti from extinction by the creation of the Christmas Island National Park. To emphasize how little known Abbott's Booby was, page 115 features the first ever photograph taken by Nelson in 1967 and the revelation that the juvenile is indistinguishable from the adult male. He also discovered that jungle clearance was contributing to adult Boobies being driven down through the canopy to the jungle floor, where they were doomed to die, by Christmas Island Frigatebirds Fregata andrewsi.
The book concludes with the author's recent years spent in Scotland and his involvement in setting up the Scottish Seabird Centre, which brings his remote, private fastness of Bass Rock into the public domain. I highly recommend On the Rocks for its story-telling verve and for the lens it focuses on one of the most creative eras in British ornithological research, halcyon days of a more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to fieldwork before the creeping tyranny of health and safety. As Nelson says of his childhood memories of watching birds in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the 1930s, ‘All of these were something and nothing, and yet everything. Smitten early, you are hooked for life.’
The Snowy Owl. 304 pages, 28 plates of 58 colour photographs, more than 100 black-and-white figures, drawings and photographs, 8 tables, 2 appendices. London: T & AD Poyser, 2012. Hardback, £50.00, ISBN: 978-07135-8817-7. Website: http://www.poyserbooks.com.&
The Snowy Owl Bubo scandiaca, the white Nordic phantom, has always been among the most fascinating and charismatic birds of the world. With the publication of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in 1997, however, Hedwig the female Snowy Owl has come to occupy a very special place in the hearts and minds of millions of both young and older Harry Potter fans. Thus, there were good reasons to publish an updated scientific monograph of this magical dweller of the High Arctic tundra – exactly 40 years since the publication of the first monograph on the species, Die Schnee-Eule (Die Neue Brehm Bücherei nr. 454), by L. A. Portenko.
Both authors of this new monograph are specialists in Arctic wildlife. During 1982–92, in northeast Siberia, Eugene Potapov collected data for his Master's and subsequent DPhil thesis (at Oxford University), Ecology and Energetics of Rough-legged Buzzard in the Kolyma River Lowlands. He also gathered data during that period on other northern raptor species, including the Snowy Owl. Richard Sale has a PhD in physics but has more recently written books on Arctic wildlife, including another Poyser monograph, The Gyrfalcon (2005), together with Eugene Potapov (for a review, see Ibis 150: 207–208).
The Snowy Owl is based both on original field data collected by the authors and on extensive use of information extracted from the published literature. The list of references includes a large number of articles originally in Russian, which are normally missing from books published in the West, so that the inclusion of extracts from these here in English will surely be of great interest and value to non-Russian researchers.
The text, which is well supported by figures and tables, has been organized in 11 chapters that make up the expected ‘standard’ but still fascinating and instructive contents of this kind of species monograph. In considerable detail, chapters cover the breeding and winter ranges (plus winter records) and the habitats favoured in those seasons, numbers and population density, diet, ‘friends and foes’ and the Snowy Owl's relationship with people. A separate essay by G. R. Bortolotti and M. Stoffel in ‘What makes a Snowy Owl’ (Chapter 1) discusses research on the Owl's coloration, this ‘colour’ theme then continuing in several other subsections under the rubric ‘What they see and how they are seen’. Among a number of other such essays in boxes is one by O. Potapova and the authors on the Snowy Owl's palaeogeographical history. There are one or two levels of subheadings in each chapter, which helps the reader to find quickly the details needed. However, a reader who does not have time to read the entire book word by word and who is familiar with, for example, the structural clarity of works by Ian Newton, will probably still bemoan the lack of a condensed summary of the most important findings after each of the 11 chapters.
For me, a Finn, who was more interested at school in birds than in learning foreign languages, the text is easily understandable and fluent. There are artistic black-and-white drawings by Jackie Garner of the species and its habitat and high-quality colour photographs, particularly by Roar Solheim, Karl-Otto Jacobsen, Per Michelsen and Alexey Berzukov.
For me, the most interesting part of the book was the ‘loose boid’ hypothesis presented by the authors as the basic feature of the life of the Snowy Owl (Chapters 5, in which the origin of ‘boid’ is explained, and Chapters 8 and 9). This hypothesis suggests that the entire Snowy Owl population of the world consists of seven loose ‘boids’, i.e. aggregations of individuals, which move between varying breeding and non-breeding areas in loose contact with one another. The population estimate for a ‘normal’ year given by the authors is 14 000 breeding pairs.
By reading this book I learned much that was new to me about the general biology of the Snowy Owl. However, challenging fieldwork has still to be carried out before our knowledge of, for example, the population ecology of the Snowy Owl is on the same level as it is already for some other owl species. In 2007, the Snowy Owl Working Group was founded to promote research and conservation of the species. Potapov and Sale have here created a firm base of knowledge for the next steps of future research, which should reflect extensive international co-operation across the huge world range of the species.
In conclusion, I highly recommend this impressively detailed monograph on the Snowy Owl to anyone wishing to deepen their knowledge of the biology of a fantastic species which is adapted to live in continuous sunlight in summer and continuous darkness in winter, but which is now threatened by the effects of global warming.
XXXth IUGB Congress and Perdix XIII. (Animal Biodiversity and Conservation 35.2: 151–435.) Barcelona: Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona, 2012. Free online at: http://www.abc.museucienciesjournals.cat., & (eds)
The first Congress of the International Union of Game Biologists (IUGB) was held in Austria in 1955 and, despite the name, all but one of its 31 meetings have been in Europe. The Proceedings have been published in a variety of ways, slim to voluminous, available soon to several years after the event. The Perdix meetings originated at Prague in 1966 although the name was first used in North Dakota in 1977, the meetings then moving back to Europe in 1992. Recent meetings of Perdix have taken place every 4 years and have greatly expanded to include a wide variety of Galliformes as well as joining alternate IUGB Congresses (the IUGB meets every 2 years). The IUGB and Perdix depend entirely on volunteers; there is no permanent secretariat.
These Proceedings cover the joint meeting held from 5 to 9 September 2011 in Barcelona. The IUGB part includes 16 papers (only 8% of its total presentations) at pages 157–306. Three of the IUGB papers are primarily concerned with birds. M. B. Ellis reviews the UK's 30-year-old system of banning waterfowl shooting in severe weather. The public image of shooting has improved but the benefits to waterfowl are unknown. A team from Southern France show how radar coupled with nocturnal bioacoustics recording can usefully augment visual observations of waterfowl migration. From Nebraska, L. A. Powell examines the incentives for conservation on privately owned land and concludes they are critical to conservation planning worldwide. He provides the example of a harmonized Prairie Chicken Tympanuchus cupido–cattle–wind turbine system.
The 13th meeting of Perdix is represented by 14 papers on pages 311–435; 20% of its presentations. The first reports on an important study of Grey Partridges Perdix perdix in western Hungary carried out annually since 1991–1992. The Red Fox Vulpes vulpes was found to be the key predator affecting Partridge numbers. An astonishingly comprehensive review of this work has since appeared: Faragó, S. (2012) A Lajta Project: 20 years, University of Sopron. Subsequent papers include a worldwide review of Galliformes based on the IUCN Red List (http://www.iucnredlist.org) and a detailed description of the complicated post-breeding movements of Common Quail Coturnix coturnix in the Iberian Peninsula. Important new material on the Quail is presented by M. Puigcerver and colleagues. The consensus is of a widespread decline from 1900 to the 1930s, subsequent increases and then declines from 1970 to the late 1980s, with stability since then. Two papers by N. J. Aebischer and J. A. Ewald of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) cover the recent work on the Grey Partridge in the UK: national progress and the success on the Norfolk Estate in Sussex to 2010. An account of surveys of the Rock Partridge Alectoris graeca populations in central Greece reveals sustainable hunting pressure and the following paper, the third by GWCT staff, describes a recent restoration of numbers of Grey Partridges on an estate in northwest Norfolk. K. Buckley and colleagues document the captive breeding programme that helped save the Grey Partridge in Ireland.
Experimental studies are unfortunately rare in game bird biology. A team from IREC, Ciudad Real (Spain), describes one on Fox control and Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa survival. For 2 years, predation was very high across treatments and controls and accounted for 84% of nest losses. Predator control did not decrease the number of Foxes. A contribution from the French team led by E. Bro attempts to quantify the benefits of grain provision and field size reduction, concluding that farm-scale experiments are needed.
Very few studies of invertebrates were reported, despite their importance. An important exception was a study of Northern Bobwhite [Bobwhite Quail] Colinus virginianus in the USA by D. A. Butler and colleagues from the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee. Chicks on farmland with conservation headlands, a popular measure in areas where Bobwhite Quail are harvested, had eaten fewer Coleoptera (generally a poor-quality diet) and more Hemiptera (generally a good-quality diet) than those in forested areas. Final papers from Finland were by T. Liukkonen and colleagues, whose studies of DNA showed that released Grey Partridges had not interbred successfully with wild stocks, and a paper by an Italian team doubting that the playback method improves the estimation of pair numbers of Red-legged Partridge by calling.
Since their inception, the content of both the IUGB and Perdix meetings has changed greatly, with progressively fewer studies of the natural history of game in their ecosystems, about which we are still largely ignorant, and far more short-term correlative studies. Although the papers mentioned above are useful, it is unfortunate that so many of the presentations in Barcelona, including plenaries and workshop conclusions, have not been published together, or not published at all.
G. R. (Dick) Potts
El Mosquitero Ibérico [The Iberian Chiffchaff]. 150 pages, numerous colour photographs, maps, black-and-white graphs, tables and sonograms. León: Gruppo Ibérico de Anillamiento, 2013. Paperback, €15.00 from Spanish distributor Oryx. No ISBN. Websites: http://www.gia-anillamiento.org, http://www.weboryx.com., & (eds)
Previously considered to be a subspecies of the Common Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita, the Iberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus ibericus, initially named Phylloscopus brehmii, is now held to be a separate species (see Ibis 141: 175–180; 144: 707–710). My quick online search suggested, perhaps not surprisingly, that the Iberian Chiffchaff is poorly known. The publication of this monograph, with its 11 articles and two short notes, is therefore a significant event, as it fills an important gap and greatly increases our knowledge of this leaf warbler and related taxa.
A total of 27 authors, including some of the world's leading experts, have contributed to the book, which surely would reach a wider audience if all the articles were in English. In fact, almost all are in Spanish with an English summary. The article by L. Svensson, which explains the correct scientific name of the species as well as discussing identification and new evidence for its wintering grounds, is a translation into Spanish of the author's paper that first appeared in Bull. Br. Orn. Club 121 (2001): 281–296. Only two articles are in English: that by G. Neubauer and R. Bobrek on Common Chiffchaff with aberrant song as a potential pitfall in the identification of vagrant Iberian Chiffchaffs (pp. 93–98); and a detailed discussion (distribution, morphology, vocalizations and evidence of hybridization in the zone of sympatry), supported by excellent photographs and other figures, of the East European P. collybita abietinus and Siberian P. (c.) tristis forms of the Common Chiffchaff by I. M. Marova of Moscow State University and colleagues (pp. 119–139). Other topics well covered in this work include the following: distribution and status in Spain and Portugal; migration; moult (in a longer article and in one of the short notes); identification in the hand, ageing and sexing; and (in the second short note), detecting Iberian and Common Chiffchaffs and the problem of mixed song. An article by A. Monteagudo et al. (pp. 61–74) is potentially of particular interest to field ornithologists as it focuses on the biometrics of the species in a northwestern population and presents a new and useful method to differentiate between Common and Iberian Chiffchaffs in the hand. I also strongly recommend reading the article by J. L. Copete and F. López (pp. 101–116) on the identification of Common Chiffchaff subspecies, both for its text and for the 34 in-the-hand photographs provided to illustrate the slight differences in plumage.
El Mosquitero Ibérico is certainly worth buying for the amount and quality of the information it contains. One of the authors, J. Perez-Tris, suggests that the close similarity between Common and Iberian Chiffchaffs may be viewed not as a problem but as an opportunity to understand cryptic species. Overall, this book is a most useful introduction to such a species.
Animal Tool Behavior. The Use and Manufacture of Tools by Animals. xvi + 282 pages, many black-and-white photographs and illustrations. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011. Hardback, £34.00, ISBN 978–0–8018–9853–2. Website: http://www.press.jhu.edu., &
Humans are so reliant on tools – for foraging, self-maintenance, protection and a plethora of other functions – that they would quickly perish without them. For anybody who finds this idea surprising, I suggest keeping a diary on one's own tool-use behaviour over the course of a day, or imagining how one would survive without tools in a remote wilderness! While the sophistication and evolutionary impact of our technology is staggering, other animals are skilled tool users, too. What is more, we now know that tool use is not just limited to our closest relatives, the great apes, but can be found in other mammals, in birds and even in invertebrates, including some insects and crabs. This book presents the most comprehensive catalogue to date of tool-use behaviour across the animal kingdom.
In 1980, Benjamin Beck published Animal Tool Behavior, which became the foundation text of a prolific research field. The long-awaited, fully revised and updated edition of this seminal monograph is co-authored by Beck and two of his colleagues, Robert Shumaker and Kristina Walkup. Together, they embarked on an ambitious project, to take stock of new observations, to re-evaluate older material, and to find ways of classifying a most diverse and confusing array of behaviours. The introductory chapter makes an excellent job of guiding the reader through the treacherous waters of defining ‘tool use’, and provides a clear description of the different functions and modes of tool use, modes of tool manufacture, and types of associative tool behaviours (i.e. behaviours involving multiple tools). Key concepts and terminology firmly established, chapters 2–6 provide taxonomically grouped reviews of all tool-use observations the authors had located.
Readers of Ibis should note that the book's bird section is relatively short (22 pages), which may reflect real variation between taxa, differences in research effort, or both (for comparison, 120 pages are devoted to monkeys and apes). Apart from detailed descriptions of the impressive skills of some well-known avian tool users, such as the Woodpecker Finch Camarhynchus pallidus, Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, and New Caledonian Crow Corvus moneduloides, the authors review fascinating reports of several other species. Black-breasted Buzzards Hamirostra melanosternon drop stones on eggs to crack them open, Palm Cockatoos Probosciger aterrimus use clubs for drumming on tree trunks, and some macaw species (Psittacidae) hold objects in their bills to facilitate food processing. Tool behaviours that are exhibited regularly by several bird species include the (active) use of ‘bait’ to aid prey capture (‘bait fishing’), and the (active) application of ants to feathers or skin for self-maintenance (‘anting’). Much of the remaining material concerns cases where a behaviour has been observed only once in a single subject, and often in captivity; although anecdotal, these observations are revealing, as they confirm the cognitive and anatomical capacity for tool use in a range of distantly related species.
In the final chapter, the authors present a collection of brief, thought-provoking essays that evaluate, one-by-one, seven ‘myths’ about animal tool use. This includes the idea that only primates manufacture tools, as well as the widely held belief that tool-use behaviour in general is dependent upon, and therefore indicative of, advanced cognitive faculties. One essay that should be of particular interest to ornithologists examines some contentious claims about the tool-related behaviour of the New Caledonian Crow, widely regarded as the most dexterous avian tool user. Although my arguments would have differed in places, a detailed rebuttal like this has been overdue, and I found it well presented and insightful. Furthermore, I certainly agree with the authors’ concluding remark that there is (p. 219): ‘…no reason to search selectively for grounds to elevate one or diminish another species based on the similarity of their tool behaviour to that of modern humans’. As this book beautifully illustrates, the days are long gone when observations of tool-use behaviours were used to establish meaningless species rankings. Instead, decades of careful research have produced impressive quantitative datasets that can be used productively to probe the evolutionary, ecological and cognitive contexts of this fascinating behaviour.
Like its predecessor, this book is a landmark publication that will stimulate, guide and advance animal tool-use research for decades to come. The authors have provided an invaluable service to the research community, not only by painstakingly collating and evaluating a vast number of observations, but also by proposing clear terminology for classification and by drawing attention to unresolved issues and promising avenues for future research. The text is written authoritatively and remains engaging even in the taxonomic sections, where a certain degree of repetition is inevitable. Although this book is not exclusively concerned with birds, I am sure ornithologists will enjoy reading about avian tool-use behaviour in a broader taxonomic context; it is refreshing to see that a chimpanzee, an octopus and a New Caledonian Crow share the book cover (as a very minor quibble, the tool held by the Crow is not a ‘hook’ tool as stated but a simple leaf stem with a natural fibrous extension). In conclusion, this is a great book, brimming with exciting natural history and presented with admirable rigour and scholarship.
The Ornithological Society of Japan. Check-List of Japanese Birds. 7th revised edn. (In English and Japanese.) xx + 438 pages, endpaper maps. Sanda: The Ornithological Society of Japan, 2012. Paperback, JPY 5500.00 (+ shipping costs), ISBN 978-4-930975-00-3. Email (enquiries and orders): firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Hand-list of the Japanese Birds was first published in 1922 and three more editions followed between 1932 and 1958. Under the new title of Check-list of Japanese Birds, the 5th revised edition (with separate volumes in English and Japanese) appeared in 1974 and the 6th in 2000.
As 2012 was the centenary of the Ornithological Society of Japan, this latest edition of the Check-list was one of the works designed to mark and celebrate the anniversary. It was compiled by a Check-list Committee of 19 members, 11 of them ‘working members for classification’, under the chairmanship of Norio Yanagisawa.
Part A of the Check-list contains the species (633 in 81 families) and subspecies recorded as having occurred naturally in Japan, while Part B lists introduced species (43 of 15 families) and subspecies known to have bred in the country. There are two Appendices (A and B): the first lists species and subspecies with no records in Japan over the last 50 years, and the second contains those ‘presently unaccepted’.
To reflect recent developments, notably more refined techniques in molecular phylogeny, the 7th edition has completely changed its classification (arrangement of orders and families), readers being referred to The Japanese Journal of Ornithology for taxonomic notes on the changes. The English names used are generally those of the IOC: Gill, F. and Donsker, D. (2012) IOC World Bird Names (v.3.1) (http://www.worldbirdnames.org).
Species entries comprise the following: the name in Japanese (with its English transliteration) and English; the world range; status and distribution indicated by codes (RB = resident breeder, IV = irregular visitor, etc.) in the country's different prefectures and island regions (similarly for subspecies where appropriate); and habitat.
M. G. Wilson
Atlas of Duck Populations in Eastern Europe. 199 pages, many photographs, 48 figures (maps, graphs), 31 tables, in colour throughout. Vilnius, Lithuania: OMPO Vilnius, 2010. Hardback, €20.00 (including postage) from: email@example.com; ISBN 978-9986-759-40-9., & et al.
Do not be fooled by the title of this book – it is much more than an atlas of distribution. Janis Viksne and his seven co-authors present rather a synthesis of all available information for 11 widespread duck species of two genera: Anas – Wigeon Anas penelope, Gadwall A. strepera, Teal A. crecca, Mallard A. platyrhynchos, Pintail A. acuta, Garganey A. querquedula, Shoveler A. clypeata; and Aythya – Ferruginous Duck Aythya nyroca, Pochard A. ferina, Tufted Duck A. fuligula and Scaup A. marila. It is also a very important and timely contribution to our understanding of these migratory ducks. The region covered is of great significance for the species listed, covering much of the core breeding range for most, and these birds form the bulk of the individuals found wintering in the UK and other parts of Western Europe. Thus, as well as its own intrinsic value, the information contained within this book also has significant contextual value to ornithologists within the wintering ranges of these ducks as it augments our understanding of the observed trends of wintering ducks in Western Europe, many of which are undergoing rapid changes in abundance and/or distribution.
Each species chapter includes information on breeding distribution and densities, habitat selection, population size, trends in numbers, threats, migration flyways, phenology of movements, stopover, moulting and wintering sites, and population management. Although some of this information is qualitative, or only broadly quantified, it nevertheless represents the best available and provides a useful benchmark for the development of more widespread and comprehensive surveys and research.
Some important themes are evident. Declines in the breeding numbers of most species have been recorded across the region and several key factors are implicated, including the drainage of wetlands, which mostly took place in the 1960s to 1980s, and more recently the abandonment of traditional open wet meadows, where high densities of ducks formerly bred, many of which have now become overgrown and unsuitable. Predation, particularly by two introduced mammals, the American Mink Neovison vison and Raccoon Dog Nyctereutes procyonoides, also appears to be a significant and growing concern. Other key conservation issues are highlighted, such as the continuation of spring hunting in Russia, which is likely to be limiting populations of most species, and the growth of oil and gas exploration in parts of northern Russia that has improved access to many areas and may have resulted in increased disturbance and hunting.
The most notable declines are in breeding Mallard, Pintail, Garganey, Shoveler, Ferruginous Duck and Pochard, though smaller less widespread declines have been recorded for other species, including Teal. Knowledge of these trends has important implications for the assessment of conservation status in Western Europe where these species primarily winter, as well as at a population (flyway) scale, and therefore for the prioritization of conservation activities. For example, much has been said about the decline of Mallard in the UK, winter numbers having fallen by more than a third in the past 25 years (see M. A. Eaton et al. (2012) The State of the UK's Birds 2012, Sandy: RSPB, BTO, WWT). This is generally attributed to a shift in the winter distribution, which has recently been clearly demonstrated in other species of duck that now winter further east as a result of the more amenable climate. However, Janis Viksne et al. show that this is a more complicated picture that may include elements of overall population decline. For example, at Lake Engure in Latvia, arguably the leading site for the monitoring of breeding ducks in Europe, the number of Mallard pairs has declined from c. 1200 in the early 1990s to fewer than 300 by 2007. Significant declines have also been recorded in Belarus and Lithuania. As mentioned above, habitat loss and increased predation are implicated, but whatever the cause, the declines demonstrate the need to gather information from all parts of the flyway and life cycle in order to make accurate assessments of conservation status.
In providing this information and highlighting the value of status assessments that integrate information from all parts of the flyway, the authors have made an extremely valuable contribution to duck conservation and management across the whole of Europe.
Neotropical Birds of Prey: Biology and Ecology of a Forest Raptor Community. xviii + 412 pages, 102 colour photographs on 23 plates, numerous black-and-white figures and tables, 3 appendices. Ithaca, NY and London: Cornell University Press in association with The Peregrine Fund, 2012. Hardback, US$75.00, ISBN 978-0-8014-4079-3. Websites: http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu, http://www.peregrinefund.org.(ed.)
I was not sure what to expect when I first saw the title of this book, but it quickly became clear that it is a remarkable, indeed exceptional, publication; well produced certainly, but valuable above all because of the enormous contribution to our knowledge of Neotropical raptors that it represents. It is important to note that Neotropical raptors are one of the less studied among this group, there being only limited information available about the biology and ecology of most species, many of which are threatened.
I had heard about the Maya Project before, but despite such an intriguing name I was not curious enough to investigate further. However, when I received a copy of the book, I simply had to read the first two chapters at one go, thereby discovering an extraordinary story that combines the passion and exciting work of pioneer naturalists along with the scientific knowledge and the use of methodological tools available to modern ornithologists and raptor biologists.
The Maya Project was an amazing and unparalleled effort led by The Peregrine Fund (Boise, USA) to establish a long-term study (from 1988 to 1996) of a complete forest raptor community at Tikal National Park in Guatemala, and the results of that study are presented here in Neotropical Birds of Prey. During its lifetime, the Maya Project involved a significant number of people from local communities, but also postgraduate students. Theses and peer-reviewed articles resulting from their work are brought together with unpublished data to make up the bulk of this volume.
The first two chapters are essential to place readers in the historical, biogeographical and climatic context in which the Project was carried out. Co-authored by David Whitacre, one of the Project's team leaders and the late William Burnham, its co-founder with Peter Jenny, the first chapter relates how the Project began and developed over time. Discussion of methods employed in the field includes nest-searching strategies, raptor trapping, observations at nests for identification of the prey delivered and radiotelemetry; similarly, there is a subsection on analytical methods. The 26 authors describe in simple terms some of the logistical problems they faced for each of the research topics they wanted to cover when studying this raptor community and, more important, they explain how they dealt with such constraints. Although it is later developed in depth within each of the species chapters, the reader will find both here and in the following sections the first important contribution of this book to all those studying birds of prey in forested habitats, either in tropical or semi-arid biomes, and facing similar logistical problems.
Chapter 2 provides details on the climate, vegetation and fauna of the Tikal area, including a list of vertebrate species of different taxa (mammals, amphibians and reptiles) with references to their habits and preferred habitat in tropical forests.
There follow detailed accounts, with descriptions of vocalizations, behaviour, food habits, spatial ecology and breeding biology (including breeding phenology and clutch size), for each of the 20 diurnal and nocturnal birds of prey studied in Tikal National Park. For most of the species this information is, without doubt, the most complete ever published. Considering also the duration of the project, any raptor enthusiast will quickly realize the significance of this book for all future research on Neotropical birds of prey. Furthermore, the list of species covered gives support to the wider geographical scope (beyond the Tikal study area) suggested in the book's title. Some, such as the Laughing Falcon Herpetotheres cachinnans and the Bat Falcon Falco rufigularis, range as far south as the dry Chaco forest and tropical forest of Argentina and Brazil, respectively.
In addition, Neotropical Birds of Prey will surely also become an essential reference for conservationists and wildlife managers working on the preservation of biodiversity in Neotropical forests and a valuable tool for ongoing and future species conservation plans. Three of the 18 diurnal raptors treated in this book are listed under the IUCN Near-Threatened category: the Ornate Hawk-eagle Spizaetus ornatus, the Crested Eagle Morphnus guianensis and the Orange-breasted Falcon Falco deiroleucus.
To sum up, this is a most impressive volume that documents the efforts of the many people who studied this raptor community and who have greatly advanced our knowledge of Neotropical raptors. It is a fitting tribute to these magnificent birds and the dedicated researchers involved in the Maya Project.
José Hernán Sarasola
A Naturalist's Guide to the Birds of Singapore. 176 pages, many colour photographs. Oxford: John Beaufoy Publishing, 2013. Paperback, £9.99, ISBN 978-1-906780-89-0. Website: http://www.johnbeaufoy.com., &
Some years ago, I took part in a BirdLife Asia workshop whose aim was to identify the region's Important Bird Areas. For most participants, this required a lot of educated guesswork, frantically collecting more information and weighing the evidence; the Singaporeans, however, finished their work in under two hours. Every site where endemic or globally threatened birds occurred was known, and the status of the land was on record. Such a meticulous understanding of Singapore's avifauna is reinforced when reading this Naturalist's Guide.
Singapore is a heavily urbanized nation of 64 islands, about five of which measure over 5 km2, including the main island of 590 km2. It is a relatively new country, established by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819. At that time, easily 95% was covered in lush forest, with some thousand people living in one or two small settlements. Now it is home to over five million people and all but a few percent of the country's natural forest is gone, which, of course, has had its effect on the resident bird fauna. Going through the guide, I had the feeling of reading a book with some of the pages missing. Where were the trogons (Trogonidae) and pheasants (Phasianidae), why so few barbets (Ramphastidae) and hornbills (Bucerotidae)? On the other hand, it was a pleasure to read that conservation efforts are succeeding in bringing back species that once were uncommon or locally extinct.
The book has a familiar layout: introductory chapters covering geography, climate and habitats, and detailed accounts of 11 sites recommended for watching animals. Recent efforts to document the pelagic avifauna is bearing fruit, more species being added to the already impressively long bird list of 380 species. There are accounts, accompanied by small but high-quality photographs, of 280 commonly seen bird species, each giving a description of the species, a summary of its distribution and habitats, sites where it is most likely to be seen, and its national conservation status. For a handful of sexually dimorphic species, males and females are depicted separately, and only for Brown Wood Owl Strix leptogrammica do we get to see the juvenile (which looks like a different species). Overall, this little book is a very useful guide when visiting the island nation.
Also receivedLooking at Birds: An Antidote to Field Guides. x + 98 pages, numerous colour and black-and-white illustrations by the author. Peterborough: Langford Press, 2013. Hardback, £20.00, ISBN 978-1-904078-54-8; paperback, £15.00, ISBN 978-1-904078-55-5. Website: http://www.langford-press.co.uk.
This is the eighth of John Busby's own books and the second to be published by the current champion of accessible bird art, Ian Langford. The book's title makes its message clear. Do not just identify birds; look at them and so see them fully, enjoying what they do, even who they are. The book's media comprise 250 sketches and full-page studies of 100 species and matching interpretative comments and injunctions. These two flows of perception are organized in 12 light-hearted but telling essays which cover themes such as size and shape (and their shifts), behaviour, body language and modes of flight. They also illustrate how avian character changes in different lights and situations. The author's final plea is for observation free of rules and full of imagination, yielding joy from feathered beings.
I have envied Busby's amazing ability to catch specific character and actions with soft line and colour wash for half a century. So it was no surprise to find that his book was indeed ‘an antidote to field guides’ and their terse disciplines. It also questions the need (and values) of the increasingly cumbersome technology that festoons the modern ‘birder’. The artist's kit of soft pencil, black pen, brush, watercolour box, water bottle and paper is not so heavy or as costly. Just add sharp eye and open mind …
For a delightful lesson or reminder that birds offer so much more than lists of ticks (or systematic complexity), I recommend this refresher course in perceiving birds very highly.
A Patch Made in Heaven: A Year of Birdwatching in One Place. 192 pages, drawings by David Nurney. London: Robert Hale, 2012. Hardback, £12.99, ISBN 978-0-7090-9111-7. Website: http://www.halebooks.com.
This latest publication from Dominic Couzens documents a year of wildlife observations from his local patch. The motivation behind the book is to encourage a greater appreciation of wildlife close to home and with this easy-going diary discussion, Couzens certainly makes a good case to do just that.
A brief description of ‘the patch’ (the exact location of which is kept secret, to emphasize the notion that it could be a wildlife spot close to anyone's home), is followed by chapters describing the wildlife comings and goings of each month. The author's insightful observations are enhanced by short discussions of the life-histories of whatever may have been seen that day. These anecdotes of scientific knowledge mean that almost every reader will learn something new and interesting. While the keenest birder, or most avid patch-watcher for that matter, may find the book slightly simplistic on the whole, it should appeal to anyone with even a passing interest in natural history. Despite the focus certainly being on birds, the non-avian occupants of the patch are far from neglected.
So, if you're struggling for motivation to get outdoors – if the weather is grim, you think you've seen it all before, or if you're suffering from post-holiday blues, read A Patch Made in Heaven; it might just be the inspiration you need.
Birds of the Heart of England: A 60-Year Study of Birds in the Banbury Area, Covering North Oxfordshire, South Northamptonshire and South Warwickshire 1952–2011. x + 212 pages, with many maps, colour photographs, diagrams and tables. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press in association with the Banbury Ornithological Society, 2013. Hardback, £25.00, ISBN 978-1-8463188-5-6. Websites: http://www.liverpool-unipress.co.uk, http://www.banburyornithologicalsociety.org.uk.(ed.)
The subtitle of this excellent book displays a justifiable pride in the achievements of a small local bird club, the Banbury Ornithological Society, founded in 1951 as a result of lectures delivered by the late Bruce Campbell. The area covered has Banbury at its centre, and is now bisected from southeast to northwest by the M40. This is the fifth summary of work done there since 1962, of which Easterbrook has been responsible for three, and it has been carefully timed to coincide with the period of the national atlas. The enterprising Liverpool University Press were also responsible for the Birds of the Cotswolds (Main, Pearce & Hutton 2009; reviewed in Ibis 152: 195–196), the northeast corner of which joins the Banbury area. As this can be extended southwest by the recent Avon Atlas (Bland & Dadds 2012), and as we have a new Birds of Buckinghamshire (Ferguson 2012; see Ibis 155: 683–684, 686–687) to the east, the last 10 years have produced an unprecedented and almost simultaneous swathe of detail on birds across the South Midlands. The intensity of the winter survey programme has been particularly notable.
The Banbury results are presented by a combination of text, diagrams, tables and maps, the last of these based on the locally used kilometre square, not the tetrad, and artfully selected to display advances and retreats: eastward and onward for Buzzard Buteo buteo and Raven Corvus corax; conquest of the southeast for the Red Kite Milvus milvus; shrinkage for Turtle Dove Streptopelia turtur and Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra. There are unexpected revelations, such as the difference between the summer and winter distributions of the Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis. Up-to-date information is particularly useful at present for Oxfordshire, where the annual reporting system is in arrears, and for the undulating and little-known southwestern arm of Northamptonshire, where it seems to have ground temporarily to a halt.
The Birds of Bute: A Bird Atlas and Local Avifauna. 360 pages, with many maps and photographs. Rothesay and Aberlady: Buteshire NHS & SOC, 2012. Hardback, £20.00 including p&p from Bute Museum, Stuart St, Rothsay, Isle of Bute PA20 9EP, with cheque to Buteshire Natural History Society; ISBN 978-0-9058122-3-6. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org., &
This work deals with the Isle of Bute and its satellite, Inchmarnock, and excludes Arran and the Cumbraes, which were in the pre-1974 county. The Isle is modest in size, with 48 tetrads, and in height, rising to only 278 m. It can be regarded as a ‘detached part of the Argyll mainland’, almost surrounded by a raised beach. For nearly two centuries it has been easily accessible from Glasgow and in the last 100 years its birds have been closely studied, notably by McWilliam in his works of 1927 and 1936, and by the late Dr Gibson in a number of Clyde papers. Since 1927 it has lost nine breeding species (only one a passerine), but has gained 21, including Osprey Pandion haliaetus and Magpie Pica pica.
This attractively designed book is both an atlas and an avifauna, abundantly illustrated in colour, solidly bound and modestly priced.
Looking for the Goshawk. 368 pages, with drawings. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Hardback, £18.99, ISBN 978-1-4081-6487-7. Website: http://www.bloomsbury.com.
This is a fascinating account of the author's devouring obsession with one species, the Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. It is cast in the form of a diary, during which we follow his wanderings to many places: Berlin and Cologne; eight localities in Britain, including around his Bedfordshire home; Belarus, Poland and Spain; and the USA. We also follow his speculations and the fruits of his wide reading on many aspects of this fierce and secretive raptor at the top of the forest food chain. As his searches in the field proceed, sometimes unsuccessfully, so we learn more of the background history of the birds’ extinction in the British Isles, which is bedevilled by doubts on the identification of victims. Re-establishment began in the 1950s, perhaps by genuine migrants from Europe, and was ensured by deliberate releases by falconers and unplanned escapes in the 1970s, as well as by a little-known NCC introduction scheme in southwest Scotland.
The author has many contacts with those responsible for the flourishing populations in the larger State Forests, and suspects that the Goshawk's lack of success in spreading beyond them in any numbers is likely to be due to undiscovered persecution by gamekeepers. After all, the Berlin area now has 90 pairs, clearly finding abundant prey and some of them breeding in tiny woods. Like W. H. Hudson a century ago, Jameson would have landowners accept responsibility for the keepers’ actions. He has much to say about the famous Goshawk enthusiast, T. H. White, author of Arthurian stories, falconer and melancholic, whose grave he visits in a cemetery haunted by Hoopoes Upupa epops in Athens. The reader is easily caught up in the author's excitement and eagerly follows his successes and sympathizes with his frustrations.
It was wise to provide a good index, without which one might have difficulty in tracing topics within the diversity of the diary form.
Rutland Breeding Bird Atlas 2008–2011. v + 138 pages, with many maps, drawings and 8 colour photographs. Stamford, UK: Spiegl Press, 2012. Paperback, £9.95, ISBN 978-0-9025448-2-9. Website: http://www.spieglpress.com.
Thirty miles northeast of the Banbury area (see review of Easterbrook, above), Rutland takes over, in all her proud post-1997 independence. This Atlas, by the same author as the previous work (Mitcham 1992) sensibly assists the reader to compare the two by using a close similarity of format.
Any reader who has been involved in the organization of a bird atlas for a large and complicated county will envy the birdwatchers and Natural History Society of Rutland, with its mere 117 tetrads surrounding an enormous lake. There have been the expected declines in woodland and farmland species, as everywhere in the Midlands, but on Rutland Water Ospreys Pandion haliaetus are well established (see review of Mackrill et al. in Ibis 155: 916), there is a large colony of Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, Little Egrets Egretta garzetta have come and even Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta have attempted to breed. An Appendix provides a complete county species list for the Atlas period. It would have been helpful to find a coloured physical map on the endpapers.
Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe. 273 pages, numerous colour photographs and drawings, maps. Princeton, NJ and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013. Paperback, US$29.95, £17.95, ISBN 978-0-69115753-5. Website: http://www.nathist.princeton.edu.
Tracks & Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe by R. Brown et al. (Christopher Helm, 1987) was given a brief notice in Ibis 130: 581 and a revised 2nd edition was published in 2003 (see Ibis 145: 703). Lars-Henrik Olsen's new book originally appeared in Danish as Dyr & Spor (Gyldendal A/S, 2012) and has been translated into English by Mark Epstein.
Both of these guides have a wealth of superb illustrations. Brown et al. explained ‘how to collect, record and analyse information’ before moving to a detailed discussion of tracks and trails, nests and roosts, feeding and behavioural signs, pellets and droppings, feathers and skulls. In contrast, over half of Olsen is devoted to accounts of most European mammal species: distribution (with map), behaviour, habitat and similar species, plus notes on tracks and scat. More general information on birds – tracks, droppings, feeding signs (including separately for raptors), pellets, nests and feathers – is included with that on other animals in the introductory sections.
Brown et al. will doubtless already be known to many as a reliable guide to the tracks and signs of birds. Those wishing to extend their knowledge of the subject to include mammals should certainly examine a copy of Olsen.
Adar Meirionnydd/Birds of Meirion-nydd (V.C. 48). 212 pages, with a map and colour photographs. Meirionnydd: Cambrian Ornithological Society, 2012. Paperback, £9.50 (including £2.00 p&p), ISBN 978-0-9532498-1-7. Website: http://www.birdsinwales.org.uk/cambrian/.
This is a compact and affordable addition to the avifaunas of North Wales. The former county of Merioneth has been, under its Welsh name, a District of Gwynedd since 1974, which was also the date of the last book on its avifauna (Birds of Merioneth). Its author, P. Hope Jones, then complained that the county had been passed by since 1945, a ‘murky backwater’ in the flowing tide of post-War birdwatching, but recording has much improved since then under the aegis of the Cambrian Ornithological Society. The author has followed the sensible pattern set by Ceredigion (Roderick & Davis 2010; reviewed in Ibis 153: 457) in presenting for commoner species a regular division between ‘Historical’ and ‘Recent’ records, but he has enhanced these summaries of recent BBS and National Atlas results, though without actual maps.
Meirionnydd is a mountainous land, with rough pastures, little arable, ample coniferous forests, and three large and many small lakes, falling westward to a sandy coast with three estuaries. Its most famous site is the rock of Craig yr Aderyn, with its Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo and Red-billed Choughs Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax. The mysterious Welsh Twites Carduelis flavirostris have almost vanished, and Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and Curlew Numenius arquata have seriously declined, but Goosander Mergus merganser and Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator are now regular breeders, as are Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus and Osprey Pandion haliaetus.
As the title announces, the coverage is of the Watsonian Vice-County, and thus includes the northern section of the Berwyn Mountains, now in Denbighshire.
Ostrich. (Animal Series.) 184 pages, many colour and black-and-white illustrations. London: Reaktion Books, 2013. Paperback, £9.99, ISBN 978-1-78023-039-9. Website: http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk.
Twelve of some 50 titles already published in the ‘Animal Series’ from Reaktion Books are on birds. Having written Giraffe (2010), Edgar Williams now turns his attention to another tall creature, in fact the tallest and heaviest living bird and ‘a biological miracle’, the Ostrich Struthio camelus. This avian giant has the longest neck, largest eye (perhaps bigger than its brain) and egg of all extant birds, long and powerful legs (feet with only two toes) adapted for running and kicking, and a 14-metre-long intestine.
Over six chapters, wonderfully rich in words and pictures, Ostrich is an engrossing read. We learn of the origins and evolution – from a common ancestor some 80 million years ago in Gondwana able to fly – of the Ostrich (including other Ostrich species and subspecies) and its ratite relatives, all of which secondarily lost the ability to fly apart from the tinamous (Tinamidae). Its remarkable anatomy and adaptations to a harsh environment are also described, as well as its breeding system (with indications of complex variations). In ‘Camel-bird’ – the third chapter's title refers to the ancient view of it as ‘half-bird, half-beast’ – the focus is on the Ostrich's shared cultural history with humans over thousands of years. Not only have Ostrich eggs long been recognized as a valuable food, but the birds too were hunted and eaten, for example, by the nomadic San people of southern Africa and Ostrich meat was also served at Roman banquets. It was the growing demand for feathers and ‘industrialization of fashion’ that led to a decline in wild Ostriches and this brought in, initially in South Africa in 1863, Ostrich farming. With the collapse of the feather industry, the emphasis has been increasingly on meat production. The book's final chapter, which also takes in Ostrich racing (in Roman times and nowadays mainly in the USA), describes artistic representations of the bird from ancient times, decorated eggshells and necklaces, plumes for decoration and in heraldry, the bird's role in English literature, in fine art, modern media and in architecture.
Sound recordings Die große Kosmos Vogelstimmen DVD. 2 DVDs and accompanying paperback book of 183 pages with colour illustrations by Paschalis Dougalis in cardboard slipcase. Stuttgart: Franckh-Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co. KG, 2012. €49.99, ISBN 978-3-440-12615-8. Website: http://www.kosmos.de.&
This splendid sound and video guide by two German bioacoustics experts was first published in 2005, albeit then with just one DVD presenting 100 European bird species (for a review, see Ibis 147: 863–864). DVD 1 of the expanded and thus even more impressive new edition has films of 110 songbirds (from Alpine Accentor Prunella collaris to Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis), while DVD 2 shows the same number of non-passerines – Dunlin Calidris alpina to Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis – each for an average of 80 s.
In the book, written by the first author, the Introduction begins with remarks about listening to and watching the films with or without a spoken commentary. Longer subsections then cover all the information needed on: how to operate the DVDs, use the menus and select recordings alphabetically or by groups of related species; the recording techniques employed; what the DVDs offer (ideally for each species: habitat and song; brief presentation and, if possible, different plumages; songs, calls and instrumental sounds of, in some cases, both sexes and juveniles) and cannot (yet) offer; and the range of species filmed (mainly those breeding in Central Europe, but also some in other categories such as regular winter visitors to the region). In addition to marginal notes about the recordings used, species accounts comprise a brief portrayal (description, habitat, characteristic behaviour) and, closely linked with that, detailed descriptions of voice and other sounds given in various situations.