Wednesday 24 August 2016

Britain's Birds - a new book for Newfoundland birders.

A book arrived in the mail yesterday. I was not expecting anything. I opened the package and found an identification guide to British birds. Then I recalled that some months ago I was asked for permission to use a photo of the April 2014 Torbay Ross’s Gull for a British bird book.  I opened the book to Ross’s Gull and indeed saw the image of the Torbay Ross’sI started flipping through the pages one by one.  Every plate was as beautiful as the one before. Within a couple of minutes of gorging on this new book I knew it would be up front on my go-to consulting references for European birds. It is not just another nice bird book to stash away for a rainy day on the dormant books shelf.

IN A NUTSHELL.  This is a photographic guide. Bird images are cropped and grouped on a background mural showing a habitat in which the bird would live. 3,200 images were used in the making of this book. The book covers just Britain and Ireland but includes every species that has occurred up to March 2016. Common and regularly occurring scarce species get a full page of coverage.  The very rare species can be fitted up to six species per page but this often includes the actual individual that was photographed in Britain.

WHAT I LIKE.  The quality is first-rate for the overwhelming majority of the 3,200 bird images. No surprises. No bad lighting.  No faulty reproduction.  No handicaps or negative quality allowances required when interpreting the accuracy of these photos. The images are ready to go and easy to absorb as they are. They are believable.  Each plate is a welcome mat. You want to look. You are eager to see the detail.  And there is a lot to see and learn from these images.  The birds are as close to the living thing as they can be on paper.

USEFULLNESS. This book covers all the European and Eurasian species that have and are likely to occur in Newfoundland. It would work well as a standalone guide on a trip to Britain & Ireland.  The Collins Guide as we call it, also known as the Birds of Europe (Mullarney et al.), would be my first choice for owning a single European bird book.  This new book makes an excellent backup for the Collins Guide. It is nice to have good photos to support excellent illustrations.  The two books make a perfect marriage for European birds.

For birders living in Britain & Ireland there is a lot of useful information on distribution (including detailed breeding maps) and abundances of regular species and the status of rare birds.  It is interesting to know there are <100 records of Killdeer and <10 records of Semipalmated Plover in Britain and Ireland.  The rare ‘golden’ plovers, American and Pacific, get a full page neatly crammed with pertinent information – a quick reference of the well-known key field marks. 

Birds shared by Newfoundland and Britain have useful entries. There is a page of winter and summer plumaged alcids in flight.  There are some valuable reference images of adult and juvenile jaegers.  Juvenile Arctic and Common Terns are pretty well done.  There is valiant attempt to demystify gulls for the timid.  The most common species get two pages showing the different ages in flight and at rest.  In addition there are full pages showing similar species in flight by age class. Did I mention the shearwater plates? Not bad. Not bad at all.

From a Newfoundland birder's point of view this book is a luxury. You can live fine without it.  However, it enhances the information on European vagrants that we get out of the Collins Guide.  The book also does a better than average job on the gulls, terns, jaegers, alcids and other birds that are also common in Newfoundland.  It is <$40 CDN on

The tiny image of the pink-breasted Ross`s Gull is the Torbay bird from 29 April 2014. Now forever immortalised in a book.

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