UNDISCOVERED OWLS: A Sound Approach Guide
This is the latest in a series of lavishly-produced books pioneering identification strategies based primarily on sound recordings. Once again, it is a very impressive piece of work - extremely pleasing on the eye, thought invoking text and crammed full of essential information. This publication concentrates on all of the Western Palearctic's 27 owl 'species' and allows for a comprehensive study of each and every one.
The Sound Approach team is made up of a small band of elite and highly experienced ornithologists, namely Arnoud van den Berg, Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb, Dick Forsman, Killian Mullarney and Rene Pop, and has been actively pursuing such projects since the early 1990's. Magnus is the main man when it comes to recordings and the understanding and production of sonograms, while the others all have their own individual niches to fill - all in all a formidable team. Add to that the professional design expertise of Cecilia Bosman and Mientje Petrus and then you have one production team bar none and this book is working proof of such marvel - it is an undoubted masterpiece.
In just under 300 pages, it's 9 chapters work their way through all of the Western Palearctic Owls and to get the optimum from the text, the book really needs to be read in conjunction with the four CD's that accompany the tome. It is a book from my own heart, adopting the rather liberal approach of taxonomy and running with 27 rather than 19 species, based around both physical & morphological differences as well as vocalisation differences. The book has numerous surprises up its sleeve, splitting Barn Owl into 4 (Common, Slender-billed, Madeiran & Cape Verde), Scops Owl into 4 (Eurasian, Cyprus, Pallid & Arabian), Eagle Owl into 3 and recognising Maghreb Tawny Owl as distinct, as it clearly is by those that have seen and heard the species in Morocco.
Each chapter is highly detailed, often running to 15 pages per species, and incorporates lavish photography, lots of sonograms and useful histories. The text is very readable but with an obvious bias on sound recordings - great detail going in to describe how and when each segment was obtained. A map highlighting the approximate distribution of each species is also included. The majority of the images used to illustrate each species are sumptuous whilst Hakan Delin's evocative artwork is patch-quilted around the text and histograms, complimenting the presentation. Many of the names used to describe each species are straightforward but 'Cucumiau' for Desert Little Owl was somewhat unexpected and Great Grey becomes Lapland Owl in justification for separating it from the Nearctic counterpart 'species'. I must admit to being rivetted to the book at times, the chapters on Hume's and Omani Owls being particularly illuminating - the latter remaining undiscovered before work commenced on this project.
All in all an absolutely essential purchase and a book to be extremely proud of.
Lee G R Evans, British Birding Association, 12 April 2015
Product Review: The Warbler Guide, by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle
This hefty photographic compendium provides a novel approach at the identification of the amazing technicolor myriad of North American Warblers. It is most unlike previous works on this genera and is putatively designed to help you quickly and confidently identify the species, as well as age and gender any warbler you encounter in the United States and Canada. Although nicely sized, it is far from being a field guide, weighing in at over a kilogram ! In light of its target goal, the two authors have included the following sections - Visual Finders, Song and Call Finders, a Topographic Tour and What to notice on a Warbler, the Species Accounts, Ageing and Sexing sections and Vocalisations. Utilising a number of icons and key terms, the introductory chapter actually extends to an overwhelming 137 pages, highlighting virtually everything you ever need to know about the genera - the photographic reference material is simply sumptuous. What was most intriguing (as well as informative and highly detailed) was the 'understanding sonograms' section, this alone running to over 40 pages, whilst the 'Visual Finder Guides' on pages 101-115 were particularly useful.
The largest chunk of the tomb is reserved for the detailed accounts of each species of warbler that breeds in the New World, each depicted and presented in alphabetical order (from American Redstart to Yellow-throated Warbler). On average, six pages are devoted to each species, the first with between two and eight images highlighting each plumage, followed by a multitude of smaller additional photographs highlighting the salient features and depicting the species in a myriad of postures. This was very impressive indeed, highly illuminating, and incorporating additional pages on ageing and sexing, distribution in summer and winter and an exhaustive section on vocabulary. Where sexes differ greatly, as with the Black-throated Blue Warbler or American Redstart, the female is treated completely separately and given equal space. With so many images crammed into a confined space, there is little room for text, but the authors have chosen to concentrate on known field characteristics and differences, and notes companioning 'additional photos' easily make up for any shortfall. For me, this was an extremely good selling point, the detail included being of an ample and highly workable nature. I soon found myself picking the book up again and again, not least to study the Cape May Warbler insertion.
Following Yellow-throated Warbler is the insertion of a further seven species (Crescent-chested, Fan-tailed, Golden-crowned, Rufous-capped and Slate-throated Warblers, Gray-crowned Yellowthroat and Tropical Parula) - vagrants from the tropical regions to the Mexican border (primarily to Texas & Arizona) and each given a two-page spread. Yellow-breasted Chat and Olive Warbler are also featured too, both once being considered as 'warblers'.
In summary, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially if you visit the likes of North America on a regular basis or wish to become familiar with the genus from a UK vagrant perspective. It is also available at an incredibly cheap price - £19.95 - and is published by Princeton University Press.
Lee G R Evans
FAIR ISLE BIRD OBSERVATORY REPORT FOR 2011
The latest Fair Isle Bird Report has just been published covering the Year 2011 - the 63rd in this series. As usual, it is of a very high standard, with 120 perfect-bound pages. An Atlantic Puffin in flight greets you on the cover, whilst a feast of Killer Whales feature at the back and field sketches of 3 Fair Isle specialities on the inside covers - Great Snipe, Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler and Lanceolated Warbler. This was the year that saw David and Susannah Parnaby take over from Deryk and Hollie Shaw's long reign as wardens and administrators as well as the year the building of the new Observatory was completed. It was a relatively average year for birds, highlights perhaps being the first Lesser Scaup for the island, 2nd & 3rd Pallid Harriers and 3rd White-winged Black Tern and Eastern Olivaceous Warbler.
The presentation and layout of the report follows the usual pattern with the Warden's report on pages 5-10, a monthly summary on pages 14-24, the Systematic List from pages 25-69, the Ringing Report on pages 70-81, nesting seabird report on pages 82-86, selected rarity descriptions on pages 89-100, Invertebrate Report on pages 101, Cetaceans and other wildlife on pages 102-103, a scientific paper on Fair Isle Starlings on pages 106-109, a very useful map of the island on page 114 and an updated Checklist of the Birds of Fair Isle on pages 117-120.
As in most Bird Reports, my main interest is in the Systematic List, this one being well written, of good presentation and highly informative. My only criticism is its distinct lack of graphical data, comparing the status of previous years of many species. The gallery forms the basis of the eight central pages and includes a selection of some exceptionally high standard works - Pallid Harriers, Baird's Sandpiper, Great Snipe, White-winged Black Tern, Red-rumped Swallow, Collared Flycatcher, Eastern Subalpine Warbler, Booted, Eastern Olivaceous, Melodious & Blyth's Reed Warblers and some cracking Snow, Lapland & Rustic Bunting images. Within its 45 pages were some stand-out records, many of which I had previously been unaware of - an interesting neck-collared Bewick's Swan, a Tundra Bean Goose influx, a Red-necked Grebe, two spring Coot, a Sabine's Gull in September, an influx of Little Gull, two European Turtle Doves, the island's 81st Lanceolated Warbler, 37 territories of the endemic Fair Isle Wren, a Black-bellied Dipper, a May influx of Tree Sparrows, no less than 5 autumn Citrine Wagtails and a summering male Black-headed Bunting.
A total of 3,494 birds of 95 species were trapped and ringed on the island in 2011 - a staggering 659 Storm Petrels leading the rollcall. Two additions were made to the list in 2011: a Lesser Scaup and a Little Gull - whilst it was an excellent year for both Blyth's Reed Warbler and Hawfinch. Equally unusual was only the second Carrion Crow to be ringed on the island. Once again, the Ringing Report is full of fascinating anecdotes - a Common Guillemot of 28 years old, a 21 year old Puffin and some exceptional Common Rosefinch movements.
On a negative front, 2011 represented the worst season on record for breeding seabirds on Fair Isle, declines being felt in all 12 species bar Fulmar and Gannet. Most serious were declines in Arctic Tern (97.6% since 2010), Arctic Skua (58.6%), Kittiwake (52.4%) and Common Guillemot (29.2%).
I particularly enjoyed the in-depth analysis of Fair Isle's first Lesser Scaup (at Buness on 7th October) - particularly informative as previous internet photographs I had seen had given the impression of a Greater Scaup. Also some detailed accounts of the two Pallid Harriers, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Collared Flycatcher and three different Great Snipes. David Parnaby and Jason Moss also reminisce on a particularly memorable August fall on pages 99-100.