RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife (cover)

RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildlife

Peter Holden & Geoffrey Abbott
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2023 (2023)
ISBN: 9781399403245

Gardens cumulatively make up a huge habitat in the UK and for those of us lucky enough to have a garden they have the potential to host all sorts of amazing wildlife. This book is a remarkably comprehensive guide to almost everything that might share a space with humans. It covers much, much more than just birds. Species account for our feathered friends cover less than a fifth of the book. Mammals are covered in a good level of detail (although Red Squirrels are in every sense displaced by their grey cousin, and Pine Marten doesn’t feature).

RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds (cover)

RSPB Pocket Guide to British Birds

Marianne Taylor & Stephen Message (illustrator)
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2022 (2022)
ISBN: 9781472994721

This book may be small but packs quite a punch – more than 300 species of bird are covered. Each species account gives you illustrations (especially good for waders where the images used highlight key id features), ‘key features’ to look for with explanations about how to identify the species, short descriptions of song and call, where to see the bird and a brief summary of movements and population. It’s like a condensed version of the RSPB’s excellent Handbook of British Birds.

The Meaning of Geese (cover)

The Meaning of Geese

Nick Acheson
Chelsea Green Publishing UK 2023
ISBN: 9781915294098

Migratory geese fall into that group of species that have an accompanying cultural resonance because their arrivals and departures mark the changing seasons. This resonance is particularly strong for those birdwatchers, and others, who are rooted within the landscapes touched by these birds on their long migratory journeys. Nick Acheson is one such individual, and the significance of the pinks, brents and white-fronts that winter in his north Norfolk landscape is evident from his engaging and beautifully delivered text.

Where to Watch Birds in Wales

Where to Watch Birds in Wales

David Saunders & Jon Green
Helm, London 2022 (2022)
ISBN: 9781472979513

Following the long-established format of the Where to Watch Birds in… guides, a newly-updated fifth edition of this guide to birdwatching sites in Wales is now available. The addition of new locations brings this volume to a total of 142 sites. Most of the premier birdwatching locations in Wales have an entry; nonetheless, this is not an exhaustive guide, so other worthy and popular birdwatching locations are necessarily overlooked. Likewise, many ‘sites’ cover very large areas and are themselves comprised of a number of distinct locations.

Shrikes of the World (cover)

Shrikes of the World

Nobert Lefranc (author), Tim Worfolk (illustrator)
Helm, London 2022 (2022)
ISBN: 9781472933775

Shrikes occupy a strange place in the minds and hearts of ornithologists; at once being attractive passerines, but with a raptorial streak that led to many of us being brought up to know them as butcherbirds for their habit of impaling food items on thorns and barbed wire. They can be a birder’s dream and nightmare, with complexes of closely intertwined species and subspecies making field identification of individuals tricky. And they are at once widespread globally, but with specific conservation requirements that that make them locally rare, as here in the UK.

Low-carbon Birding (cover)

Low-carbon birding

Javier Caletrío
Pelagic Publishing 2022
ISBN: 9781784273446

As Javier Caletrío notes at the very beginning of his introduction to this collection of essays, ‘There is a beauty in the simplicity of birdwatching’. This simplicity is something that has all too often been lost; countless birdwatchers continue to burn significant quantities of fossil fuels in their attempts to see increasingly rare and exotic birds, often in increasingly rare and exotic locations.

Female Geroes of Bird Conservation (cover)

Female Heroes of Bird Conservation

Rosemary Low
Rosemary Low (self-published) 2021
ISBN: 9781739913007

It is an extremely depressing truth that women’s contributions to science are often overlooked. Historically, it was commonplace for women’s scientific work to either be ignored or stolen. Although modern women are much better represented, a leaky pipeline (the phenomenon by which capable individuals from minority groups are gradually lost from the scientific workforce) still poses massive problems for equality and diversity targets. Representation is key, and so it is refreshing to find a book dedicated to highlighting the profiles of female ornithologists.

The Corncrake (cover)

The Corncrake: an ecology of an enigma

Frank Rennie
Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath 2022
ISBN: 9781849955027
This comprehensive monograph is, perhaps surprisingly, the first to be published on this charismatic species. Extremely well referenced, while still being highly readable, Frank Rennie’s book provides a fascinating account of the Corncrake, both here and more widely across its range. As you would expect for a monograph, there are sections on breeding biology, migration, status, taxonomy, diet, mortality, and conservation.
The Role of Birds in World War One (cover)

The Role of Birds in World War One: How Ornithology Helped to Win the Great War

Nicholas Milton
Pen & Sword History, Barnsley 2022
ISBN: 9781399070560

In a follow-up to last year’s The Role of Birds in World War Two: How Ornithology Helped to Win the War, Nicholas Milton has produced another fascinating book exploring the role played by birds in 20th century conflict. Described as “The Best Birdwatching Army Ever Sent to War”, the British Expeditionary Force included hundreds of both professional and amateur ornithologists.

Tracks & Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe (cover)

Tracks & Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe

Roy Brown, John Ferguson, Michael Lawrence & David Lees
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2021 (2021)
ISBN: 9781472973184

I suspect that the vast majority of naturalists and birdwatchers have a few feathers, skulls and general bird detritus somewhere in their possession. These can serve as a souvenir from a trip, a useful reference, or worth having simply to appreciate their beauty or structure. Knowing where these objects come from adds a lot to their meaning. This is where Tracks & Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe steps in.

The Bird Name Book (cover)

The Bird Name Book

Susan Myers
Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford 2022
ISBN: 9780691235691

In style, this very engaging book sits somewhere between the terse Helm dictionary of scientific bird names (by James Jobling) and Ray Reedman’s much more discursive Lapwings, Loons and Lousy Jacks. In content too. The subtitle here is all important - “A history of English bird names”. It aims to cover the ‘common’ English names of all bird groupings (from Accentor to Zeledonia).

A Newsworthy Naturalist: The Life of William Yarrell (cover)

A Newsworthy Naturalist: the Life of William Yarrell

Christine E. Jackson
John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxford 2022
ISBN: 9781913679040

Yarrell’s is a name that you have probably come across, if only through its association with the British race of White Wagtail – which we know as Pied Wagtail or Motacilla alba yarrellii. He is, however, a somewhat distant figure now, whose significant contributions to the study of birds (and fish) have largely been forgotten. Yarrell’s A History of British Fishes and A History of British Birds, published in the 1830s and 1840s respectively, were the main reference works on these subjects for the remainder of the century.

Birds of the Lesser Antilles (cover)

Birds of the Lesser Antilles: A Photographic Guide

Ryan Chenery
Helm, London 2022
ISBN: 9781472989611

This guide serves as a colourful who’s who of the Lesser Antilles’ birdlife designed for casual birders visiting the region, including those on a non-birding holiday who would nonetheless appreciate being able to identify the avian species they encounter on their travels. I am myself no means an ornithological expert, though my partner is, and we have been on many a holiday on which I have repeatedly asked ‘what’s that bird?’ or ‘what’s that I can hear singing?’. Sometimes having a weighty bird guide with endless species can be a bit intimidating to a beginner.

From the Bird's Mouth (cover)

Bho Bheul an Eòin / From the Bird’s Mouth

Ruairidh MacDhonnchaidh / Derek Robertson
Woodlands Studios 2022
ISBN: 9780953932450

Over the past few years, there has been a resurgence in awareness of, and interest in, Scottish Gaelic far beyond the current heartlands of the Western Isles and Skye. Initiatives such as SpeakGaelic, a new learning program for beginners, learners, and lapsed speakers, as well as the online Scottish Gaelic Duolingo course have proven to be hugely popular. However, for Gaelic speakers, both native and learners, seeking to give voice to the nature around them, there are gaps where Gaelic names do not exist for certain species that are new to Scotland.

Where to Watch Birds in East Anglia: Cambridgeshire, Norfolk & Suffolk (cover)

Where to Watch Birds in East Anglia: Cambridgeshire, Norfolk & Suffolk

David Callahan
Helm, London 2020
ISBN: 9781472962225

Courtesy of its geographic position, diversity of lowland habitats and extensive coastline, East Anglia is high on the list of desirable UK birding destinations. Even in this age of web- and app-based resources, there is still a place for ‘where to watch’ books and this comprehensive site guide to such an attractive birding region will be of interest to local and visiting birdwatchers alike.