Current book reviews

The Birder’s Guide to Africa

The Birder’s Guide to Africa

Michael Mills. Photographs by Tasso Leventis
Go-away Birding 2018 (2018)
ISBN: 9780620717250

This is an ambitious book which sets out to present a 'comprehensive and detailed summary of bird watching in the African region.' This is a tall order, but this book really is packed with information.

Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology

Henry Dresser and Victorian Ornithology

Henry A. McGhie
Manchester University Press, Manchester 2017
ISBN: 9781784994136

This is the first more or less comprehensive biography of a man who was one of the more important influences on ornithology in the latter half of the 19th century, Henry Dresser. It is based especially on the Dresser archive material and the large collections of skins and eggs accumulated by Dresser which are now in the Manchester Museum where Henry McGhie is Head of Collections and Curator of Zoology.

Behind More Binoculars

Behind More Binoculars : Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers

Keith Betton & Mark Avery
Pelagic Publishing, Exeter 2017
ISBN: 9781784271091

The sequel to Behind the Binoculars is here and yes, it's another series of engaging interviews with a diverse range of birdwatching personalities, but this enjoyable follow-up offers far more.

Keith Betton and Mark Avery, surely worthy of a chapter each, interview notable birders ranging from Frank Gardener -  the BBC's security correspondent - to Royal Society Fellow, author, zoologist and tireless Guillemot researcher, Tim Birkhead, and the BTO's very own head of surveys and atlas co-ordinator Dawn Balmer.

Flight Lines

Flight Lines: Tracking the wonders of bird migration

Mike Toms
NHBS 2017 (2017)
ISBN: 9781908581778

This book, a joint project between BTO and the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA), explores Afro-Palaearctic migration in a unique and engaging way. Compiling BTO data and using a series of artworks and photographs to beautifully illustrate, it provides a fascinating insight into all aspects of the journeys of migrant birds from Europe to Africa and back again.

Flying High

Flying High : Discover the Poetry in British Birds

Anneliese Emmans Dean
Brambleby Books, Taunton 2017
ISBN: 9781908241504

BTO's vision is 'a world inspired by birds and informed by science' and with this in mind one could be forgiven for thinking that 'Flying High' was written to support our strategy! It hits a beautifully sweet spot, effortlessly combining very entertaining but informative poetry with lovely photographs and bite-sized but accurate facts. It is a book that adults and children alike will learn from and enjoy, and it lends itself very well to 'dipping in', either just for fun, or as a reference book.

The Birds of Colonsay and Oronsay

The Birds of Colonsay and Oronsay: an Island Avifauna and Bird Atlas

David C. Jardine, Mike A. Peacock & Ian A. Fisher
Argyll Bird Club, Lochgilphead 2017
ISBN: 9780956112699

Back when I used to holiday in Colonsay, some fifteen years ago, I had the 48-page booklet ‘The Birds of Colonsay and Oronsay’ as my birding companion.  Now this new Atlas has been produced, complete with photos, detailed species accounts and 165 maps of breeding and winter distributions.



Clive Chatters
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2017
ISBN: 9781472933591

Saltmarsh is the fifth book in the recently started British Wildlife Collection and, like the previous four, it is well researched and well-illustrated throughout and uses a similar narrative style. It contains a wealth of information about its subject matter, focusing on the wildlife, history, development and past and future conservation of this marginal coastal habitat.

Winter Birds

Winter Birds

Lars Jonsson
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2017
ISBN: 9781472942814

Breaking from the mould of his field guides, Lars Jonsson’s ‘Winter Birds’ provides a personal perspective on the most common 59 ‘garden’ species of the Swedish winter. The text does not follow a formulaic pattern, instead varying from species to species. Whilst the species accounts generally cover appearance and status, other elements such as vocalisations, taxonomy, the artistic challenge of depicting the bird and the species’ place in folklore come and go, rendering it much more readable than a typical field guide.

Birds of Java, Sumatra & Bali

Birds of Java, Sumatra & Bali

Tony Tilford & Alain Compost
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2017 2017
ISBN: 9781472938183

A small and reasonably priced field guide, this might seem like a logical first option when looking for a guide to these three Indonesian islands. However, you do get what you pay for: the experienced birder will be left disappointed.

Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore

Birds of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore

G W H Davison and Chew Yen Fook
Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2017 (2017)
ISBN: 9781472938237

This small field guide might be conveniently sized and priced, but it also leaves a lot to be desired. The first point to note is its conciseness: the author has chosen 252 bird species to feature in the book, out of an approximate 690 described species in the area. It does mention the four endemic species in the introduction, but then fails to produce the endemic Malayan whistling-thrush in the book. Contrastingly, the Nicobar pigeon has not yet been recorded on mainland Malaysia – only sparsely on the neighbouring of Langkawi – but has made it into the book.

The Beauty of the Sound Approach

The Beauty of The Sound Approach

The Sound Approach
The Sound Approach, Poole 2017

The Sound Approach will be known to many as the team who have promoted a more critical appraisal of bird vocalisations and how we use them to identify birds and gain insights into their ecology. A harsh critic of their books might be turned off by their use of technology and sonograms that disconnect the sounds from its maker. But this new product, a vinyl record with beautifully illustrated sleeve, is more artwork than reference and celebrates the rich sounds of the natural world as well as the knowledge, enthusiasm and tenacity of the recordists that put it together.



Gerard Gorman
Reaktion Books, London 2017
ISBN: 9781780238296

This monograph is one of a remarkable series of animal monographs published by Reaktion Books.

Gerard Gorman has written a number of books about woodpeckers, his love of these birds having started about 30 years ago. Already interested in birds, he reports walking in woodland in Budapest and coming across a Black Woodpecker chiselling out its hole. He was fascinated and visited the nest through to fledging of the young.

Birds of Kruger National Park

Birds of Kruger National Park

Keith Barnes & Ken Behrens
Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ) & Oxford 2017
ISBN: 9780691161266

Although the main reason for many when visiting Kruger National Park in South Africa is to see the big mammals like Rhinos, Lions, Buffalo and Elephants, the abundant birdlife in the park cannot be ignored.  With over 500 species of bird recorded within the park, this guide only covers 259 likely to be encountered on any given day, and so it is far from, and not intended to be, an exhaustive identification guide to everything that occurs there. 

The Science of Science Communication.

The Oxford Handbook of The Science of Science Communication

Ed. Jamieson, K.H., Kahan, D. & Scheuffle, D.A.
Oxford University Press 2017
ISBN: 978-0-19-049762-0

There is growing acknowledgement within the scientific community that if we are to get science’s voice heard then we need to better understand our audiences and deliver more appropriate and effective communications. While science is grounded in empirical work and the evaluation of evidence, we have often failed to adopt a similar approach for science communication. This makes this new publication particularly timely, bringing together empirical evidence from fields as diverse as sociology, political science and biotechnology to examine how science can be best communicated.

The Art of Mindful Birdwatching

The Art of Mindful Birdwatching: Reflections on Freedom & Being

Claire Thompson
Leaping Hare Press, Brighton 2017
ISBN: 9781782404286

Many will be familiar with the rise of mindfulness in the western world, a meditative technique borrowed from Buddhism and frequently promoted as a tool for improving our mental wellbeing. Connecting more closely with the natural world has also been promoted for reducing stress and anxiety. In a sea of self-help books it would be all too easy to dismiss The Art of Mindful Birdwatching as just another title competing in an already overcrowded arena; to do so however, would be doing this attractively bound volume an undeserved injustice.