Every year, British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology get together to review the best bird books to appear during the previous 12 months. All books reviewed in British Birds, in BTO News and on the BTO website are eligible for the award. There are no formal judging criteria - instead, the judges are simply looking for books of special merit that will be appreciated widely by British Birds readers, BTO members and a wider audience of birdwatchers.
This year, a total of 80 books fulfilled the criteria for consideration, 18 of which made the extended shortlist for discussion by the judges. In contrast to the previous year’s competition, it took a while for the overall 2016 winner to emerge – although, in the end, it won by a comfortable margin and was the top choice for three of the six judges. It was also more difficult to pick the runners-up this year with so many high-quality books in the field. As a result, there were a higher than usual number of books that failed to make the top six but received votes from at least one of the judges and so receive an ‘honourable mention’ below.
Winner: The Birds of Spurn by Andy Roadhouse
The Spurn Bird Observatory Trust, 2016.
2nd: The Most Perfect Thing: Inside (and Outside) a Bird’s Egg by Tim Birkhead
Bloomsbury Publishing, London, 2016.
3rd: Birds in Norfolk: a national and international perspective by Andy Brown & James McCallum
Langford Press, Kings Lynn, 2016.
Joint 4th: Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America by Sébastien Reeber
Christopher Helm/Bloomsbury, 2015.
Joint 4th: Challenge Series: Winter by Martin Garner
Birding Frontiers, 2015.
admired and included in the top six by five of the six judges. The coverage is selective, focusing on 15 groups of birds that provide a particular challenge in this season. This enables an in-depth coverage, with a detailed text supported by superb artwork, excellent well-chosen photographs, and line-drawings, sonograms and maps where relevant. The design and layout is attractive and it is a book that is almost impossible to resist flicking through as soon as it is in your hand. Sadly, with Martin’s death last year, we shall miss his unique take on some of the key challenges for birders in spring and summer.
6th: Reclaiming South Georgia: the defeat of furry invaders on a sub-Antarctic island by Tony Martin and Team Rat
South Georgia Heritage Trust, 2016.
The story of this hugely ambitious and challenging project is skilfully told in this book with a highly readable text that has been married with many superb photographs. Having introduced the islands and their importance for birds, the book summaries the huge problems caused by the introduced Brown Rats Rattus norvegicus and then explains how they were dealt with, from the initial planning stages through to completion of the project. The work carried out is already starting to pay dividends, though further checks are required to make sure that the islands really are now completely free of ‘furry invaders’. Proceeds from the book will help to raise funds for this monitoring work, providing an additional reason (if you needed one) for investing in this book.
In addition to our collective top six, the following books were all included within the top six of at least one of the judges. They are mentioned below in descending order of the number of votes received.
Guests of Summer: a House Martin love story
(By Theunis Piersma; BTO Books, 2016)
This slim volume is a highly enjoyable, and readable, account of the author’s fascination for this popular bird. As a scientist, he is well placed to take his interest in the species further than most, but all readers will relate to the affection he feels for one of his favourite birds. The style is engaging and crammed with intriguing nuggets of information; a perfect balance between describing his own feelings for the bird and presenting knowledge about the species.
Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East
(By Dick Forsman; Christopher Helm/Bloomsbury, 2016)
Dick Forsman is lauded for his expertise in this field and for his previous publications on the subject. His latest book would surely have been ranked even more highly if it had been his first foray into the subject. Yet this guide is far more than simply a revision of The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East; it presents a wealth of new information on raptor identification, and showcases the dramatic advances that digital photography has made possible for the portrayal of birds in flight.
Fingers in the Sparkle Jar: lessons in life and death
(By Chris Packham; Ebury Press, 2016)
This is not a typical book to feature in this competition. It is a memoir of troubled childhood years and it is only the young author’s interest in natural history (birds especially) that brings it within the competition’s scope. It is a startlingly refreshing read and a book that is both painfully honest and full of intense, almost poetic, descriptions of formative events.
History of Ornithology in Malta
(By Joe Sultana and John J. Borg; BirdLife Malta, 2015)
The two authors are well placed to write this book and have combined their knowledge as a campaigning ornithologist and a scientist respectively to provide a balanced and absorbing account of ornithology on this island. The coverage spans several thousand years, though ornithology developed especially from the mid 1800s, culminating in the formation of BirdLife Malta in 1992 (and its subsequent well-documented battles against illegal hunting).
Britain’s Birds: an identification guide to the birds of Britain and Ireland
(By Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop and David Tipling; Princeton University Press, 2016)
This is an impressive addition to the WILDGuides series, and one that continues the increasing trend of using photographs and modern design technology as the basis for a field guide. The organisation and layout have produced a book that is a joy to use and represents excellent value of money. It is not unusual to find mistakes in a book with such comprehensive coverage but this one does have more than its fair share, which detracts from an otherwise high-quality offering.
Siberia’s Sprite: a history of fascination and desire
(By Andy Stoddart; privately published, 2016)
Not the most lavish of publications but this is an enthralling account of the history of this bird, from its first discovery in the east to its more recent appearances on the east coast, and very much focused on the human side of the story.
The Life of the Robin
(By David Lack; Pallas Athene, 2016)
This is a welcome new edition of this classic species monograph, first published in 1943 and rarely bettered for the clarity, precision and readability of its text. This edition has new chapters by David Harper (bringing the story of this species up to date) and by David Lack’s son Peter, providing an insight into the author and the great legacy of his book.
We are grateful to the judges for giving so freely of there time, and especially to Carole Showell for sourcing books from the
Chris Mead Library at Thetford.
Ian Carter, Dawn Balmer, Stephen Menzie, Roger Riddington, Viola Ross-Smith and Peter Wilkinson
c/o BTO, The Nunnery, Thetford, Norfolk IP24 2PU