Michael Brooke’s Far From Land; the Mysterious Lives of Seabirds takes the reader on a magical tour of every ocean and some of the remotest locations on the planet through the lives of seabirds. Michael Brooke’s passion for seabirds shines through from every page of this book. As a seabird biologist, he has spent his career studying this enigmatic group of birds. Out of necessity, his, and many other seabird researchers’, studies have mostly been conducted on land, leaving large gaps in our knowledge about where seabirds go when they leave our shores, how they migrate, how they cope with inclement weather conditions at sea, how they locate their food and so on. Over the past 20 years, these questions, and many more, have started to be answered thanks to modern electronic tracking devices; in this book, Brooke reveals what these emerging technologies have uncovered about the lives of seabirds when at sea.
The book starts by introducing the reader to the seabird families of the world as well as to the various electronic devices that have provided so much previously unobtainable information. The book then charts the progression of seabirds from fledging, through immaturity to adulthood, revealing what we now know, thanks to electronic devices, about their wanderings as unencumbered juveniles, their migrations as adult birds, the restrictions placed on them when breeding, their abilities to flourish in (what we would consider to be) inhospitable oceanic conditions and their various feeding strategies. The final chapter looks at interactions between humans and birds, historically, currently and into the future.
The book contains a series of colour plates along with black and white photographs. Each chapter is also beautifully illustrated by Bruce Pearson, the renowned wildlife artist. Stunning as the photographs and drawings are, I did occasionally find myself wishing for a splash of colour to truly appreciate the beauty of the Red-necked Phalarope or the absurdity of Red-footed Booby feet. Throughout, the text is personalised by the inclusion of anecdotes from Brooke’s days spent researching seabirds as well as occasional, sometimes random, often humorous, asides (we learn, for instance, that Finsbury Park is the London underground station used by supporters of Arsenal Football Club when heading to a home game and that Sooty Shearwaters can fly almost as quickly as Usain Bolt can run a 100m race).This book will appeal to anyone with an interest in seabirds and tracking technologies. It provides a detailed and thoroughly referenced review of the knowledge these technologies have imparted, yet is written in an easily accessible, highly readable, style. At times, it does career though numerous different species to illustrate a point, which can be a little confusing, although understandable in the context. The book is packed with fascinating discoveries and revelations – just how and why penguins leap so suddenly from the water onto an ice shelf being one of my personal favourites. What we have learned to date from these relatively new technologies is astonishing; researchers are now able to tell, remotely, where a bird is, whether it is flying or swimming, how deep it is diving, whether (and when) it is eating and so on. The potential for future discoveries as technologies advance is truly exciting and I cannot wait for the sequel to this book in 20 years’ time. I would highly recommend Far From Land to anyone with an interest in the subject.