Living in south east Cornwall I'm probably much closer to the Lizard than many of you reading this. However, it's still almost two hours drive away and consequently not an area that I regularly visit, so I was looking foreword to finding out more about this famed location.
The author has been recording his bird observations on the Lizard since 1970 so was seemingly well placed to give an authoritative account, and on the whole I was not disappointed.
The book has the feel of a modern day county bird report, with an attractive soft cover depicting a nice painting of a Woodchat Shrike drawn by the author. This, together with a number of illustrations throughout the book indicates he is also an accomplished artist. Like a bird report, the main body is the systematic list, but in this case drawing on 45 years of personal observations and record keeping.
It begins with a site map and an explanation of the main study area. It soon becomes apparent that this is centred around the authors 'local patch', a survey area of some 6 square kilometers that forms the southern part of the Lizard Peninsula. Records from several sites outside this area are included but this is not comprehensive. For example there are no reports from the Windmill Farm nature reserve.
This book is a very personal account, using the author’s own data to build up the species accounts. One of the notable features is his use of bar charts and graphs throughout the text to summarise many years of data. These are represented in a number of different ways depending on the species, to illustrate for example peak migration periods, maximum seabird passage or specific habitat preferences. For some species 5 year totals show population changes over a 25 year period, mirroring national and regional trends. It illustrates the very real contribution that consistent recording over a long period of time can have in building our knowledge of bird communities in a local area.
There is one aspect of Brian Cave’s book that concerns me, that being his treatment of rarities. He explains that from 1970-1990 his records were submitted to BBRC and the Cornwall county recorder but not subsequently. His reasons for this are not explained. Consequently the book includes numerous previously unpublished records of rarities. In fact the first four I looked up, Bee-Eater, Short toed Lark, Marsh Warbler and Subalpine Warbler all included sightings that were not printed in the Cornwall Bird Report for that year. This is unfortunate because there are undoubtedly many good records that are lost from the official county record but for me it does detract from the authenticity of the book as a whole.
That said there is still a wealth of information in this book and author should be applauded for sharing with us his 'thirteen volumes of fieldwork notes', which unlike many others (including my own) will probably never see the light of day.