Sutherland Birdlife is a book of two halves; the first covers the geography, habitats and birdlife of the county and the second is comprised of species accounts that form an extension to Alan Vittery's 1997 book 'The Birds of Sutherland'. These distinct halves are separated by several pages of beautiful watercolours by Symonds, illustrating some of the species characteristic to the county at different times of the year.
For those unfamiliar with the county a chapter entitled 'An outline of Sutherland' looks briefly at the geology, glaciation, soils and climate and how these have shaped the landscape of this extensive region of Scotland. Additional context is provided by the section on bird habitats, which is further subdivided into the main habitats that are found within the county. There is much detail here and the descriptions of the various habitats and their value to the birds that may be found within them are complemented by a series of attractive photos that certainly whet the appetite for the scenery and birdlife that Sutherland has to offer. A short chapter follows, examining the primary conservation issues affecting birdlife in the county.
Before the species accounts themselves is a section that briefly summarises breeding specialities; the impact that migration has on the species that may be seen; and a short gazetteer of key Sutherland birding sites, although reference to a map would have perhaps been useful.
The rest of Sutherland Birdlife is taken up with short accounts of bird species that have occurred within the county. As previously noted these extend Vittery's previous county avifauna and as such some earlier observations, particularly of notable species, are missing from this newer volume. For the most part, the accounts briefly describe the present status of species within the county with some providing useful insight into more recent colonists, such as Jay where breeding wasn’t proven until as recently as 2015.
Caution however, should be exercised when reading the accounts of rarer species and vagrants, for no indication is made within the text towards their acceptance by recording authorities. The review of this book published in British Birds makes reference to a number of such records that have never been submitted or were classed as 'not proven'.
For those considering a visit to Sutherland then the first half of this book will serve as a useful introduction to this beautifully varied county and for those who aren’t, then the stunning photographs and insightful text might just tempt them.