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Book reviews

Read reviews of the books we hold in the Chris Mead Library, written by our in-house experts, and which books were voted Best Bird Book of the Year.

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A selection of book reviews features in our members’ magazine, BTO News.

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RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds (cover).jpg

RSPB How to Photograph Garden Birds

Author: Mark Carwardine

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781399404549

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 176pp

Price: £18.99

During my 20 years of birding, I have only modestly dabbled in bird photography (with the same camera from the 2000s I’ve had since school), so when beginning to read this new RSPB book by Mark Carwardine I was curious to see how well it would read to a beginner such as myself, and whether it would inspire me to join the growing photographer community and to properly partake in this popular pastime.

I was pleased by Mark’s clear message that you don’t need to travel to far-flung and... read more

Gethin Jenkins-Jones

The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife (cover)

The Atlas of Early Modern Wildlife: Britain and Ireland between the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution

Author: Lee Raye

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781784274078

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 398pp

Price: £44.99

As the title suggests, this book is presented as an atlas of the wildlife on our ‘Atlantic Archipelago’ from roughly 1519 to 1772. The term ‘wildlife’ covers a range of vertebrate species (from mammals to fish) together with a scatter of predominantly marine invertebrates, which together cover 151 species or grouped taxa. The mapped records and accompanying text draw on a few dozen key regional texts, largely produced by gentleman naturalists, such as Thomas Browne’s Notes and Letters on... read more

Mike Toms

The Painted Stork (cover)

The Painted Stork: Exploring Ecology and Conservation in India

Author: Abdul Jamil Urfi

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2024

ISBN: 9781784274399

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 191pp

Price: £24.99

Abdul Jamil Urfi’s latest work on his beloved Painted Storks takes us to India and provides an accessible but richly informative account of the lives of these globally Near Threatened birds. Urfi has a deep association with the wild colony of Painted Storks that breed within the Delhi Zoo, and the chapters draw on his years of careful observation of this interesting urban population. He also takes us to humid swamps, marshes and woodlands in the wider Indian countryside, where as well as... read more

Anthony Wetherhill

The Vanishing Mew Gull (cover)

The Vanishing Mew Gull: A Guide to the Bird Names of the Western Palaearctic

Author: Ray Reedman

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2024

ISBN: 9781784274627

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 374pp

Price: £65.00

At first glance, this book might appear to be another volume exploring the declines of bird species, as a result of Anthropocene activity. But reading beyond the title, it soon becomes clear that the eponymous gulls are disappearing in name only.

There is currently a great deal of debate surrounding the names of birds, much of which is focused on the controversial announcement by the American Ornithological Society that it will be renaming species which bear names honouring... read more

Jon Carter

Field Guide to the Birds of the Dominican Republic and Haiti (cover)

Field Guide to the Birds of Dominican Republic and Haiti

Author: Steven Latta, Chris Rimmer & Kent McFarland (authors), Dana Gardner (principal illustrator)

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9780691232393

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 228pp

Price: £19.99

The island of Hispaniola, comprised of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, is among the Caribbean’s most exciting birding destinations. With an excess of 300 species recorded, the island is home to an impressive 30+ endemics (more than any other Caribbean island) with all but one of those, Grey-crowned Palm-tanager, found in the accessible Dominican Republic. One of the most celebrated endemic birds of the region is the Palmchat, which is the sole representative of its genus and is the... read more

Jon Carter

Ben Rothery's Weird and Wonderful Animals (cover)

Ben Rothery’s Weird and Wonderful Animals

Author: Ben Rothery

Publisher: Ladybird Books, London

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9780241532294

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 48pp

Price: £14.99

Divided into sections covering some of the world’s strangest creatures found inhabiting the air, earth and water, Ben Rothery’s latest children’s book takes the reader on a journey peppered with some astounding facts and figures, and truly outstanding illustrations. The book touches upon 16 categories of animal, and these range from single species, such as the Bearded Vulture, Paradise Flying Snake and Giant Anteater, to an entire phylum in the case of the tardigrades. On the way, it takes... read more

Viola Ross-Smith

Haunted by the last tide (cover)

Haunted by the last tide: The SWLA in the Danish Wadden Sea

Author: Colin Williams (text), Marco Brodde (editor)

Publisher: Society of Wildlife Artists, London

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9788793477216

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 168pp

Price: £35.00

The result of two two-week trips by 19 artists, all members of the Society of Wildlife Artists (SWLA), this beautiful book documents the birds and landscapes of Denmark’s Waden Sea National Park. While the artistic styles vary, from pencil and watercolour to oil and scrap metal sculpture, the similarities of tones used – drawn from the places visited – create a unifying vision of the area’s rich wildlife and haunting presence. As powerful as the images is the richly woven text by Colin Williams... read more

Mike Toms

Be a Birder (cover)

Be a Birder: The Joy of Birdwatching and How to Get Started

Author: Hamza Yassin

Publisher: Gaia Books

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781856755092

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 294pp

Price: £16.99

Hamza Yassin is well-known for his work as a wildlife cameraman and presenter. He has worked on a whole host of television programmes, including David Attenborough’s Wild Isles, and has presented his own documentaries, in between winning Strictly Come Dancing of course. His new book, Be a Birder, is a truly joyful introduction to the world of birdwatching and never fails to spark enthusiasm in the reader. Although aimed at beginners, this book is excellent for any... read more

Jasmine Canham, BTO Youth Rep

The Norfolk Plover (cover)

The Norfolk Plover: A Study of the Stone-curlew

Author: Chris Knights

Publisher: Wild Breckland Books

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781399955690

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 215pp

Price: £29.95

Back in 2002, one of my first jobs in conservation was being part of a four-person RSPB team that monitored and protected the nests of Stone-curlews in the Breckland area of Norfolk, and my love of Stone-curlews is still as strong today. The patch I was assigned to was an estate farmed by Chris Knights, which had a well-trained team of gamekeepers and farm staff who were very adept at finding and protecting the nests. This patch is the inspiration for his book, which looks at Chris’s... read more

Neil Calbrade

Fergus The Silent (cover)

Fergus The Silent

Author: Michael McCarthy

Publisher: YouCaxton Publications

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781914424380

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 452pp

Price: £12.99

Michael McCarthy is perhaps best known for his environmental journalism and nature writing. His skills were recognised by BTO back in 2011, when he was awarded the annual Dilys Breese Medal for outstanding communication of science to new audiences.

Fergus The Silent marks a departure from his usual work, in that it is a foray into fiction. You have to admire the ambition of somebody whose first published fictional work is a 440-page novel! Given its length, you won’t be... read more

Viola Ross-Smith

Birdsplaining (cover)

Birdsplaining: A Natural History

Author: Jasmine Donahaye

Publisher: New Welsh Review, Aberystwyth

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781913830168

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 199pp

Price: £9.99

The author herself acknowledges in her opening note that some offence may be taken by the title, but Jasmine Donahaye’s collection of short essays is much more than it first seems. She elucidates a multi-faceted explanation for Birdsplaining, adding to the anticipated definition the notion of using birds as a way to explore the relationship humans have both to each other and to the natural world, as well as seeing in them a means to understand personal experience. From the Swallows... read more

Lesley Hindley

At the Very End of the Road (cover)

At the Very End of the Road

Author: Phillip J Edwards

Publisher: Whittles Publishing, Dunbeath

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781849954976

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 217pp

Price: £16.99

This book takes you through a year on the author, Phillip Edward’s, home ‘patch’ – a complex area of farmland, saltmarsh, river and coastline. Each chapter covers a calendar month, describing in intricate detail encounters with not just birds but mammals, plants, insects and everything else. Britain's fickle weather provides a backdrop to the seasonal changes. Each month is split into eight different accounts of an observation or discovery from that period. 

The intimate observations... read more

Steve Willis

The Hen Harrier's Year (cover)

The Hen Harrier’s Year

Author: Ian Carter (Author) & Dan Powell (Illustrator)

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2022

ISBN: 9781784273859

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 173pp

Price: £25.99

On one day every month throughout winter for the past 40 years, a band of hardy volunteers has layered up with thick clothes, filled up a flask with something warming, and ventured forth to a reedbed, rough field, or heath to watch, and to wait.

As the weak sun begins to dip, and the light begins to fade, some of these hardy... read more

Anthony Wetherhill

Finding W. H. Hudson (cover)

Finding W. H. Hudson: The Writer Who Came to Britain to Save the Birds

Author: Conor Mark Jameson

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9781784273286

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 360pp

Price: £21.99

Of American parentage, William Henry Hudson was born in Argentina in 1841. Arriving in London in 1874, he struggled for some years to make ends meet, before making his name as a naturalist. Hudson is best known for his nature writing, most notably The Naturalist in La Plata, Birds in a Village, Birds in London, and Hampshire Days, but he also wrote a handful of novels; these were significantly less successful than Hudson’s other books, with the author... read more

Mike Toms

Better Living Through Birding (cover)

Better Living Through Birding: Notes from a Black Man in the Natural World

Author: Christian Cooper

Publisher: Penguin Random House, New York

Publication Year: 2023

ISBN: 9780593242384

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 288pp

Price: £23.00

When starting Better Living Through Birding, I was not sure what to expect.

Cooper is perhaps most widely known in the UK for the infamous incident in Central Park in 2020, but after reading this book I hope he will be best known in the birding community for his profound connection with birds, his eloquent... read more

Faye Vogely

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