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Book Reviews

Browse the archive of BTO Book Reviews, which originally appear in each issue of BTO News - the BTO membership magazine. Join BTO today to get BTO News, and new book reviews, first.

Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain (cover)

Beak, Tooth & Claw: Living with Predators in Britain

Author: Mary Colwell

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780008354763

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 312pp

Price: £16.99

If you firmly believe that no fox should ever be shot or equally firmly believe that foxes should always be controlled then you may think that this is not a book for you. This is a book full of nuance. Mary Colwell explores predation by talking to people who are actively involved in land management and conservation. She encourages the reader to learn from people trying to face complex conservation challenges which don’t have simple solutions.

Beak, Tooth & Claw starts... read more

Graham Appleton

Britain’s Insects: A Field Guide to the Insects of Great Britain and Ireland

Britain’s Insects: A Field Guide to the Insects of Great Britain and Ireland

Author: Paul D. Brock

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780691179278

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 608pp

Price: £24.00

There are a great number of books out there which claim to be guides to Britain’s insects. However, the majority of them struggle to not only cover most of the main groups, but also they can be misleading, not sharing the other possibilities which the book wasn’t able to cover. With around 25,000 species of insect in Britain and Ireland alone, it’s understandable to see why many of these books fall short.

Paul D. Brock’s Britain’s Insects: A Field Guide to the Insects of Great... read more

Robert Jaques

The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers Past, Present and Future (cover)

The Eternal Season: Ghosts of Summers Past, Present and Future

Author: Stephen Rutt

Publisher: Elliott and Thompson Ltd, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781783965731

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 256pp

Price: £14.99

The Eternal Season is an exploration of the British summer, framed within the 2020 global pandemic but reaching back in time through reference to the writings of others, the author’s recollections of younger years, and the stark figures presented from BTO’s long-term monitoring schemes. This is a book about change and the disturbances that we are now seeing in the patterns and rhythms of the natural world; from the changing arrival and departure dates of summer migrants, through the... read more

Mike Toms

The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird (cover)

The Nightingale: Notes on a Songbird

Author: Sam Lee

Publisher: Century, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781529124835

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 248pp

Price: £14.99

Many will know Sam Lee as an award-winning singer, a folk music specialist dedicated to collecting and interpreting Britain’s oral tradition. Some will know him for his work as musical director for RSPB’s ‘Let Nature Sing’, while others will know him through his springtime concert series ‘Singing with Nightingales’, where an audience is led out into darkness of a late spring evening to hear Nightingales and human performers create music in each other’s company, and sometimes together. All... read more

Mike Toms

How You Can Save the Planet (cover)

How You Can Save the Planet

Author: Hendrikus van Hensbergen

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780241453049

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 240pp

Price: £7.99

A book by Hendrikus van Hensbergen, the founder Action for Conservation (an organisation getting more young people involved in nature), needs little introduction. Highlighting the lack of participation of young people in conservation, the organisation has helped to inspire others in the field to engage more with the young. The charity has a large following and holds a series of successful events and programmes throughout the year. Action for Conservation was a major influence in the creation... read more

Keir Chauhan

Europe's Dragonflie: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies (cover)

Europe's Dragonflies: A Field Guide to the Damselflies and Dragonflies

Author: Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9780691168951

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 360pp

Price: £25.00

As we see the climate warm and the British weather feels more Meditteranean during the summer, new species of dragonfly and damselfly have begun to be recorded in Britain for the first time. This makes it a great time for Wild Guides to publish a guide for Europe’s Dragonflies.

Wild Guides have developed a reputation for high quality guide books for wildlife (amongst other topics) over the last decade, and have covered several groups previously untouched by field guides. This... read more

Robert Jaques

A Beginners Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies (cover)

A Beginner's guide to Dragonflies & Damselflies of Britain and Ireland

Author: David Chandler

Publisher: Pisces Publications, Newbury

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9781874357957

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 92pp

Price: £8.50

It isn’t unusual for the avid birder, during the peak of summer when many birds are quieter and less obtrusive, to switch their sights to other fauna. Dragonflies and damselflies, with their aerial abilities and colourful markings, can do a lot to keep the at-a-loss birder entertained in the warmer months. They do, however, require a different set of skills to identify, with new nomenclature to learn and different features to pay attention to.

David Chandler has geared his book A... read more

Robert Jaques

Shearwater (cover)

Shearwater: A Bird, an Ocean, and a Long Way Home

Author: Roger Morgan-Grenville

Publisher: Icon Books, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9781785787201

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 282pp

Price: £16.99

Part travelogue, part memoir, Morgan-Grenville’s book delivers an engaging account of one of our least accessible breeding birds, the Manx Shearwater. The13 chapters are structured around a narrative journey, beginning under the watchful gaze of a grandmother whose strong presence shapes the remainder of the book. The story of the Manx Shearwater, both in its breeding colonies and out on the open ocean, is told in a way that brings together the bird’s ecology with acutely judged but lightly... read more

Mike Toms

Swifts and Us (cover)

Swifts and Us: The Life of the Bird that Sleeps in the Sky

Author: Sarah Gibson

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780008350635

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 328pp

Price: £16.99

Just as the May return of our breeding Swifts delivers a feeling of reassurance, so their late summer departure leaves a sense of loss. That loss, repeated each year, now carries the greater weight that comes from knowledge of the decline in UK Swift populations, evident in BTO’s long-term datasets. Sarah Gibson came to Swifts late but is a passionate local advocate for this long-distance traveller, involved in efforts to identify and protect breeding sites and increase awareness. Through... read more

Mike Toms

Birds of East Africa (cover)

Birds of East Africa: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi

Author: Terry Stevenson & John Fanshawe; Brian E Small & John Gale (Illustrators)

Publisher: Helm, London

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9781408157367

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 640pp

Price: £35.00

This is a second edition of a field guide which appeared in 2002. Superficially it looks like many other second editions but a closer look shows that this is a major revamp and updating. It covers all of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi and at least mentions all the species which have occurred in these countries with almost all of them illustrated. The guide covers 1,448 species which is an increase of 60 on the first edition and they are covered on 289 plates (286 previously). A... read more

Peter Lack

Flight Identification of European Passerines (cover)

Flight Identification of European Passerines and Select Landbirds: an Illustrated and Photographic Guide

Author: Tomasz Cofta, photographs by Michal Skakuj

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton & Oxford

Publication Year: 2021

ISBN: 9780691177571

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 496pp

Price: £38.00

Vis-migging, the art of watching, identifying and recording all of the birds seen flying through and over a particular watchpoint is better known as recording visible migration. The ability to accurately identify what often amount to little more than smallish dots is something that can only be gained by spending time vis-migging – lots and lots of time, learning the different flight patterns of the different families and the individual species. There is a short-cut to gaining the huge amount... read more

Paul Stancliffe

All the Birds of the World (cover)

All the Birds of the World

Author: Josep del Hoyo (editor)

Publisher: Lynx Edicions, Barcelona

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9788416728374

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 968pp

Price: £85.00

Lynx have had a long-term project to produce an exhaustive guide to the birds of the world. It started out with the 17 volumes of the Handbook of the Birds of the World (1992-2013) which has family and species accounts for all birds. This was followed by the two volumes of the Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World (2014-16). They have now published the third and final stage of this avian odyssey with this current book.

The publishers state that the book’s... read more

Steve Hunter

Fragile: Birds Eggs and Habitats (cover)

Fragile: Birds, Eggs and Habitats

Author: Colin Prior

Publisher: Merrell Publishers, London

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9781858946887

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 240pp

Price: £40.00

The acclaimed Scottish photographer Colin Prior is more usually associated with stunningly evocative panoramic landscapes of his homeland and further afield, but for his latest project the artist has returned to one of his first loves, birds; a passion nurtured while growing up on the edge of a Glasgow suburb. Like many however, Colin is acutely aware of the staggering decline of many species and the loss of the habitats they depend upon. Fragile is both inspired by and acts as a metaphor... read more

Justin Walker

My Birding Life (cover)

My Birding Life

Author: Moss Taylor

Publisher: Wren Publishing, Sheringham

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9780954254582

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 189pp

Price: £20.00

Ask any birder or naturalist that lives in Norfolk if they know the name Moss Taylor and invariably, they will say "yes", and I suspect the majority will have met him too, and of these many know him as a friend. He is a man, on first meeting, you are unlikely to forget!

Moss has been a keen birder since 1953 and a Norfolk resident from 1969 to the present day. He has also been a qualified ringer for over 50 years, only recently surrendering his permit after some of the most... read more

Jeff Baker

Lincolnshire Bird Atlas (cover)

Lincolnshire Bird Atlas 1980-1999

Author: Lincolnshire Bird Club

Publisher: Lincolnshire Bird Club

Publication Year: 2020

ISBN: 9781716802638

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 180pp

Price: £30.00

Published soon after the series of local atlases that coincided with Bird Atlas 2007–11, you might think the Lincolnshire Bird Atlas would span a similar period. You might expect a lavishly illustrated atlas with up to date distribution maps. You’d be wrong on both counts because this is a very different atlas, one from a different era. An atlas that nearly never was.

There’s a temptation with any atlas to jump straight to the maps but I always recommend readers... read more

Simon Gillings

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