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Birds of Bhutan & Eastern Himalayas (cover)

Publisher: Helm, London

Publication Year: 2019

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 416

ISBN Number: 9781472941886

Price: £ 30.00

Birds of Bhutan and the Eastern Himalayas

The original Birds of Bhutan published by Helm in 1999 was the first field guide to the avifauna of this Himalayan nation; the new work however, is not simply just a second edition but has been extended to include the neighbouring Indian states of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh, and also adds the renowned Bhutanese bird expert Sherub as a fourth author.

Whilst much of the book is devoted to the superbly illustrated plates and corresponding species accounts, the introductory section is extensive. Along with the usual guide to using the book which in this case also covers the taxonomy used, there is a really useful account of the main habitats found within the geographic area covered, including habitat features, elevation; as well as listing a few characteristic, threatened, or range restricted species that may be found within them. A table of globally threatened or range restricted species found within the geographic scope of the book is another useful feature.

A brief guide to the some of the key and more accessible birdwatching areas found within the region   provides those considering a visit to the region with a list of nature reserves, national parks and other areas that offer notable birding experiences. Location, habitats and target species are detailed along with an indication of the best time to visit; making this a useful place to begin when putting together an itinerary.

A section of the introduction is devoted to conservation issues affecting birdlife within Bhutan and the surrounding regions of the Eastern Himalayas. Like so many other parts of the world land use is a major concern and while forest cover remains high, commercial forestry and other human activities are impacting forest quality, particularly at lower altitudes; as a result Bhutan has imposed a ban on timber exports. Agriculture expansion, necessary to feed growing populations, is responsible for the degradation of lowland grasslands and wetlands; the latter also being affected by the increased use of hydropower. Fortunately the region has many protected areas, most notably in Bhutan where almost 50 percent of the country, inclusive of all major ecosystems, is designated. In addition to formal conservation measures the dominant religious beliefs of Hinduism and Buddhism usefully convey implicit protection to most wildlife, particularly within Bhutan itself.

The introduction concludes with maps of Important Bird Areas within the region, a glossary, references, regional organisation details, and an illustrated guide to bird families occurring within the geographic scope of the book.

The larger part of the book however, is comprised of the species accounts and the accompanying 152 colour plates. The plates, printed opposite the accounts of the species depicted, are skilfully illustrated by many prominent artists with sex and age difference shown where appropriate. Birds in flight are presented for species that are more frequently encountered in transit such as raptors, gulls and herons; or where salient features are only visible when on the wing, such as nightjars.

Species accounts, whilst concise, include an abbreviated list of the regions in which the bird can be found along with a handy range map; residency status usefully details altitude. A brief guide to identification lists features used to separate a species from those most similar where confusion is possible; details any age and gender differences; describes voice including song and call; and provides an indication of preferred habitats as well as any notable behavioural traits.

For those visiting Bhutan or the Eastern Himalayas this definitive field guide really is the only one you need to pack. If however, your concern is for your carbon footprint then the guide still serves as a great insight into the amazingly diverse avifauna that needs conserving in the face of inevitable climate change.

Book reviewed by Justin Walker

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