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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.

Birds of the West Indies (cover)

Birds of the West Indies

Author: Guy M. Kirwan, Anthony Levesque, Mark W. Oberle & Christopher J. Sharpe

Publisher: Lynx Edicions, Barcelona

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9788416728183

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 400pp

Price: £49.99

Having recently been to the West Indies bird watching and bird ringing, I was disappointed at the selection of bird guides available for the region with them all appearing to be reprints of older books, which while serviceable, are definitely in need of updating. Therefore, it’s good to see a new, modern guide for the region come out, even if it’s a few weeks too late for me to make use of personally, at least for now!

Covering 29 countries and territories from the Bahamas in the... read more

Hugh Hanmer

British Birds: A Pocket Guide (cover)

British Birds: A Pocket Guide (WILDGuides)

Author: Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop & David Tipling

Publisher: Princeton University Press, Princeton (NJ) & Oxford

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9780691181677

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 272pp

Price: £9.99

Throughout my birding life I have never been a fan of photographic guides. The images in most of these early guides were of poor quality and often only featured one or two plumages per species. Back in 2016 that changed after seeing a copy of the WILDGuides' Britain's Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Britain and Ireland in the accommodation I was renting on Shetland. This book was packed with high-quality photos by various photographers, including Hugh Harrop and David... read more

Scott Mayson

Where to Watch Birds in France (cover)

Where to Watch Birds in France

Author: Jean-Yves Barnagaud, Nidal Issa & Sébastien Dalloyau

Publisher: Pelagic Publishing, Exeter

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9781784271541

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 336pp

Price: £25.00

Having been birding in France a number of times I was intrigued to read this new guide to see how well it stands up to the sort of planning I like to make. As with many guides, this book divides up the country with clear recommendations for each region and lists which species to look out for. Following a detailed guide to the book itself, the descriptions are well set out with nice suggestions for hot spots to visit wherever in the country you might be, how long you might want to spend there... read more

Katharine Bowgen

Gulls Simplified (cover)

Gulls Simplified: A Comparative Approach to Identification

Author: Pete Dunne & Kevin T Karlson

Publisher: Princeton University Press

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9780691156941

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 208pp

Price: £20.00

This book aims to look at shape and structure, before dwelling on finer plumage characteristics, an approach you might already use on raptors. It starts ‘Gulls? No waaaayyeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’, which rather sets the tone for the rest of the book; chatty, laid back and informal.

Author Pete Dunne realised he was better able to identify a Lesser Black-backed Gull at 200 yards than at 20 feet. Although, being a book covering the gulls of North America, I can relate to... read more

Sarah Harris

Listening in the Field (cover)

Listening in the Field: Recording and the Science of Birdsong

Author: Joeri Bruyninckx

Publisher: MIT Press, Cambridge (MA) & London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9780262037624

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 248pp

Price: £27.00

Bird song and calls have caught people’s attention and captured our imagination for millennia. As scientific study emerged and advanced, listening to, recording and analysing bird vocalisations became a key aspect of ornithology.

Bruyninckx documents the history of these developments in absorbing detail, starting with case studies of some of the early pioneers of bird sound recording in the field and going on to consider how we interact with and interpret bird sounds. The author... read more

Nick Moran

To the Ends of the Earth (cover)

To The Ends of The Earth: Ireland's Place in Bird Migration

Author: Anthony McGeehan

Publisher: Collins Press, Dublin

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781848893528

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 248pp

Price: £24.99

As a resident of Northern Ireland, I chose this book for its title: ‘Ireland’s Place in Bird Migration’. However, the scope of this fascinating book is global, like the paths of the book’s protagonists.

This is far from being a book for those interested in the birds of Ireland only; the miraculous biology of migration is explored from the physiological changes in a bird’s body to the actions of weather and luck on migrations. Each chapter of the book is well researched, and McGeehan... read more

Katherine Booth Jones

The Feather Thief (cover)

The Feather Thief

Author: Kirk Wallace Johnson

Publisher: Hutchinson, London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781101981610

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 297pp

Price: £20.00

Before reading this book, not one of us who met to discuss it had any idea whatsoever about the very serious and skilful art of salmon fly-tying, especially when taken to the lengths described in this narrative. Fly-tying, yes maybe - ordinary ones for actually catching fish - but not created to the level we get to see here, where flies are made from the most beautiful feathers, coveted and preserved beyond comprehension, never to go near a drop of water and many, it seems, made by men who... read more

BTO Book Group

Birds of Nunavut volume 1 (cover)

Birds of Nunavut (2 volume set)

Author: Ed. Richards, J.M. & Gaston, A.J. (editors)

Publisher: University of British Columbia Press, Vancouver

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9780774860246

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 810pp

Price: £99.99

Many readers, perhaps most, will be unfamiliar with the territory of Nunavut, a sprawling landscape dominated by islands that covers nearly two million square kilometres. Created in 1999 by division of Canada’s Northwest Territories, Nunavut supports a human population of fewer than 40,000 individuals, making it one of the most sparsely populated landscapes on our planet. Readers are more likely to recognise some of its component islands, such as Baffin Island and Ellesmere Island, and may... read more

Mike Toms

Urban Ornithology (cover)

Urban Ornithology: 150 Years of Birds in New York City

Author: P.A. Buckley, Walter Sedwitz, William J. Norse & John Kieran

Publisher: Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca & London

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 9781501719615

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 534pp

Price: £60.00

Any book that starts "It was a dark and very stormy night" has got to be worth investigating. What emerges is a testament to what long-term effort by dedicated observers can achieve. The book details the changing avifauna of a small corner of northern New York City (the western Bronx) over the last 150 years in astonishing detail.

Introductory chapters describe the topology of the area, and the large-scale changes seen since the arrival of Europeans in the 1600s, as well as some of... read more

Rob Robinson

Where to Watch Birds in Somerset, Gloucestershire & Wiltshire (cover)

Where to Watch Birds in Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wiltshire

Author: Ken Hall

Publisher: Christopher Helm, London

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9781472912381

Binding: Softback

Page Count: 320pp

Price: £25.00

Many readers will be familiar with the Helm “where to watch birds in…” series. This, the latest addition, covers a varied region, with habitats including the extensive woodland of the Forest of Dean, large parts of the Severn Estuary, Salisbury Plain, the Cotswold scarp and the Somerset Levels. It should be welcomed for several reasons. First, it is by Ken Hall, who, with John Govett, wrote the first three editions and is clearly well placed to update the work. Second, there have been... read more

Gordon Kirk

Birds of Italy (cover)

The Birds of Italy, Volume 1: Anatidae – Alcidae

Author: Pierandrea Brichetti Brichetti & Giancarlo Fracasso

Publisher: Edizioni Belvedere, Latina

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9788889504604

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 511pp

Price: £85.00

This book covers all species belonging to the families Anatidae to Alcidae that are or have been present in Italy since the early 1800s. For each breeding species, a vast amount of information is provided on its distribution (with good-quality black and white maps), habitat, population estimates, density, trend and breeding details (phenology and breeding success) within Italy. Movements within and outside the country, where applicable, are covered and illustrated with clear maps. Wintering... read more

Daria Dadam

Rocky Shores cover

Rocky Shores (British Wildlife Collection 7)

Author: John Archer-Thomson & Julian Cremona

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing, London

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9781472943132

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 368pp

Price: £35.00

Britain and Ireland are fortunate in having a wide variety of coastlines. The rocky shores are, for birders, the haunt of Rock Pipits and Purple Sandpipers, but this book reveals a far wider range of complex and exciting biodiversity reliant on the ever-changing conditions of this environment. The authors do an excellent job of making the subject accessible without glossing over the detail, with some of the less apparent fauna – such as copepods, sea-squirts and diatoms - dealt with as... read more

Andy Musgrove

Steller's Sea Eagle cover.jpg

Steller's Sea Eagle

Author: Vladimir Masterov, Michael Romanov & Richard Sale

Publisher: Snowfinch Publishing, Coberley

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9780957173231

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 384pp

Price: £40.00

In 1740 Georg Steller, a young German doctor and naturalist, accompanied the explorer Vitus Bering on his search for a land bridge between Russia and America. The expedition was shipwrecked amid storms, and despite Steller’s best efforts, Bering and much of the crew died on what became known as Bering Island. Steller survived a harsh winter and returned to St. Petersburg with first descriptions of many animals, among them Steller’s Sea Eagle.

Times have moved on somewhat since... read more

David Jarrett

Green andProsperous Land cover

Green and Prosperous Land – a Blueprint for Rescuing the British Countryside

Author: Dieter Helm

Publisher: William Collins, London

Publication Year: 2019

ISBN: 9780008304478

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 336pp

Price: £19.99

This book arrives at the right time. Irrespective of whether and how we leave the European Union, the central tenet of Dieter Helm’s thesis is fast gaining traction: a healthy environment is fundamental to a healthy economy. The author has good credentials for presenting the arguments: he has nature firmly embedded in his upbringing, and economics filling his mind. Rarely does a book arrive, chiming so perfectly with the policy environment of the day. It explains the principles that underpin... read more

Andy Clements

Bonkers Birding (cover)

Bonkers Birding

Author: John Lee

Publisher: Brambleby Books

Publication Year: 2018

ISBN: 978190824154


Page Count: 297pp

Price: £9.99

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is well-written and comes as close as any book I have read to explaining why people go birding or twitching. The book also resists the temptation of just listing foreign holidays and the birds seen which can become a little boring to the reader. Instead it documents how John’s birdwatching started, the revelation of the first trip to Minsmere (I can still remember mine 50 years ago), birding in different parts of the UK and world as John’s life... read more

Nick Carter