British Birds - 102, july 2009

British Birds - 102, july 2009


Edited by Josep del Hoyo, Andrew Elliott and David Christie. Lynx Edicions, 2008. 880 pages; 60 colour plates; many colour photographs and 638 distribution maps. ISBN 978-84-96553-45-3.
Hardback, £150,00.

Well, here we are again. Volume 13 of the long-running HBW series, and another reviewer has to consult a thesaurus to find some more ways of saying ‘very good'.

Potential purchases of Vol. 13 will be pretty familiar with the formula by now. This volume covers 16 familiar of birds including some charismatic well-studied groups that pretty much guarantee the broad appeal of this instalment. Each family of birds is given and extended chapter, which starts with a narrative account covering aspects of sytematics, general characteristics, ecology and habitat of the group liberally scattered with specific examples from the individual species in the family. The family accounts as in previous volumes, are packed with top-level information, and the level of erudition is impressive. They are all well written and thought-provoking. Outstanding in this volume is the family account text on the shrikes Lanius which has many illustrative paragraphs drawn from an obviously intimate knowledge of the literature surrounding these well-studied birds and is well worth reading. Few of the pages within these family accounts are without a photograph or two and these are generally good quality — many of them are stunning. The species accounts vary in length but are often quite brief and follow the standard formula of taxonomy, distribution, description, habitat, feeding, breeding, movements, status and conservation. These provide useful summaries without, of course, being all there is to say. As usual, there is a guest essay at the start of the volume, and this time it is a typically well-planned and authoritative chapter in migration by Ian Newton. It provides a nice précis of the state of our knowledge.

As might be expected, given the track record of the series, this book is a pleasure to own. When I look at the accumulating bookshelf bursting collection, it occurs to me that most of these books are still looking suspiciously new — am I actually taking care of them because they are so expensive or am I not using them? Sure I dip into them from time to time but they are not scrawled over like my other ‘working’ handbooks and guides. If there is an issue, it is that sometimes the narrative style of the family accounts is a bit ever whelming, and it is not always easy to find the piece of information yen want, or even know if it is going to be included. Without wanting to sound like a total geek, I am starting to prefer online or DVD sources to books, and HMW would benefit from being iii a searchable e1ectronic format, not least so that it would be possible to use it without having to winch a breezeblock volume off the shelf. Nevertheless, this is a valuable addition to an invaluable collection that has become a major standard reference work. The relentless march of this enormous project continues.

Martin Collison