Sandgrouse - 20 (2): 1998

20 (2): 1998

Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 4, Sandgrouse to Cuckoos
Del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. & Sargatal, J. (eds.) (1997)
Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. pp 679, 70 colour plates, numerous colour photographs and distribution maps, £110.

The latest volume in this series covers sandgrouse, pigeons and doves, cockatoos and parrots, turacos, and cuckoos; a mix of families that should arouse interest in Middle Eatern birders. For many, sandgrouse are the archetypal desert birds, and have been the flagship for our society´s endeavours since its inception and the vehicle through which we communicate our ornithological discoveries to the wider world (this journal). I continue to be impressed with the general family accounts in this series: they are scholarly, well referenced, up-to-date, easy to read and beautifully illustrated. The 20 pages on sandgrouse alone nearly make the volume worth purchasing! The species accounts certainly give a satisfactory summary of available information on the six species that occur in the OSME region – I will not quibble with the maps as I feel there is much still to be learned of the status and distribution of sandgrouse in the Middle East.

How does the section on pigeons and doves bear up to scrutiny? This family may be a good one to evaluate the accuracy of accounts and maps as several members are showing range expansions, e.g. Eurasian Streptopelia decaocto and African Collared Doves S. roseogrisea and Namaqua Dove Oena capensis. It looks as though the mapped ranges have been gleaned from the Interim Atlas (Jennings 1995) and are thus fairly representative given the space and size limitations. Unfortunetaly, there is no mention of the small population of the African Olive Pigeon Columba arquatrix in Arabia –perhaps it would be unfair to expect a tiny spot of colour on the map, though some mention of this important range extension outside Africa should have appeared in the text. Bruce´s Green Pigeon Treron waalia is cited as a resident in south-west Arabia. This may be true in the extreme south, but further north there is certainly some trans-Red Sea passage during the spring and it may also be an altitudinal migrant. Also, the mapped range of the Dusky Turtle Dove Streptopelia lugens indicates it is present only in southern Yemen, when in fact its range does extend well into the Saudi Asir Mountains. It is cited as being sedentary, though in Arabia I would suggest it has a fairly pronounced altitudinal migration.

Leap-frogging over cockatoos, parrots and turacos (with 100s of stunning illustrations) to the next family of Middle Eastern interest, the cuckoos. Accounts and maps for the Jacobin Cuckoo Clamator jacobinus, Great Spotted Cuckoo C. glandarius, Didric Cuckoo Chrysococcyx caprius, Common Koel Eudynamys scolopacea and White-browed Coucal Centropus superciliosus are all satisfactory, but at the same time they show how poor is our knowledge of this group in our region. Klaas´s Cuckoo´s Chrysococcyx klaas Arabian range is not shown on the map but the text sections on distribution, movements and status and conservation all give slightly different versions of an uncertain status, when in reality it is probably a scarce migrant visitor.

Despite being able to pick up a few errors or oversights, I urge all serious ornithologists to purchase this series personally or use your influence to get it stocked in any libraries you use. I cannot praise it highly enough.

Stephen Newton