Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society, 2010; hbk, 746pp, 120 colour photographs, one colour and 64 black-and-white illustrations, four maps, numerous tables; ISBN 978-0-9556028-3-2; Subbuteo code M20839; £45.00 Devon is an important county for birds in the UK. It is the third largest in England and is unique in being the only county with two separated coastlines. It has two important upland national parks - Dartmoor and Exmoor (shared with Somerset) - it embraces the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel, which has contributed 41 firsts to Devon's remarkable total of 422 species, and it harbours virtually 100% of the UK population of the Cirl Bunting Emberiza cirlus. It is over 40 years since the publication of the last complete Devon avifauna, written by Robert Moore and published in 1969. The seeds for the current book were first sown in 1995, when an editorial committee was set up under the aegis of the Devon Birdwatching and Preservation Society. The project was not completed, but the partial draft and notes were passed to Michael Tyler, who undertook to complete the book with support from society members and other Devon ornithologists. The new book is a substantial hardback volume with an attractive colour painting of a Cirl Bunting by Mike Langman on the dust jacket. The book opens with a 22-page overview of the county, with sections on its two national parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty, an analysis of weather data for 1971-2000, agriculture and the main habitats. This is followed by a brief four-page history of Devon ornithology and then the systematic list, which occupies 637 pages. The systematic list follows the latest BOURC sequence. The header for each species includes any European and UK conservation designations and a concise statement of its status in the county. Each species account opens with a paragraph describing world distribution and a discussion of races if polytypic. This is followed by a section summarising the available nineteenth- and early twentieth-century information. The bulk of each account is concerned with recent records. For breeding species, information from Devon breeding bird atlas work carried out in 1977-85 is summarised, followed by later, species-specific survey data if available, and Breeding Bird Survey trends from 1994-2008. Although the book acknowledges that the current atlas survey will be written up in a later companion volume, the opportunity to give at least a qualitative assessment of changes since the earlier atlas has not been taken for all species. Data for arrival and departure of summer visitors has largely been ignored apart from a table of first and last dates in an appendix after the main list. For wintering waterfowl, WeBS and other count data for the last 20 years are analysed. This has not been done in a consistent way for all species, though, and I found some of the tables confusing; for example, for Velvet Scoter Melanitta fusca the table 'annual maxima site counts 1999-2008' gives a total for 2008 of 118. The Devon Bird Report for 2008 shows that the sum of the monthly totals is 118 but the sum of the annual maxima at each site is 49. Data for regular passage migrants, scarce migrants and vagrants are analysed in a variety of ways: some have histograms of annual totals, some have a table of monthly totals, sometimes subdivided for individuals sites, Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus has a histogram of half-monthly totals, and Pectoral Sandpiper Calidris melanotos has a table of weekly autumn totals, but week four for each month is clearly a longer period than the other weeks, making a week by week comparison invalid. Thus the records for most migrants are presented in some detail, albeit not in a consistent fashion. However, the information is somewhat thin for species such as Garganey Anas querquedula, where the bulk of the account covers an influx as long ago as spring 1959. Scarcer species of less than annual occurrence and vagrants often have their records listed in full, or are summarised with an accompanying histogram of annual totals. Often, however, the time lines of these are not to scale and, since only every other bar is captioned with the appropriate year, it is impossible to know for species such as Little Auk Alle alle and Golden Oriole Oriolus oriolus to which year some of the bars refer. The systematic list does contain a very large amount of information, but unfortunately the analyses presented are inconsistent, and so questions that are answered for some species remain unanswered for others. Weekly histograms of arrival dates would certainly have added to the information presented for many species. The systematic list is enlivened with colour photographs and illustrations, all but one in black-and-white, and virtually all contributed by Devon-based birders. The standard is high, but an opportunity has been missed as very few have been captioned with location or date details. Steve Young's colour vignette of a Pallas's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus is superb and it is a pity that more work of a similar quality was not included in colour. The choice of photographs is somewhat disappointing; with the advent of the digital age, there are numerous opportunities for high-quality images to be included, and yet photographs of recent rarities such as the 2007 Long-billed Murrelet Brachyramphus perdix at Dawlish and the 2005 Least Sandpiper Calidris minutilla at South Milton Ley are conspicuous by their absence. A modern avifauna should include as large a selection of photographs of rarities as possible - such images provide irrefutable evidence of the record for future researchers, and they increase the sales potential as well! The book concludes with a confusing section on pending records, the earliest and latest dates of migrants, a checklist of Devon birds, a brief account of bird ringing in Devon and the totals of each species ringed, a gazetteer and an exhaustive bibliography and list of references. This is a very good book and will be an essential purchase for all with an interest in Devon birds and many others besides. However, its long gestation period appears to have resulted in an inconsistent approach to both the writing and the editing of the species accounts, and the opportunity to produce a truly outstanding avifauna has not quite been realised. John Clark Buy this book from the British Birds bookshop which is run by Subbuteo Natural History Books This means that 5% of all sales generated by British Birds subscribers, whether it is books reviewed in the journal, featured on its book page or listed on the Subbuteo website, will be paid to British Birds - and will directly support the production of the journal. To browse the British Birds bookshop, please click here
Volume: 
Issue 3

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