In recent years, there has been a flurry of books about birds and birding in Morocco. Two names that crop up again and again are Patrick Bergier and Michel Thévenot (A Birdwatchers’ Guide to Morocco, The Birds of Morocco: an annotated checklist, Oiseaux du Sahara Atlantique Marocain) and, here, in colaboration with co-authors Abdeljebbar Qninba and Jean-Roch Houllier, they have once again produced another superb work on Moroccan birdlife.
The book starts with ten pages on the history of ornithology in Morocco, followed by chapters on geography, climate, environment and a fascinating section about the country’s avifauna, including detailed information about the region’s endemic subspecies, potential splits, extinct species, vagrants and much more. The bulk of the book consists of the species texts, which vary from a few lines to several pages depending on the species. The text is in both French and English, with each page split vertically between the two languages. If a comparison is necessary, it is best to compare this book with the 2003 BOU checklist: the species texts cover the same subjects, including distribution, habitat, nesting data and migration, but the content is some 17 years more up to date. In addition, Oiseaux du Maroc is a large-format book, printed on glossy paper and stuffed full with distribution maps and beautiful photographs. The photographs (some presented as full-page spreads) really complete the book and make it a joy to browse through, and show birds in various plumages, their habitat and their nests, eggs and breeding sites. The many nest and egg photos give the book the feel of a handbook from decades ago, although coverage of nests and eggs is not comprehensive.
However, despite the photographs being one of the book’s most appealing features, some also leave a slightly negative impression. The decision to use photographs of birds not taken in Morocco is disappointing, and although we can safely assume that Puffin Fratercula arctica and White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicillaweren’t photographed in Morocco, it’s more difficult to know where the Long-eared Owl Asio otus, Little Owl Athene noctua, ‘Isabelline Shrike’ Lanius isabellinus/pheonicuroides, Great Grey Shrike L. excubitor and Common Crossbill Loxia curvirostra were taken. Does that matter? Personally, I think they do, especially considering the many endemic subspecies in the region where location can be the best means of identification. It’s my opinion that any bird book using photographs should state the location and date taken. My final criticism of the photographs is of the (albeit few) images of nestling birds plonked on rocks or perched sticks for a photo opportunity. It does not add to the book and made me cringe when I saw them.
Having said that, this title holds a wealth of information about Morocco’s birds and made me yearn for years gone by when I led annual tours to Morocco – although deciding what to leave at home to make sure I had this book with me would be a difficult decision!