By Norman Elkins, Jim Reid and Allan Brown
Fife Ornithological Atlas Group and the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, 2016
Hbk, 384 pp; many colour photographs and maps
ISBN 978-0-9512139-6-4, £35.00
This tetrad atlas is another that follows on from the publication of Bird Atlas 2007–11. It is the second atlas for the county; the Fife Bird Atlas (see Brit. Birds 97: 203), covering 1991–99, was the first atlas to record distributions in the breeding season and also year-round. In the earlier volume, year-round distributions were presented at the 5-km square level (thus four to a 10-km square) rather than tetrads (25 to a 10-km square), as here.
The three authors were all part of the team involved with the first book so clearly atlasing is in their genes! The introductory chapters are short and describe the survey methods and coverage, weather and climate during the fieldwork period, and the habitats of Fife. Appendices include a list of rarer species recorded during 2007–13, a brief gazetteer and, importantly, a table of population estimates. Where possible these are based on accurate counts, such as those of breeding seabirds (mainly on the Isle of May where, for example, 45,000 occupied Puffin Fratercula arctica burrows were counted in 2008). For many of the more widespread species, use of data from an average of 44 Breeding Bird Survey plots covered each year in Fife was made. It is good to see these data being used, demonstrating the value of a high level of BBS coverage in the county and the partnership between the authors and the BTO.
The bulk of the book is devoted to the species accounts and maps. The standard format comprises (rather succinct) text on the left-hand side and maps on the right. Up to three maps are provided: winter abundance and distribution; breeding season abundance and distribution (these two maps use three dot sizes to represent different count maxima recorded, with the scales varying between species); and finally breeding status, showing confirmed, probable and possible breeding. The use of colour (red, green and blue against a grey background) means that, at least to my eyes, distributions are clearly shown. For species recorded in the first Fife Atlas, a smaller map showing breeding status in 1991–99 is provided, and these maps are accompanied by a table showing the tetrad occupation by breeding category in the two surveys. There is no change map to highlight the differences between the two surveys, which would have added considerable value, but the introductory chapters explain that while there was 100% coverage in winter, TTVs were not undertaken in 23% of the 385 tetrads in the breeding season.
Most of Fife lies below 200 m, and away from human settlements land use is largely agricultural. Fife is still important for the Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra but the total number of occupied tetrads in the breeding season has shrunk from 76 to only 22. There is an annual census of Corn Buntings in Fife and the population in 2011 was around 100 pairs, similar to that documented in the first Fife Atlas. Perhaps numbers were underestimated 20 years ago given the 71% reduction in range?
The maps clearly show tetrads where no TTVs were completed and, since these areas are spread reasonably evenly across Fife, overall patterns are not compromised. The book explains that the focus in the breeding season was to complete the required coverage for Bird Atlas 2007–11 with anything else being a bonus. With this caveat, being able to produce such a book demonstrates what is possible with a small but dedicated group. There are perhaps messages here for other areas with few volunteers, showing that they can still fully support a national project. A tetrad atlas for all of Scotland might be possible during a period of national fieldwork for a future Atlas.
There are large, colour photographs throughout so this is an attractive book to pick up and browse through. Yet, as with all tetrad atlases, the chief appeal lies in the conservation value of the maps; and all birders living in or familiar with Fife should order a copy if they haven’t already got one.