The Birds of Nottinghamshire

Published on 08 July 2020 in Book reviews

By Jason Reece, Nick Crouch, David Parkin, Chris du Feu and Bernie Ellis

Liverpool University Press, 2019

Hbk, 594pp; many photographs, illustrations and distribution maps

ISBN 978-1-78962-009-2; £44.99

Produced on behalf of the Nottinghamshire Birdwatchers, this is the first avifauna of the county since 1975, so is long overdue. Its scope is the birds recorded in the county up to and including 2013 but it also has a chapter on notable additions in 2014–18, meaning it is very much up to date.

This is a large-format hardback, liberally illustrated with photographs of birds taken in the county and evocative artwork by local artist Michael Warren, making it a pleasure to browse through and dip into. Ken Clarke, the former MP and a local birdwatcher, provides the foreword and the acknowledgments appear before even the introduction, celebrating everyone who contributed to this work. There is a 19-page chapter on the history of bird recording in Nottinghamshire, which provides a fascinating overview of the places, the people and the processes involved. It is in here that we find the summary of losses and gains to the breeding avifauna of the county. Since 1800 there have been 13 documented losses, including Black Grouse Lyrurus tetrix in the early twentieth century; Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe and Red-backed Shrike Lanius collurio in the 1970s; and Wood Warbler Phylloscopus sibilatrix, Whinchat Saxicola rubetra and Lesser Redpoll Acanthis cabaret since 1990. There have been many more gains, 40 in total, the most recent being Little Egret Egretta garzetta in the last year of the review period, 2013. Many of these are associated with the creation of wetlands in the county, partly due to gravel extraction, but also due to the establishment of new nature reserves. Indeed, since 2013, three further wetland species have been added to the list of breeding birds in the county. A comprehensive list of county bird surveys since 1928, with summary results, is tabulated for easy reference. There follows a 26-page chapter describing the county and its bird habitats; again, this is informed, well illustrated and an interesting read.

Thus far, the reader has a good understanding of the project, the county and its ornithological history. All good background for the main part of the book, the species accounts. Written by a team of authors, accounts for each of the regularly occurring species provide a simple introduction to the species and its habitats, particularly helpful for readers less familiar with birds or Nottinghamshire. There is a review of historical status and, where relevant, results from local BBS plots and other local studies, including ringing work. Vagrants receive shorter but nevertheless useful reviews of the records, and in some cases (including Redhead Aythya americana and Cedar Waxwing Bombycilla cedrorum, records for which Nottinghamshire is rightly famous) original finder’s accounts. All in all, these are a joy to dip into, even for readers less familiar with the county.

Each species is allocated up to three pages and accounts include a mix of photos and/or Warren’s illustrations, plus, for some species, graphs and tables. For most species there are up to three maps; the selection depends on the species. No maps are shown for the widespread species or vagrants. There was no specific atlas fieldwork for this book, but the inspiration to bring this body of work together was the availability of tetrad-level maps to inform the species accounts. This was a sensible decision; indeed, I am surprised that other counties that did not organise their own atlases at this time did not make greater use of this dataset.

The ‘summer’ maps use a simplified system based on breeding evidence at the tetrad level, showing in red or pink either probable/confirmed breeding or present and probably not breeding. Winter maps show presence in blue. These maps use the data from Bird Atlas 2007–11 and coverage was complete across the county. With towns and rivers shown on the maps, these provide a good record of distribution, making this part of the project very worthwhile. To maintain comparability of the data sources (many more sources were available for inclusion in 2007–11 than in 1988–91), the change maps only show tetrads which had timed visits completed in both projects, meaning that there are large gaps with no information. Still, they neatly show presence and absence in both periods plus losses and gains at the tetrad level. I found the colours and symbols in these maps initially confusing but after a while you get the hang of it. Red and green are used together but the symbols are clearly different, meaning that the information should be apparent to all.

Overall this is an excellent book and highly recommended to all birders in the broader Midlands and to collectors of avifaunas.

Mark Holling