The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year

Every year, British Birds and the British Trust for Ornithology get together to review the best bird books to appear during the previous 12 months. All books reviewed in British Birds, in BTO News and on the BTO website are eligible for the award.

There are no formal judging criteria – instead, the judges are simply looking for books of special merit that will be appreciated widely by British Birds readers and BTO members. Details of the most recent winner can be found below.

The BB/BTO Best Bird Book of the Year 2016

Judging the 2016 award was carried out at the BTO’s annual conference, at Swanwick in Derbyshire, and as usual there were six judges in the panel. Two familiar faces were absent in 2016, however, since both Peter Hearn and John Marchant had stepped down after an impressive 17 consecutive years of involvement. We should like to pay tribute to their contribution during that period; in particular, John has acted as organiser of the competition as well as judge in that time, covering the entire period since the BTO joined forces with BB to present this award. We missed their input and hope that they approve of the selections made in their absence. In their place, Viola Ross-Smith and Stephen Menzie provided some welcome new blood, and at the same time lowered the average age of the judges somewhat! Mike Toms took on John’s role of organising the award, but was unable to participate in the judging.

This year, a total of 80 books fulfilled the criteria for consideration, 18 of which made the extended shortlist for discussion by the judges. Last year (Brit. Birds 109: 180–183), we signalled a commitment to provide an award for the best local/regional atlas or avifauna, but it was decided to postpone this until the 2017 award, not least to allow publication of the last few books in the pipeline.

In contrast to the previous year’s competition, it took a while for the overall 2016 winner to emerge – although, in the end, it won by a comfortable margin and was the top choice for three of the six judges. It was also more difficult to pick the runners-up this year with so many high-quality books in the field. As a result, there were a higher than usual number of books that failed to make the top six but received votes from at least one of the judges and so receive an ‘honourable mention’ below.

Winner: The Birds of Spurn

By Andy Roadhouse; Spurn Bird Observatory, 2016; reviewed in BB by Stephen Menzie (Brit. Birds 109: 693)

Stretching to over 700 pages, this hugely impressive volume combines a comprehensive and well-organised text with a superb assemblage of artwork and photographs (the majority of which were taken at Spurn). There is the expected detailed analysis of records for each species and the results are presented clearly and effectively so that the reader can take in the key points without being submerged by a sea of statistics. The overall result is a book that will provide the definitive work of reference for this site for years to come as well as being a pleasure to read. Those with a particular interest in Spurn will no doubt already own a copy but it deserves a far wider audience. Anyone with an interest in the work of bird observatories, bird migration, rarities, coastal birding or patch watching will learn a great deal. It sets the bar very high indeed for future books of this type.

2nd: The Most Perfect Thing: inside (and outside) a bird’s egg

By Tim Birkhead; Bloomsbury, 2016; reviewed in BB by Ian Carter (Brit. Birds 109: 245–246)

Tim Birkhead has an enviable track record when it comes to producing readable and engaging books about birds and in the last decade he has not only won this award (with The Wisdom of Birds in 2009) but made the runners-up spot on two previous occasions as well. He has the happy knack of being able to convey information in a straightforward way that is easy to read, and those familiar with his previous work will not be disappointed by this latest volume. The book tells the story of how eggs are produced as well as explaining the evolutionary aspects behind their design and the role they play in reproduction. The author guides us effortlessly through the history of our expanding knowledge, points out mistakes made along the way and highlights the significant areas where more remains to be learnt. The winner of this award last year, Nick Davies, is clearly a fan, describing The Most Perfect Thing as being ‘full of wonder and surprise and beautifully written’.

 3rd: Birds in Norfolk: a national and international perspective

By Andy Brown and James McCallum; Langford Press, 2016; reviewed in BB by Andy Stoddart (Brit. Birds 109: 478–479)

This is another excellent addition to the Langford Press Wildlife & Art series. It is perhaps unusual for a large-format book in that the text and artwork are given roughly equal weighting. Both could easily stand alone as the basis for a separate book but when combined the result is truly impressive: a book that is a delight to look at as well as an enjoyable and educational read. It makes a convincing case for conservation on two levels, highlighting the sheer beauty of the avifauna and wildlife habitats of this county as well as explaining their importance for bird conservation in Britain and farther afield. The book ends with Andy Brown’s inspiring and passionately argued vision for how Norfolk’s avian landscapes might be enhanced in order to restore some of the ornithological marvels that have sadly already been lost or degraded.

 4th= Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America

By Sébastien Reeber; Christopher Helm/Bloomsbury, 2015; reviewed in BB by Chris Kehoe (Brit. Birds 109: 64–65)

This book has been widely praised for its comprehensive and up-to-date coverage of the identification of Holarctic wildfowl. It is especially useful when dealing with hybrids, focusing on those combinations that provide significant pitfalls for birders. It is also very strong when discussing the complexities of moult in wildfowl, and its use of a modified version of the Humphrey and Parkes system seems a sensible option. The 72 high-quality plates are complemented by many excellent photographs, with captions highlighting key identification and ageing characteristics. It is far more than an updated version of Wildfowl (one of a trio of groundbreaking Helm Identification Guides published in the 1980s, and which won this award back in 1988; Brit. Birds 81: 483); it’s a wholly new book and another member of this year’s top six that raises the bar for others of its kind.

 4th= Birding Frontiers Challenge Series: Winter

By Martin Garner; privately published, 2015; reviewed in BB by Nigel Redman (Brit. Birds 109: 129–130)

Perhaps the approach adopted by this series is becoming more widely appreciated: although the first book in the series, Autumn, failed to make the final shortlist in 2014, Winter was much admired and included in the top six by five of the six judges. The coverage is selective, focusing on 15 groups of birds that provide a particular challenge in this season. This enables an in-depth coverage, with a detailed text supported by superb artwork, excellent well-chosen photographs, and line-drawings, sonograms and maps where relevant. The design and layout is attractive and it is a book that is almost impossible to resist flicking through as soon as it is in your hand. Sadly, with Martin’s death last year, we shall miss his unique take on some of the key challenges for birders in spring and summer.

 6th: Reclaiming South Georgia: the defeat of furry invaders on a sub-Antarctic island

By Tony Martin and Team Rat; South Georgia Heritage Trust, 2016; reviewed in BB by Martin Heubeck (Brit. Birds 109: 554)

The story of this hugely ambitious and challenging project is skilfully told in this book with a highly readable text that has been married with many superb photographs. Having introduced the islands and their importance for birds, the book summaries the huge problems caused by the introduced Brown Rats Rattus norvegicus and then explains how they were dealt with, from the initial planning stages through to completion of the project. The work carried out is already starting to pay dividends, though further checks are required to make sure that the islands really are now completely free of ‘furry invaders’. Proceeds from the book will help to raise funds for this monitoring work, providing an additional reason (if you needed one) for investing in this book.

Acknowledgments Once again we are grateful to the BTO for making facilities available for judging at Swanwick, and especially to Carole Showell for sourcing books from the Chris Mead Library at Thetford.

 Ian Carter, Dawn Balmer, Stephen Menzie, Roger Riddington, Viola Ross-Smith, Peter Wilkinson, c/o Blagrove Farm, East Worlington, Crediton, Devon, EX17 4SU; e-mail iancarter28@googlemail.com