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The Birds of Moray & Nairn: their status and where to find them

By Martin Cook

Privately published, 2023

Pbk, 384pp; many colour photographs and figures

ISBN 978-1-9999882-4-1; £18.00

Moray & Nairn is a Scottish recording area with an enviable range of habitats, from the southern shores of the Moray Firth, through lowland farmland and forestry plantations to montane habitats in the Cairngorms. Martin Cook has been local bird recorder for the region since 1984 and, in 1992, wrote the first book of birds in the Moray & Nairn recording area (Brit. Birds 86: 387). He also co-authored a local bird atlas, The Breeding Birds of North-East Scotland (Brit. Birds104: 752–753), which included Moray in its remit. Who better, then, to produce a new avifauna of the area? 

The bulk of the book is, of course, made up of the species accounts, covering 312 species that reside in Categories A, B and C of the British List. The accounts are comprehensive, varying from one paragraph for species with just one record (such as the famous Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes at Burghead in 1994) to more than two pages for others, such as Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, a regular though scarce winter visitor that colonised the area as a breeding bird in the mid 1980s. Most species have an accompanying photograph, all of which have been taken in the region. Many species, particularly wildfowl and waders, have tables and/or graphs providing further detail. All of these are clear and easy to interpret. Every species account is headed by a short status statement and I was particularly pleased to see that, for breeding species, an estimate of the Moray & Nairn breeding population is given, something many avifaunas shy away from but which better put the records into context. The species accounts are commendably up to date to the end of 2021 and there is an appendix of additional notable records from 2022, including the first Moray & Nairn records of Pallid Swift Apus pallidus. I was a little disappointed not to see any distribution maps, but these would take up a lot more space, adding to the costs, and the author draws on his experience and the findings of the North-East Scotland Atlas to indicate where birds can be found; there is also a comprehensive site gazetteer.

This book doesn’t just pick up from where the previous avifauna left off in the early 1990s: the full history of each species is explored. Thus, we can read about the irruptions of Pallas’s Sandgrouse Syrrhaptes paradoxus in 1863 and 1888, and the only Scottish breeding record of the species, at Pitgaveny in 1988. We are told that Great Spotted Woodpeckers Dendrocopos major became extinct during the mid-nineteenth century but are now common resident breeders again; while, in contrast, Green Woodpeckers Picus viridis were first recorded in winter 1949/50, increased to at least 15 breeding pairs in the early 1990s, but have now almost disappeared. Readers from parts of southern Britain will marvel at the abundance of Willow Warblers Phylloscopus trochilus and Tree Sparrows Passer montanus, and how there is a thriving, mainly coastal, population of Crested Tits Lophophanes cristatus.

Well-illustrated introductory chapters cover bird habitats in and the climate of Moray & Nairn. There is also a chapter reviewing changes in distribution and numbers and another listing the earliest arrival and latest departure dates for summer visitors. A nice touch is the inclusion of a chapter entitled ‘Where to watch birds in Moray & Nairn’, which explores 21 sites, each with a map. I didn’t notice any spelling or typographical errors at all.

This is therefore a well-rounded, high-quality book that will appeal to anyone looking to learn about and to see birds in this area. It is exceptional value, crammed full of useful, interesting and important information and liberally illustrated with photographs and charts. 

Mark Holling

Issue 5
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