Friday, 26 June 2009


The Birds of Morocco

by Michel Thévenot, Rae Vernon c and Patrick Bergier.

2003. BOU. 594 pages, two 2 coloured maps and 74 colour photographs.
Hardback, £45.00.

Readers unfamiliar with the BOU’s series of checklists may not visualise the scope of this outstanding work. It is as detailed, thorough, and authoritative as any ‘Birds of’ volume (of any county or country) so far produced. Morocco is an amazing and exciting country, as beautiful and diverse in its habitats, and therefore in its avifauna, as any area in the Western Palearctic. In fact, even in these days of long- distance travel, many birders still regard it as the most exotic of destinations. It has long deserved a single volume devoted to its birds. This book does it justice and has been worth the wait.
Up to 1960, information on the birds of Morocco was summarised by Heirn de Balsac & Mayand in their Les Oiseaux du Noord-Ouest de l'Afrique (1962) but, since then, there has been no comprehensive checklist published - although Etchecopar & HUe's Les Oiseaux du Nord de l'Afrique (1964, English version 1967) and Heinzel, Fitter & Parslow's Birds of Britain, Europe, North Africa & the Middle East (1972) focused the attention of many European birdwatchers, an increasing number of whom have been visiting the country for the past 30 years - including the present reviewer. During all this time, a small group of ornithologists (including Michel Thévenot and Patrick Bergier) has worked in Morocco, published a number of papers and annual reports, and painstakingly gathered all the available (published and unpublished) data on Morocco birds up to the end of 1999. Their diligence is quite remarkable and it is greatly to their credit that they have included not only accepted records, but details of rejected species, possible accidental visitors, and unsuccessfully (or not yet established) introduced species. The result of their labours is this invaluable publication which will certainly provide the most reliable of databases for future workers.
The species accounts in the systematic list, whose 416 pages form the bulk of the book, are a model of clarity and comprehensiveness, beginning with a short sentence summarising the species’ status and abundance in Morocco and, where applicable, the names of races or subspecies and highlighting future taxonomic problems. Also itemised are breeding details (distribution, habitat and nesting data), movements and migration, winter distribution and ringing recoveries. Helpful appendices cover a summary of the status of bird species in Morocco, a list of omitted species, ringing and recoveries, and a gazetteer listing all the localities and geographical features which are mentioned in the text.
Introductory chapters deal with the history of Moroccan ornithology, geology, climate, flora and vegetation, geographical divisions and habitats, breeding birds, migration and movement, endemism, biogeographical affinities of the Moroccan avifauna, changes in status, and conservation. The 52 scenic and 22 bird photographs give as representative a selection as one could wish of the country and its specialities; colour maps clearly show the geology and habitats; five figures in the text show the geographical position of Morocco in the context of the Mediterranean Basin and northwest Africa, the topography, bioclimatic zones, geographical divisions and subdivisions, and the most important bird localities; and 16 tables cover everything from the total nubmer of endemic subspecies in Morocco only and in the Maghreb to the distribution of the main tree species. There are no line drawings of birds enlivening the text. No matter. The words need no such icing – and Dave Nurney’s cover painting of Moussier’s Redstart, that most attractive of northwest African endemics, says it all.
In short, all three authors are to be congratulations on the successful conclusion of three decades of research into published information and private notebooks which has produced an invaluable and fascinating reference work for all Morocco buffs and the definitive database for future ornithologists.

Bryan Bland Birding World 16: 483
Published with permission of Birding World

The Birds of Corsica

by Thibault, J-C & Bonnacorsi, G.
BOU Checklist No 17 172 pages inc. 16 pages of colour photographs, maps, etcBritish Ornithologists’ Union. £22.00. ISBN 0-907446-21-3.

After The Birds of Cyprus (BOU Checklist series No. 6), and The Birds of Sicily (BOU Checklist series No. 11), this volume is the third of a series dealing with birds of Mediterranean islands. Jean-Claude Thibault, a distinguished ornithologist and scientific assistant at the Parc Naturel Régional de Corse for over 20 years, and Gilles Bonaccorsi, a fine birdwatcher and a Corsican, are well placed to give an accurate account of the birdlife of the ‘Island of Beauty’. The book is well designed and illustrated with 35 beautiful colour plates giving an idea of the more typical and scenic habitats of Corsica. Included among the many ornithologists attracted to the island are John Whitehead, discoverer of the Corsican Nuthatch Sitta whiteheadi, and F.C.R. Jourdain. A 13-page introduction sets the scene, giving details on the general history, geology, geography, climate, vegetation of the island, history of the bird fauna and on some conservation problems. These are exemplified in more detail in tables at the end of the book. Then follows the systematic list of 323 species of birds recorded so far on the island, even if only once. The systematic status of the breeding species, many of which are represented by subspecies, is carefully and critically described, giving a refreshing insight into patterns of differentiation on the larger islands of the Mediterranean. Results of the most recent studies from molecular phylogenies are carefully reported, for example those of E. Pasquet on the phylogeny of the three Mediterranean nuthatches. His studies demonstrate that the Corsican Nuthatch does not belong to a monophyletic group which includes the Algerian S. ledanti and Krüper’s S. krueperi nuthatches, as believed for so long, but is more closely related to the S. canadensis group than to any other Mediterranean species. Each species is assigned to one (or more) of the eight classes that depict its status, either as a breeder, migrant or wintering bird. Species accounts include general data on status, distribution, abundance and phenology within the island. Then, for breeding species, a separate section gives, whenever available, many useful details on habitats, density, time of reproduction, clutch size, brood size and population trends. The book ends with five appendices (unconfirmed or doubtful records, rare species, population trends, censuses of species etc.) and a reference list of 456 titles. What makes the text particularly useful, not only for ornithologists visiting the island, but also as a research tool for anyone interested in faunistics and biogeography, is the accuracy of the data, the many references to the literature and the deliberate concern of the authors to put Corsican birdlife in a broader spatial context including the larger islands of the (mostly) western part of the Mediterranean basin. Of course, there are inevitably some faults in such a book. Although the introduction includes many basic data on the Corsican environment, the authors could have given more attention to the history of the vegetation which has been heavily transformed by humans through the last three millennia. For example, although the Downy Oak Quercus humilis has been of paramount importance as a dominant tree during most of the Holocene at low and mid-altitudes, this species is not mentioned as a component of forests although today it still constitutes, in some parts of the island, important stands to which some species, e.g. local populations of Blue Tits Parus caeruleus, are closely adapted. More seriously, there should have been a section on the components of the so-called insular syndrome, even if the authors find some of them controversial, to justify the many studies on Corsica into island biology, at both community and population levels, over the past two decades. However, such minor problems do not detract from the authors’ accomplishment in presenting an invaluable and up-to-date account on the birds of this island.•

Reviewed by Jacques Blondel, Ibis 142: 511-512.

The Birds of St Helena

Rowlands, B.W., Trueman, T., Olson, S.L., McCulloch, M.N. & Brooke, R.K

296 pages. BOU Checklist no. 16. Tring, Hertfordshire: British Ornithologists’ Union, 1998.£20.00 (UK & EC), £23.00, US$38.00 (rest of the world). ISBN 0-907446-20-5.

Ask most people what they know about St Helena and they will say, quite correctly, that it is the island to which Napoleon Bonaparte was banished following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, even if they may not be so correct in telling you quite where it is. Ask a well-informed birder, and they will know that it is home to the endemic Wirebird or St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae, but probably not much more than that. Until now it was difficult to find out more about this remote island in the South Atlantic, over 1900 km west of Angola and more than 3000 km east-to-southeast of Brazil, which is still accessible only by sea. I discovered this recently when researching the island’s ornithological literature before a three-day visit during a cruise which called in at most of the Atlantic islands between South Georgia and Britain. Data on the island’s avifauna are scattered throughout the literature in the form of papers, letters, research reports, articles, newspaper reports, voyage and expedition accounts, historical and general accounts of the island, early historical works on Africa and more general works on avifauna. The great strength of this work is that it pulls all these together into one very comprehensive and authoritative volume, the latest in the BOU Checklist series. It provides a very full account of the bird life of St Helena since the island was discovered in 1502, meticulously researched and clearly presented. As the number of species involved is small compared with that covered by other Checklists in this series, it has been possible to give every one, particularly the breeding birds, a rather fuller treatment. Various aspects of St Helena ornithology are discussed in the introductory chapters, including a detailed history, vegetation and bird habitats, introduction of alien animals, migration and movements, breeding, guano exploitation and a history of conservation action. St Helena is far from the island paradise discovered in 1502; its wildlife has been changed drastically by introduced plants, animals (mostly mammals) and diseases. As with almost all islands, its biological history since its discovery has been a disaster. This book documents that history very thoroughly, setting out clearly the past and present totals of species and numbers of landbirds (only 11 species now breed, of which nine have been introduced) and of seabirds (only eight species breed, with fewer than 5000 pairs now estimated). Details are given of extinct species, reference is made to over 3000 specimens from fossil remains found on the island, and a plea is made for further such work to be done. Considerable space is devoted to current and recommended conservation action, with a suggestion that the uniqueness of the fauna and flora of St Helena places the island high on the international table of importance in conserving the earth’s biodiversity. This excellent book, for the first time, provides in one place the data to enable priorities to be confirmed and further action to be taken.•

Reviewed by Tony Marr in Ibis 141 (1) January 1999

The Birds of St Lucia


176 pages. BOU Checklist no. 15. Tring, Hertfordshire: British Ornithologists’ Union, 1997.£12.00 (UK & EC), £15.00, US$25.00 (rest of the world). ISBN 0-907446-19-1.

This is a useful review of our current knowledge of the avifauna of St Lucia. Allan Keith provides a broad ornithological perspective, drawing upon recent research from elsewhere in the region, and he has made the most of the data available to him. One minor quibble is that I would like to have seen the various alternative common names for species included in the Systematic List because some of the AOU Checklist nomenclature is not widely known in the region, where James Bond's Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies is still the most widely used handbook. All in all, however, I thoroughly recommend this checklist to visitors to St Lucia and. Indeed, to the region at large. St Lucia's avifauna remains comparatively little investigated, and it is to be hoped that this compilation will encourage ornithologists to fill many of the gaps in our knowledge.•

Extracts from a review by Peter G. H. Evans in Ibis 140 (4) October 1998

The Birds of Togo


212 pages. BOU Checklist no. 14. Tring, Hertfordshire: British Ornithologists’ Union, 1996.£22.00 (UK & EC), £25.00, US$43.00 (rest of the world). ISBN 0-907446-18-3.

This is a further welcome addition to the BOU's stable of West African checklists and contributes to filling the geographical gap between Ghana and Nigeria, each already admirably served by previous BOU checklists (reviewed in Ibis 124: 542, 130: 453). The Checklist is valuable in synthesizing the results of earlier collections and surveys, together with unpublished data from private visits by ornithologists. This information is greatly augmented by the authors' own numerous field observations, made while working in Togo between 1972 and 1990. Probably more than any ornithologists previously, they were able to travel extensively throughout the country, often by helicopter into otherwise inaccessible places. Like the most recent in series, this latest volume is packaged in an attractive hardcover, with numerous colour plates or habitat and bird photographs of a very high standard by the two authors. It has earned its place between the Ghanaian and Nigerian checklists on the bookshelf of every African ornithologist.•

Extracts from a review by Peter Jones in Ibis 139 (3) July 1997

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