Catching The Bug
Mark Constantine, Nick Hopper and Killian Mullarney
The Sound Approach
For many years now children have enjoyed books that come with sound, ok the sound isn’t particularly great but they were and still remain a great learning tool and they were always dead exciting. For a hobby that is, for me and I suspect many more, as much an aural experience as a visual one I have always wondered by publishers never cottoned on to this idea. When I first went to British Columbia I had the Sibley guide but no idea of the sounds many North American birds make. Okay, I’d listened on line to a few key birds but that was it. I was truly on my own. It’s ok me trying to work out from a fieldguide what a shrill shreeep! sounds like but what does it sound like to David Sibley? There’s the difference, interpreting sound…
Thankfully there were people out there interested in sound and bird sounds in particular and a few years ago Mark Constantine, Magnus Robb, Killian Mullarney et all got together and founded The Sound Approach. Their first book The Sound Approach to Birding was a revelation, I learned so much from it that I’ve probably forgotten half of that and I keep having to go back and re-read and re-listen. We now have the fourth book Catching The Bug, a book about patch-watching, as individuals and as a group of individuals who meet down the pub once a month. This group has attracted some of Britain’s greatest birders, indeed some of the World’s greatest birders over the years. The group seems very welcoming, very organic – the model of a great bird club. They meet to share ideas, have quizzes and share knowledge but most of all they meet because they all seem to enjoy it.
So what about the book? Well, yes it’s a book about a patch, but what a patch. Poole Harbour could be a metaphor for birding in Britain or Ireland or anywhere. We start with a history of Poole Harbour itself which follows on to how man has exploited the area for food, trade and now energy and how we will continue to exploit it but importantly how the birds have reacted over the centuries.
There are fascinating chapters that reflect the groups private musings, are our British Dartford Warblers a distinct species? Using plumage characteristics, superbly painted by Killian Mullarney and vocalisations they illustrate why it… no, I’m not going to say – you’ll need to buy a copy to find out. Another chapter looks at the fluctuating Cormorant populations, looking at the subspecies that exploit the harbour in different ways, something any patch-watcher can do today.
My favourite chapter has to be the one on visible migration and this has really opened my mind to working out what ‘my’ birds are doing in the Soar Valley. The accompanying sound recordings are also invaluable as they feature many of the flight calls that we vismiggers hera but can rarely find anywhere else. We all know a Hawfinch has a tic note and many of us use this to pick out birds in winter but who knows the flight call? A bird might easily be lost when passing with a flock of Redwing.
Another great chapter looks at and debunks a lot of myths that have been built up around separating Siberian Chiffchaff from the nominate collybita. Again the sound files and Killian’s plates are just superb and I believe every member of a records committee should have this book for this alone.
I only have a couple of reservations and neither of these are to do with the quality of the book – which is just superb – but it has to do with the CDs. I feel that we should have protective sleeves for the discs as they are still prone to fall out. The last reservation is what is the future of the CD? More and more of us use mp3 players now, especially out in the field and I did find it a real chore having to name all the files on the discs before I put it on the iPod. Maybe we can have a version of the sound files on the internet, downloadable by using a code maybe?
This aside the book is far and away the best Sound Approach guide to date and I cannot wait to see how they will beat it.
Bird Book of the year for me!