Category Archives: Books

Bookshelf

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Britain’s Butterflies: A field guide to the butterflies of Britain and Ireland (Third Edition)

David Newland, Robert Still, Andy Swash and David Tomlinson

Wildguides/Princeton University Press 240pp. 600+ colour photos. 76 maps.

£17.95

ISBN 9780691166438

Having first been published in 2002 and with a second edition in 2010 it is somewhat surprising that this book has passed me by. That maybe in some way to do with me preferring artist illustrated guides to photo guides. I feel I must now put my old prejudices aside as the Wildguides series are fantastic. Digital photography has improved immeasurably since I first started with a 4 megapixel camera and consequently staging images now is much more naturalistic and almost like being in the field.

Britain’s Butterflies starts with a discussion on how butterflies differ from moths before looking at butterfly biology, overwintering and migration. The next section the covers butterfly habitats illustrated with photographs and discussion on the types of butterflies to be found there. There is also a quick guide to butterflies and the habitats they favour and a key places for rare and localized butterflies chart with basic site details.

The main body of the book is made up of the species accounts with each species getting two pages with the text facing the identification plates. This also allows confusion species to be compared such as Small and Essex Skipper. The text covers adult identification, behaviour, breeding habitat, population and conservation. Egg, caterpillar and chrysalis and foodplant. A side bar features distribution maps, life cycle charts and where to look text boxes. All this information is well presented and easily read.

At the end of the resident species we also get a section on former breeding species and occasional migrants, this is very up-to-date and covers the mini invasion of Scarce Tortoiseshell from summer 2014 on the east coast. A short section on records of dubious origin follows this.

Towards the end of the book there is a very useful, illustrated, section on larval foodplants that I found extremely useful as my botanical knowledge is very poor. This section aslo includes a chart listing nectar and larval foodplants. Following is an illustrated guide to eggs, caterpillars and chrysalis. Again this is an area that I must admit to neglecting in the past as I had no handy reference.

The final chapters cover butterfly watching and photography, Butterfly Conservation, recording and legislation. A useful section on further reading concludes the book.

There are plenty of field guides on the market to help you identify Britain’s butterflies and each will have their own choice of what to take out into the field but I would recommend this gem of a book to anyone and I look forward to road testing it when the weather improves and the butterfly season gets underway.

The Warbler Guide App – A British Birder’s View

Every autumn I have a recurring daydream… the dream goes that I’m birding the ‘dead pines’ walk on The Garrison on Scilly. The tail end of a hurricane has battered the islands for two days but now the sun is out and the birds are busy feeding up. A Blackcap is tacking and a couple of territorial (European) Robins are tic-tic ticking but then I hear a high pitched sip. It’s unfamiliar but soon I glimpse a bright yellow throat on a bird as it moves through the pines feeding. Bright yellow super, two big white wing-bars and I’ve bagged myself Britain’s first twitchable Blackburnian Warbler. Mayhem ensues and I dine out on it, literally, all week in The Scillonian Club.

The Warbler Guide App

The Warbler Guide App

The reality is I’m more likely to find a dull greenish-grey bird that stumps me. Is it a Blackpoll Warbler, Bay-breasted or Pine? I’m not sure, I can’t realistically take out every field guide going along with my bins, scope, camera etc so all I have is my phone. Knowing I have to sort this out before I make a fool of myself, oh I learned the hard way on Shetland. Buoyed by finding a Swainson’s Thrush I got cocky. Yes that Grasshopper Warbler had pale tips but a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler that doesn’t always make.

So, I need to sort this. The Warbler Guide, see my review here, would be useful now. If only there was an app… with those calls. Well soon there will be.  Due for release in early 2015 The Warbler Guide App will be a major boost for the UK rarity hunter (I’m sure it will also be a major boost for birders at Magee Marsh or Point Pelee in Spring too or a lone UK birder in British Columbia (me)).

Calls are also something that we birders find very useful as I alluded to earlier. As I walk along with non-birders they are often surprised when I mention a bird without apparently looking… “how did you know that?” they ask and it’s often difficult to say by the call as they might not even have heard. Redwing at night is one that often gets non-birders and me as we walk back from the pub. The Warbler Guide did a great job at explaining sonograms and calls but now we are going to be able to put the song or call to the picture that can only increase our learning. The person who knows everything is usually the one who knows least. birding is all about learning.

I can’t wait to load the app and get using it and I will be posting a full review in due course. Meantimes you can keep following the blog tour by visiting Warbler Watch tomorrow for a Q&A with Tom and Scott.

Warbler Blog Tour

Book Review

Britain’s Habitats: A Guide to the Wildlife Habitats of Britain and Ireland (Wildguides)

Sophie Lake, Durwyn Liley, Robert Still, Andy Swash

Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691158556

£27.91

Britain's Habitats

Britain’s Habitats

This splendid new book from the Wildguides stable is something that has long been missing for many years, a book on the habitats of Britain and Ireland, what to find in them and when. The introduction discusses the ten main habitat types found in Britain and Ireland. It is interesting to note that across the whole of Britain and Ireland 30.8% of habitat is formed from ‘other habitats’ (arable, brownfield and orchard) and 40.5% grassland, of which 34% is improved. Look at the map on Page 8 and you will see instantly that this percentage is very different if we separate Britain from Ireland with a much greater percentage of grassland in Ireland. This may well account for the reduced diversity certainly in terms of birds, mammals, Lepidoptera and Odonata.

There follows a discussion on climate, topography and geology and their effect on habitat. Tellingly there is a discussion about man’s influence and also on climate change. Pages 16 & 17 feature a very informative and at times (where mankind has been involved) timeline of habitat development. Also discussed in detail is the natural process of succession, nothing to do with the Royal family but natural and man’s influences on changes to habitats over time. This informs the need to manage succession at times.

The bulk of the book is broken into the 10 major habitat types and these are further subdivided, as after all woodland can apply to 12 subcategories. Each subcategory is then looked at in detail. Each one starts with a brief description of the habitat types then goes on to discuss similar habitats, origins and development, conservation and what to look for. Separate text boxes look at distribution and extent of the habitats, how to recognise it and when to visit. Each section is beautifully illustraded with photographs of the key habitat features and crucially some of the wildlife to be found there.

At the end the habitat correspondence tables are of limited and interest and the list of species mentioned would have been better indexed but these are minor niggles. Overall this is a superb book and is for anyone who loves wildlife and discovering more about why they are seeing species where they do. It is truly a ‘field’ guide.

Book Review

The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook 2015

Edited by David Cromack

Buckingham Press

ISBN  978-0-95698-768-1

£18.50

BYB2015

Now in its 35th year BYB continues to go from strength-to-strength. In today’s climate of e-books and smart phones I still find it has a place… and that is not on the bookshelf but in the car. If I’m out in Norolk and want to know the tide times for a wader roost at Snettisham you can bet I can’t get a 3G signal on my phone, I can barely get a signal most of the time so checking tide times is impossible. Not so if I use BYB, a few quick calculations and I know exactly when to be in place. This is the beauty of BYB.

As usual BYB packs a lot on its 328 pages Starting with the features and this year there is a great feature on the NGB or Next Generation Birders. These young people are going to produce the next Martin Garner and Killian Mullarney and their story is heartening. Birding does have a bright future. There are short articles on topics such as saving the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and advances in tagging that reveals new information about migration. Wildlife artist Michael Demain (whose fabulous Black Grouse painting graces the cover) discusses the future of the Hen Harrier in England and story that has proved very popular this year and has divided a lot of opinion. There then follows a quick run through of 2012’s best bird books and a look at what’s hot on the internet.

Next follows the Diary, something I find extremely useful as I can quickly add species to a day, i.e. my first Swallow of the summer or a peak date for the emergence of the Hornet Moth which save me time looking for key dates to get out and about. The log sheets are similarly useful as you can build up a picture of what you see and more importantly when. There are up-to-date list for birds, the latest BOU update is included, and dragonflies and this year the Butterfly list gets a long wished for update and includes all the regular and rare migrants.

The bulk of the book is made up of the directory, which includes details of just about every local national bird group/club in the UK as well as many international organisations, details of speakers, photographers, and equipment dealers – the works. Of great use are the tide and sunrise/sunset tables so you’ll never miss that killer photo of waders against a setting sun ever again.  There is also a chapter on selected bird reserves and though limited is very up-to-date and fact checked (I know because I’ve fact-checked some of the Leicestershire sites)

All-in-all, I cannot praise the Birdwatcher’s Yearbook highly enough – long may it reign!

John Hague

Bookshelf

Britain’s Day-Flying Moths

A field guide to the day-flying moths of Britain & Ireland

David Newland, Robert Still & Andy Swash

WildGuides/Princeton Press

ISBN 978-0-691-15832-7

Britain's Day-Flying Moths

Britain’s Day-Flying Moths

Over recent years there has been a real increase in birders becoming mothers, whist some birders may well have become mothers in the truest sense, I am putting the emphasis firmly on the last syllable… mothERS. To many, me included, moths present a huge ID challenge, indeed some are only identifiable by dissecting their genitalia – not for me. Consequently many birders give moths a miss and concentrate on butterflies and dragonflies in those lean summer months. If this is the case there is a group of moths, mostly just as colourful as the butterflies and very easily seen. These are the day-flying moths. These are often confused with butterflies by many (The Valley of Butterflies on Rhodes is in fact a site for 100000s of Jersey Tiger moths).

This handy guide follows the usual WildGuides format and allows you to identify confidently most of the insects you will encounter in the field or even the garden. A useful introduction looks at the separation of moths and butterflies before looking at moth biology; the naming of moths and their taxonomy. The introduction then focuses on identifying moths, looking at habitat and has a handy section on gardening for moths (and other insects by default).

Before the species accounts proper there is a useful glossary of terms. The species accounts themselves start with an introduction to the species family. Each moth then gets a full page with a large photograph and a small inset photo if there is a confusion species. The text guides the reader through all you need to find and identify the moth. There is a quick reference guide down the right-hand of the page with a distribution map. The photographs are universally excellent and annotated to highlight key ID features.

Speckled Yellow

Speckled Yellow

At the end of the book is a list of day-flying moths with quick references to habitat, flight season, larval food plant and conservation status. There then follows a section on conservation, legislation and recording. For those wanting to get more involved there is a section for further reading and useful websites before a comprehensive index.

Finally the inside of the rear cover has a handy life size comparisons plate of the main species families. The book also comes with a weatherproof plastic cover.

Life Size Comparisons

Life Size Comparisons

This is truly a field guide to slip into your bag or pocket and use in the field – get a copy and get ready to enjoy some moths this Spring.

John Hague

The Birdwatcher’s Yearbook 2014

Edited by David Cromack

Buckingham Press

ISBN  978-0-9569876-6-2

£18.50

BYB 2014

Now in its 33rd year BYB goes from strength to strength. The internet may well have revolutionised birding but it hasn’t replaced to have all the information you need at your fingertips and in one convenient place. I hope I’m not old but I am firmly in the pro-book camp. e-books are all well and good and I have a few fieldguides in this format that are very useful but when I’m ever lucky enough to find a rarity using the guide what do I do regarding submission of the record? Well if I’m at home it’s easy but if the bird was at Spurn, who gets the record? Easy, just flick to page 267 and I have everything I need.

As usual BYB packs a lot on its 328 pages starting with the features and this year there is a look at The Great Fen project… an area where so far there have been two wintering Great Grey Shrikes already. I’m also looking forward to more sites for Norfolk Hawker there in the future after their discovery at nearby Paxton Pits. We also get a summary of the BTO’s latest Atlas. A project I’m sure many of you participated in There then follows a quick run through of 2012’s best bird books and a look at what’s hot on the internet.

Next follows the Diary, something I find extremely useful as I can quickly add species to a day, i.e. my first Swallow of the summer or a peak date for the emergence of the Hornet Moth which save me time looking for key dates to get out and about. The log sheets are similarly useful as you can build up a picture of what you see and more importantly when. There are up-to-date list for birds, the latest BOU update is included, and dragonflies but once again the butterfly list is woefully inadequate for anything other than the most regular of migrants.

The bulk of the book is made up of the directory, which includes details of just about every local national bird group/club in the UK as well as many international organisations, details of speakers, photographers, and equipment dealers – the works. Of great use are the tide and sunrise/sunset tables so you’ll never miss that killer photo of waders against a setting sun ever again.  There is also a chapter on selected bird reserves but I guess this is by the nature of the book somewhat limited and the bit I use least.

One question that people do ask is ‘but is the directory updated?’ The answer is most definitely, yes. I was fortunate enough this year to be asked to check and comment on two new birding sites for Leicestershire. Say hello to Watermead Country Park and Swithland Reservoir.

All-in-all, I cannot praise the Birdwatcher’s Yearbook highly enough – long may it reign!

John Hague

For a chance to win a pair of Swarovski CL 8×30 Binoculars worth £800 order your copy before 31 December 2013… you’ll also save £2.

Win A Pair Of Swarovski CL 8x30s

Win A Pair Of Swarovski CL 8x30s

Winter Thrushes – The Crossley ID Guide Blog Tour

The Crossley Blog Tour

The Crossley Blog Tour

Welcome to The Drunkbirder (if you want to know how the name came about check out the about me button). It’s a privilege to be involved in this blog tour to promote The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland. For the full tour schedule see here.

The Crossley ID Guide

The Crossley ID Guide

Like a lot of birders autumn (or fall as our North American friends would say) is probably my favourite time of year. Not for me birds in all their breeding finery, I perversely prefer the challenge of identifying first-winter and adult migrants in all their autumn drabness.

Living in landlocked Leicestershire we have to make a special effort and travel quite a few miles to the coast to try and find ourselves some rare and scarce migrants… or do we? Well generally, yes we do, but we can witness some very special migration events. Recently a few of us have joined the growing ranks of vismiggers. Vismig or the visible migration of birds is nothing new but now more and more birders, conscious of our environmental impact, are staying close to home and turning up some great birds.
The season usually starts towards the end of August and sees the Swifts depart to be followed by Tree Pipits and the Swallows and Martins. As September gives over to October the Meadow Pipit passage picks up and following favourable winds the Thrushes start to move. At first one or two Redwing with numbers slowly building until the big push with birds moving night and day.

Redwing

Redwing

Along with the sweet smell of rotting leaves and bonfires the tseep tseep calls of migrating Redwing at night is, for me, the essence of the season. It hints towards the longer, colder nights of winter. This autumn vismiggers around the UK have recorded some spectacular counts with up to 33000 passing a Midlands watch point during a morning. In Leicestershire, we weren’t so lucky but the passage always gets us excited. What else can we pick out moving with the Redwings? Hawfinch seem particularly keen to join the passage but as yet we await one past the Mammoth at Watermead Country Park.

As October moves on and the Redwings set about the local Haws the dominant species passing becomes the Fieldfare. The size of a Mistle Thrush, the Fieldfare with its grey head and rump, chestnut back and boldly spotted underparts really is a real stunner. We tend to get larger movements as November comes in and it usually marks the end of or autumn passage.

Fieldfare

Fieldfare

As birds of both species settle down to spend the winter with us I always enjoy searching the chattering, restless flocks hoping for something rare. Dusky Thrush would be a dream, Eyebrowed Thrush a gem but more likely would be a Black-throated Thrush. Inland counties in winter do rather well for the latter species. Every Black-throated Thrush I’ve seen has been with a winter thrush flock and all have been in the Midlands. Each would be a much wanted County first.

This brings me back to The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland. Anyone reading my review will be aware just how highly I rate the Crossley Guide or, as I’m sure it will become known simply, Crossley and Crossley shows off the winter thrushes, Redwing and Fieldfare just as many of us cherish our encounters. Both are shown in the snow on fallen Apples… a surprisingly warming sight!

Why not join Richard Crossley and Dominic Couzenson Thursday 21st November 2013 between 19.00 and 20.00 for a webchat. Check out the details at Shindig.

For tomorrow’s blog see here.