Tag Archives: Princeton University Press



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.


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


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

Sunday Reviews

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs

Tracks and Signs of the Animals and Birds of Britain and Europe

Lars-Henrik Olsen

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691157535


I have to admit that my first impressions of this book were not good. That is not to say this is in anyway a bad book but that I feel there is more that has been left out than was left in. For a start there is no introduction and no user guide as to how to get the best from the book and for beginners (I was one of those kids making plaster casts of pad marks… mostly dogs) no clue as the where and how to start looking for animal taracks and signs.

In the preface, the author suggests that birds are easily seen and that we can pretty easily observe them. Yet as a pretty confident birder I would be lost in parts of Northern and Eastern Europe if I were faced with a tree that had been used by a Woodpecker. A lot more could have been written on Woodpecker marks and comparing them to Mammal signs. I’m confident that using this guide I would be able to sort out if a Water Vole had been working a tree, so why not a White-backed Woodpecker say?

There are some lovely photographs in the book, mostly of the animals themselves and I think I would have preferred more illustrations of the tracks and signs to be honest. Admittedly there is a section at the front looking at feet/pad marks as well as sections looking a common signs on trees for example and I wonder if the book could have been laid out differently, say focussing on damage to trees or alternatively just dealing with each bird or animal separately. The current design means a lot of cross-referencing and that means I’m less likely to bother.

The text is actually very good and is much more informative but I guess looking at animal tracks and signs is visual and that should feature prominently.

In summary, after a few reads I like this book more than I did but I have a real feeling that this is an opportunity missed.

Wildlife of Australia

Ian Campbell and Sam Woods

PrincetonUniversity Press

ISBN: 9780691153537


Wildlife of Australia

Wildlife of Australia

Firstly, let’s get this right out of the way; this is not a complete guide to the wildlife of Australia. As the introduction tells us this is a guide to what a nature-loving traveller might see in the main tourist areas and National Parks.

The book starts with a quick look at the habitats and vegetation found across Australia using a colour coded map of the continent and a series of captioned photographs. The book follows the standard of captions on the left-hand pages and the photographs on the right that most of us will be familiar with. I was left somewhat puzzled as there are large areas of map shaded in light blue but I could not find that in the key. I thnk it might have been useful to have colour coded the captions and/or habitat photographs to relate to the map as well. As there is already an erratum I suspect a more thorough proof-reading would have eliminated such an error.

Each species featured get a short caption, usually with a larger one to introduce the species family, which includes the range that the species might be found in and one photograph. A small thumbnail map would have been better for me, as a casual reeder, as I am not too familiar with some of the abbreviations used. I also feel that while for the Mammals, Reptiles and Amphibians one photograph might suffice; for the birds one photograph is never enough. Less experienced birders might be confused as to take one page at random, in the Waders section Turnstone, Knot and Great Knot are all featured in breeding, or near breeding, plumage. This puts the photographs at odds with the text which has them down as primarily visiting in the Northern winter period when they would be in first-winter or non-breeding plumage. This I feel is bound to lead to some confusion and misidentification.

This book would be a fairly useful and relatively inexpensive guide if weight is a problem but for the keen birder or naturalist I’m not sure it would help you get the best from the continent.

Both books are available in eBook format.

The Warbler Guide

Tom Stephenson & Scott Whittle
Drawings by Catherine Hamilton

Princeton University Press

ISBN: 9780691154824


The Warbler Guide

The Warbler Guide

Once in a while a bird book comes along that makes you sit up and take note – this is one of those books. I must admit though, as I opened the book for the first time I was thinking ‘what the…? ‘ and after flicking through a few pages I was still a bit bemused. It seemed to be a jumble of photos, thumbnail views, notes and sonograms. Clearly I needed to start again.

As any woman will tell you men are not very good at reading the instructions, preferring to just dive straight in… this generally results in frustration. The concept here is so new that it is nothing like diving in to a copy of Sibley or The Collins Bird Guide.

Unless you’re a warbler expert (and we’re dealing with Nearctic Warblers here) you simply must start at the beginning – as the song says ‘it’s a very good place to start.’

The Warbler Guide is designed very much a way to quickly and reliably identify warblers in the field and it does this by getting you to focus quickly on what field mark to look for (or listen for) and features many expert tips that are easily explained. There are some very novel ways to do this featured, I particularly like the desaturated photos that help you sort out a Common Yellowthroat, a very novel approach. I’d like to test the book out on Scilly by trying to clinch a Bay-breasted Warbler this October! The quick facefinder would be useful at Magee Marsh in Spring. One day I hope to prove that.

Quick Facefinder

Quick Facefinder

The species accounts are thorough. The bold chapter heading takes you through a quick visual guide with the key shapes, range and habitat before a series of stunning images and useful thumbnails takes you through the distinctive and supporting features. There is also a series of thumbnails for similar species and sections on sexing and ageing as well as discussion on songs and calls. I wonder why my copy already falls open at Blackburnian Warbler? The bird I most dream of finding in the Garrison Pines on Scilly.

There are also plenty of sonograms and a fantastic chapter on how to interpret sonograms, in fact this is probably the easiest account of this skill I’ve ever read. Probably my only gripe is the lack of an accompanying CD. You can download everything you need from the website but I’d prefer the tracks on my MP3 player.

Finally the topography section is amongst the best I’ve ever seen for a beginner and expert birder alike. There should be no excuse for not know you Greater Coverts from your Undertail Coverts now. Couple this with a stunning Northern Parula on the cover and you have a complete winner. Now what’s my luggage allowance on Skybus?