“Scotland rocks!” – a customer review of New Naturalist Volume 119: Scotland

Scotland jacket imageNew Naturalist Volume 119: Scotland

Peter Friend

Reviewer: S.W. Mott from the United Kingdom

One-word summary: “Readable”

“The latest volume in this series has been written by Peter Friend and is a review of the rocks and landscapes of Scotland. Collins make it clear that the book is about the rocks, earth history and landscapes of Scotland. The book does not set out to be a comprehensive, all-inclusive survey of Scotland’s natural history – an impossible task to achieve in a single volume. Indeed, for fuller accounts of Scotland’s flora and fauna, weather, environments and habitats, one must refer to earlier volumes in the series – such as Vol 76 The Hebrides, Vol 88 Loch Lomondside, Vol 101 Galloway and the Borders [ed: all unfortunately out of print] and the earlier, now out of date, volumes on Shetland and Orkney. New Naturalist Vol 119 provides a more than adequate overview of the landscapes that shape Scotland and its natural history.

For the geologist there are more detailed and scientific texts available, including the British Geological Survey (BGS) Regional Guides and material from the Geological Society and Scottish Museums. However, where this New Naturalist volume scores is in its organisation, presentation, and collation of material from a variety of sources in a fresh and compelling way. It has been thoroughly researched and meticulously brought together. Peter Friend uses the same format and scaffolding for this new volume as he used in his earlier New Naturalist, Vol 108 Southern England. He makes good use of modern computerised technology to provide effective diagrams, sections and maps to explain the geology and geomorphological processes. No diagram or text figure is too small to read; the aerial photos are carefully selected and add substantially to the understanding of the features described.

The first five chapters are about geological processes and landform development. Chapters 2 and 3 borrow heavily from Vol 108 Southern England. And why not? Processes don’t change north of the border, and Peter Friend applies them to the Scottish setting. The remainder of the book divides Scotland into regions and each chapter follows the same pattern with the sub-headings ‘Stories from the Bedrock’ and ‘Making the Landscape’. This chapter structure works well and is consistently applied, making the book stand out among others by presenting the current state of knowledge and understanding in a logical, approachable and co-ordinated way. The photographs are excellent throughout, add greatly to understanding and their reproduction seems accurate and sharp.

Some assumptions are made – such as of the reader’s familiarity with earth science terminology, although much is explained in the text and the diagrams help enormously. However, I do wonder if a small glossary of earth science terms could have been provided. I also found Dr Friend’s use of the geological stratigraphic term “tertiary ” in its volcanic province context both inconsistent and slightly dated: the Tertiary Volcanic Province is now known as the Palaeogene Volcanic District. Confusingly for the non-geologist reader, Dr Friend refers in “Further Reading” to the BGS Regional Guide “Palaeogene Volcanic Districts of Scotland” by Henry Emeleus; yet in the text, he more often refers to these districts as “Tertiary”. Anyone unaware that these terms are almost synonymous and that Palaeogene is the preferred term, will be at a loss. Indeed, in the Foreword to the BGS Regional Guide, published in 2005, it states “The term ‘tertiary’ is no longer approved”.

As a geologist wanting an overview and a compilation of both geological and geomorphological material, I shall be using this New Naturalist whenever I need to obtain a wider view of Scotland’s complicated earth history or an idea of the surface landscape features of a particular region within the country.

Dr Friend has provided us with a sound piece of writing, imaginatively produced and thoughfully presented. Vol 119 Scotland is a worthy addition to the this long running series.”

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“Even better than the 1st edition” – a customer review of Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, 2nd Ed.

Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and KalimantanPhillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan

Reviewer: Mike Nelson from the USA

One-word summary: “Complete”

“The second edition has been updated with some new plates including Spiderhunters, Hornbills, Blue Flycatchers and others. Also included in some of the plates are food plants which are helpful. Information has been updated at the front and new maps and birding sites have been added at the back of the book. New taxonomic information about the endemics and other families has also been updated with new information about the new species recently discovered, Spectacled Flowerpecker, which has several nice illustrations in the book.

Packed with great information, great plates and fabulous insight into the birds and birding in Borneo this is the only guide you’ll need and it’s small enough to carry in the field.”

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Magnificent Marches – a customer reviews the latest volume in the New Naturalist series

New Naturalist 118: Marches jacket imageNew Naturalist 118: Marches by Andrew Allott

Reviewer: S. W. Mott from the United Kingdom


“In the early 1980s, I lived and worked in Gloucester and undertook numerous outings to the Welsh Marches to walk and watch wildlife. So Andrew Allott’s book “Marches” has been eagerly awaited. It is a superb, masterly addition to the New Naturalists series.

Here we have a comprehensive account of the region, which is meticulously researched and thoughtfully detailed. The text includes examples to illustrate the wider context and the themes of the chapters. Mr Allott makes very good use of local sources and resources for much of these, such as the charming reference to the work done by a local primary school (p.75) and other local people, communities and wildlife groups. This is absolutely the right approach as it embeds the book in the region it describes.

The book is well structured; the first chapter invites us to take a “tour” of the region’s main, distinctive topographical areas which serve as a scaffold for the following chapters, whose themes take in the unique and chararcteristic features of the Border landscape arising within the topographical areas. Mr Allott writes in an interesting and flowing style. It is well structured. His attention to detail is woven seamlessly into the overview, the carefully chosen examples serve as fascinating insights into the natural history of the region. The chapters cover the expected themes but include up-to-date analysis and review of nature conservation, farming, land-use changes and local development and management, and outline lessons learned and issues for the future. I found myself thinking that the lessons learned in the Marches region could well be applied elsewhere too!

My only niggles are in the editing of the book. Trying to fit some of the figures on to one page renders some of the detail too small to read (making it almost meaningless), or makes the use of colour-coding difficult to differentiate. There are inconsistencies too: why, for example, provide Figs 16 or 104 with a colour key, yet not Figs 81 and 82? For the latter, the reader has to wade through text which explains the colour. On p41 we have an ambiguous paragraph which, on first reading, makes it seem that a new set of semi-natural squatters have returned to the Clee Hills. I suspect that the word “vegetation” has been omitted after the word “semi-natural”! Perhaps trying to publish three New Naturalist titles a year is having a negative effect on the editing.

These small niggles do not detract very much from this magnificent account of the varied, rich and very distinctive natural history of the Marches. To try to shoe-horn this into any descriptive framework is a challenge and one in which Mr Allott has succeeded – and succeeded triumphantly.”

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Customer Review – British Boletes: With Keys to Species

“Excellent book on the British boletes.”

Boris Assyov, PhD, on British Boletes: With Keys to Species by Geoffrey Kibby.

“In the introduction to his “The genus Xerocomus” the boletologist Alan Hills wrote “If you want a key written, ask Geoffrey”. I can add nothing to his statement that will better describe Geoffrey’s new book on the British boletes that was just presented to the mycological community.

There is hardly any need to present the author. Geoffrey Kibby is Senior Editor of the journal Field Mycology and most of the readers possibly have enjoyed already his mycological papers or his monograph “British species of the genus Russula”. Apart from that Geoffrey is a nature photographer and artist who has contributed illustrations to many books and articles.

“British boletes” is a marvelous edition that is simply not to be missed by any mycologist. It is printed on high-quality sturdy A4-sized paper that ensures it will not wear out easily even if you are often taking it with you in the field. In addition the wire binding is excellent finishing that lets the book open flat.

Yet from the same beginning I would like to say – do not get confused by the word “British”, because the book actually presents the vast majority of the known European boletes, except very few species, so it is suitable to be used in most realms in Europe. I also believe that this decision will greatly help the British mycological community in cases, where new country records might be involved, that may otherwise go unnoticed. The readers will easily decide if I am right about this, seeing the new British record Boletus rhodoxanthus and the comments for Boletus luteocupreus.

I am truly amazed by enormous amount of information that is fitted in the book, keeping the text perfectly readable without glasses at the same time. First of all I want to mention the excellent introductory chapters that lead the reader through all the important macroscopic and microscopic features of the boletes, so easily explained and so beautifully illustrated, that even people that have never tackled boletes before will have no problem understanding them.

Reading further on, I very much appreciated the synopsis of the genera. As we all know, bolete systematics has become immensely difficult these days and the constant splitting and lumping sometimes may really puzzle even professional mycologists if they are not especially dealing with this group. I strongly believe that having this book, the reader will no longer suffer with the frequent name changes so generously produced by the modern systematics. Note however, that the author meanwhile takes full advantage of the results of the modern methods of molecular research and keeps the book perfectly up to date.

As the second part of the title suggests, “British boletes” provide keys for recognizing the genera and species. This is the first bolete book, known to me that combines the synoptic type of keys (that we all know very well from Geoffrey’s other work “Leccinum revisited”) together with the traditional dichotomous keys. I know there will be people having hesitation about the dichotomous keys, but I will assure them that all the keys in “British boletes” are straightforward and work very well.

Not only keys are included in the book, but informative descriptions and remarks on all the species tackled. These are also excellent and help the reader to reach a conclusion when trying to determine bolete collections.

The reader will excuse me, but I decided not to count the illustrations in the book, there are too many of them. I will just say that the book is more than amply illustrated and provides spectacular photographs or original paintings of virtually every British species and of most of the included extralimital boletes. There are excellent photographs for some recently described or ill-illustrated species. I also very much appreciate the comparative painting of the xerocomoid boletes, which is certainly unique and helps very much for the understanding of this very difficult group.

Finally, I don’t really like repeating myself but this time I will – do not miss this precious bolete book. It is certainly worth the price, which by the way is more than reasonable.”

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“Best, most user-friendly moth ID guide on the market”

Doug Mackenzie Dodds, from the UK, reviews the Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Martin Townsend and Paul Waring, illustrated by Richard Lewington

Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland jacket image

“Best, most user-friendly moth ID guide on the market:

This book might not catch your eye on the shelf – small, paperback and easily hidden between larger, more attractively-designed moth ID books, but if you are into your moths, I’d thoroughly recommend it.

It’s perfect for the bookshelf but comes into its own in the field. It’s small, light, covered in a waterproof layer, the moths are well-ordered in the book, lifesize and in the two years I’ve owned it it’s not let me down once.

Its very comprehensive – ie. if you trap a moth (or find one!) – you will find it in this book – and so much easier than other, larger, showier, less waterproof, less well-ordered books.

I thoroughly recommend this book if you own a moth trap or even if you don’t.”

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“Best bird book I’ve ever bought…”

A Complete Guide to the Birds of Malta

Maurice Skeggs, NHBS customer from the UK, reviews this “superb” book.

Biebrza Site Guide jacket image

“I bought this book after reading some rather flattering reviews and thought, well, if everybody’s praising it, there must be something about it! And what a pleasant surprise, this book exceeded my very high expectations. First of all, it is so painstakingly well researched yet written in such a brilliant and flawless manner. It must have taken ages to gather all that information. It covers everything related to birds like no book I’ve seen has ever done and really raises the bar. Secondly, it shows how deep the relationship between birds and man is, even in an island which is renowned to be hostile to birds, where things are now hopefully changing for the better.

The book comes from the pen of the author of Fatal Flight: The Maltese Obsession with Killing Birds, which in 1992 had exposed the horrific situation of hunting in Malta. This book now shows a chronicle of change, of shifting attitudes, acknowledging what has been achieved and listing what still needs to be done. It also shows the strong British and Victorian influences on Malta, a former colony which saw a lot of development under British rule but which neglected the protection of birds that was taking place back at home here in Britain. So we Brits have a part of the blame too!

The book shows how birds captured man’s thoughts and imagination, how birds pervaded metaphors, led to coining of expressions and proverbs. It shows brilliant photos of birds in everything from Maltese crockery to crochet, from antique embroidery of sacred vestments to illuminated manuscripts and birds in coats-of-arms of Maltese surnames. Brilliant photos of prehistoric bird models as well as the Medieval bas reliefs of falconry and hunting with cross bows are really unique. The book has what I believe is the first real history of falconry of the Maltese Islands, which goes way beyond the annual falcon that used to be given to Charles V as a token for giving Malta to the Knights of St John. This book documents it all, and in a very pleasant way.

The ornithological section, which makes up the second half of the book, is equally brilliant, with many original records and brilliant photos. The text that goes with each species gives old Maltese names that date back to the Middle Ages. Simply brilliant to see how they changed… or remained the same. This section too is infused with a lot of folklore about birds in Malta. The photos of decorated bird calls as well as those dealing with turtle dove trapping, are really beautiful and recount volumes on their own. I can go on and on about this invaluable tome, for with over 900 images and close to 500 pages, this is a veritable tome, an encyclopaedia about birds and man, primarily to do with Malta but saturated with parallels that each and every reader can find in his neighbourhood… So it’s about birds and us as much as it’s about the birds of Malta.”

A Complete Guide to the Birds of Malta jacket image

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A customer reviews ‘Biebrza Site Guide’ by Lukasz Mazurek

We really enjoy receiving your feedback on the books and wildlife equipment we stock – here, Pierre, from Switzerland, shares his thoughts on the ‘invaluable’ Biebrza Site Guide by Lukasz Mazurek.

Biebrza Site Guide jacket image

“I had doubts concerning price/quality but I bought this book when we visited Biebrza in May 2010 and I must say it is pretty fantastic. It was so useful and easy to use in the field. Very clear and detailed on bird locations and well laid out. Maps and indexes make it very easy to find what you are searching for. We had some stunning views of everything we wanted including Greater Spotted Eagle, Aquatic Warbler and unbelievable views of male Red-breasted Flycatchers and I am pretty sure we saved a lot of time and hassle. We just wouldn’t be able to see all that without this book.”

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Keith Betton reviews ‘Reed and Bush Warblers’

“Putting the spotlight on some hard-to-see warblers”

Keith Betton, chairman of the African Bird Club, shares his thoughts on the recently published Helm Identification Guide to Reed and Bush Warblers.

Reed and Bush Warblers

“In size and feel, this book is closest to the Helm volume on Sylvia Warblers, and similarly it is also an impressive tour de force. At the outset the authors deserve praise for tackling such a challenging group of genera which contain some of the most secretive species in the world! The families covered are Locustellidae, Acrocephalidae and Cettiidae – 112 species in 13 genera, of which 21 are on the British List.

The 42 colour plates by Brian Small are grouped together at the front of the book. These really are excellent, with usually just one or two species per page and a selection of distinctive races being shown with brief descriptions on the facing pages. The main species texts are really comprehensive, giving detailed accounts of structure and plumage and comparisons with similar species. Vocalisations are described and sonograms are shown, although – rather like the text – they are a bit on the small side! In contrast the colour distribution maps are superb – being large and clearly annotated to show the ranges of each race for both breeding and winter distribution. These ranges are also described, as are the choice of habitats. Movements, breeding habits, behaviour and moult are all treated in separate sections, as are in-hand measurements, which are also accompanied by diagrams of the wing formulae. A section on taxonomy and systematics allows for an explanation of recent changes. In my view it would have been helpful to include here the various names that readers may encounter when reading about the species elsewhere. Good colour photographs are included for all but the most obscure species, and helpfully these are positioned at the end of each species text. No detail has been spared in presenting information. The various appendices give information about the type localities and synonyms for each species, as well as body measurements based on fieldwork and museum specimens.

In creating this book the authors have taken advantage of molecular analysis based on DNA comparisons. These studies have turned some of our understandings upside down. For example, research strongly suggests that two accepted races of Aberrant Bush Warbler are in fact races of Sunda Bush Warbler. Also who would have thought that Grasshopper and Lanceolated Warblers were not closely related? It appears that that they are seated in different clades, and Grasshopper Warbler is actually more closely related to Chinese Bush Warbler – and therefore is likely to be a Bradypterus and not a Locustella!

A number of these taxonomic issues are discussed in the introductory chapters. The authors have adopted a pragmatic approach and have been flexible in deciding the scope of the book to ensure the inclusion of the most challenging genera. Among their decisions is the adoption of Iduna as a sister genus to Acrocephalus for four species usually accepted as being in the genus Hippolais (Eastern and Western, Sykes’s and Booted Warblers), while Thick-billed Warbler is put in the genus Phragamaticola. Similarly Chestnut-headed Tesia is on its own in the genus Oligura. The recent splitting up of Spotted Bush-Warbler is only partly followed, with the authors recognising the creation of Baikal Bush-Warbler (Bradypterus davidi), but not West Himalayan Bush Warbler (Bradypterus kashmirensis). Similarly Anjouan Brush-Warbler (Nesillas longicaudata) is lumped into Madagascar Brush-Warbler.

When it comes to the use of English names, the choice stays fairly close to the IOC List, although occasionally the Clements name is favoured instead, and on some occasions the authors have adopted names that are used by neither – such as Kinabalu Bush-Warbler (for Bradypterus accentor) and Kiritimati Warbler (for Acrocephalus aequinoctialis). One species that followers of Clements will find missing is Victorin’s Scrub-Warbler. Although treated as a Bradypterus in that list, it has been renamed as Victorin’s Warbler by IOC and placed in the genus Cryptillas next to the Crombecs and Longbills in the family Macrosphenidae. Those who are interested in the choice of races will again have plenty to discuss – although space does not allow details to be listed here.

It would be a mistake to think that there is little left to learn about these Old World families. For example, how did we overlook the Large-billed Reed Warbler? Identified from a single specimen collected from India in 1865, it was 140 years before it was detected again – and yet since 2006 three have been trapped in Thailand. Similarly Timor Bush Warbler was described from two specimens collected in 1932, and then not seen again. But just a year ago it was rediscovered in good numbers, while nearby on the island of Alor this or perhaps another species has now been discovered. Recognising that the relationships between the species in this book will probably change before a second edition is printed, the authors have wisely included an appendix which summarises some of the likely revisions likely to result from recent research. For example Little Rush Warbler and Evergreen Forest Warbler are both likely to be split into several new species, while Javan Bush Warbler and Russ et Bush Warbler may be lumped, as may also Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler.

An amazing amount of work has gone into this volume, and it certainly gets my personal “book of the year” award.”

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A Customer Reviews… Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan

We love to hear your feedback on the books and wildlife equipment we stock – here, Mike Nelson, from the USA, shares his thoughts on Phillips’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan.

Phillipps' Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan jacket image

“I went to Sabah, Borneo in August of 2009 before this was published and I wish I would have had it then. I did take the The Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java and Bali, which was sufficient, but as it was published in ’93 some of the info was out of date and not specific to the area I was birding. The art work for that guide was done by Karen Phillipps who has done the art work for this new book. This guide is set up like most with a plate on the right and info and range maps on the left. The range maps are a plus over the older version. Also the first two pages are a quick guide to the plates with a representative bird pictured with the corresponding page. Helpful for looking up birds quickly. The next several pages are filled with graphic indexes of birds common to specific habitats. Several pages follow about the layout of the book, Bornean endemics and helpful info about vegetation, birding sites, climate and migration. Then comes the heart of the book with all the species accounts. The info about each bird has a range map, character of the bird, size, call, range, occurrence and info about habits and habitat. On several of the pages are yellow boxes with other information about the birds on that page from migration to plumages and even local lore. At the back are 11 pages of info about birding in specific parts of Borneo with maps and where to find what birds. Overall this is a great book not just as a guide but also, with all the other small bits of info about birding in Borneo, it’s interesting to read. The art work might not be as sharp as the Myers book but this has more of the soul of Borneo in it.”

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