How to choose the trail camera that’s right for you

Bushnell Dipper
This video of a dipper was taken with a Bushnell Trophy Cam and is a great example of what can be captured with an entry level camera.

Trail camera technology is developing all the time and the range of products on the market constantly expanding. While this is exciting, it can also be incredibly confusing, especially when you’re trying to choose which model is best suited to your needs.

Here are six things you should consider when trying to choose the trail camera that’s right for you:

1. Type of LEDs

The infrared LEDs on a trail camera provide the illumination needed to take pictures at night. Generally speaking, these come in two types: standard or low glow. Standard LEDs have a shorter wavelength which means that they will emit a small amount of visible light when activated. This will be seen as a small red flash. Low glow LEDs, having a longer wavelength, do not produce this tell-tale red glow so have obvious benefits for wildlife photography. Low glow types, however, will have a shorter range than standard LEDs. All models in the Ltl Acorn range come with a choice of standard or low-glow illumination.

2. Trigger speed

Trigger speed is the time taken for an image or video to be recorded after the infrared motion sensor has been triggered. If your subject is fast moving then a quicker trigger speed will help to ensure you capture great images. Fastest trigger speeds are currently around 0.2 seconds (e.g. the Reconyx HyperFire).

3. Picture and video resolution

As with any type of camera, image and video resolution are important, and the image quality you require will depend on what you will be using your footage for, along with your budget. Most trail cameras will give you the option to alter the resolution using compression or interpolation methods. This can be useful if you are deploying your camera for long periods, when memory card capacity may become an issue. It also means, however, that you should check the resolution of the camera image sensor as the advertised megapixel value often relates to the interpolated resolution (* see note below for a definition of interpolation).

4. Does it have a viewing screen?

Having an image preview screen in your trail camera is beneficial in two ways: Firstly, it allows you to quickly check the images that you have recorded without having to remove the SD card or plug it into a laptop. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it lets you take a few test images. By walking (or running) in front of the camera and checking the image captured, you can be assured that your camera angle and position is exactly right. The Bushnell NatureView HD Max and Minox DTC 1000 both have a good sized viewing screen.

5. Camera settings

All trail cameras will give you some control over the capture settings. Most will allow you to change the number of images taken per trigger as well as the length of video recorded. It is usually possible, as well, to specify the delay between photos and/or trigger events. Time lapse options allow you to take photographs at regular intervals between hours of your choice, and some cameras, such as those in the Bushnell range, can be set with two separate time lapse windows. This is useful if you are interested in both dusk and dawn activities.

6. Wireless functionality

Cameras with wireless functionality will send images directly to your mobile phone or email account. This offers huge time saving benefits, as well as reducing the amount of disturbance at your survey site. Several cameras now have wireless capabilities, and some will even allow you to alter your camera settings remotely. An activated SIM card is required to use these features. The Spypoint Mini-Live camera is just one example of a camera that will let you access your photos remotely.

 * Interpolation is where the software inside the camera produces a larger image by adding pixels. These extra pixels are created by application of an algorithm which uses adjacent pixels to create the most likely colour. 
 

Our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers

Title Image

These days there’s an app for everything and everyone. For those of us with a passion for nature and the outdoors, they provide a fantastic way to improve our knowledge and identification skills, record and share our findings and even contribute to scientific research. We’ve compiled a list of our ten favourite (and free) apps for wildlife lovers. Most of these are designed for UK users, but if you’re based in other countries, have a dig around at the App Store or on Google Play; there’s bound to be something there to inspire you.

All of the apps listed are available for iPhone and Android and they’re all free. So if you’re needing some inspiration to get outside and start exploring, look no further.

Project Noah

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Project Noah

Explore and document wildlife wherever you are in the world with this educational app. Discover new organisms, record and share the specimens you find and help scientists collect important ecological data.

Birdtrack

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Birdtrack

Produced by the British Trust for Ornithology, BirdTrack lets you create logs of your bird sightings and create year and life lists. View your local hotspots and see what species have been seen in your area.

BatLib

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Batlib

The BatLib app contains ultrasonic calls of the most common European bat species, transformed to a sound that you can hear. Extremely useful to compare with the sounds heard using your heterodyne detector and a great tool for those new to bat detecting.

Nature Finder

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Nature Finder

The Nature Finder app from The Wildlife Trusts is a brilliant way to plan your wildlife excursions and learn about the animals you see while you’re there. It includes a map of more than 2000 nature reserves, lists of events, information on UK wildlife species and a directory for all 47 Wildlife Trusts.

Mammal Tracker

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Mammal Tracker

Identify and submit your records of mammals when you’re out and about with this mammal tracker app and contribute to the Mammal Society’s mammal population map of the British Isles. Submit a photograph if possible so that mammal experts can verify your sighting.

iGeology

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - iGeology

Discover exactly what’s beneath your feet and how the hidden geology affects the landscape you see with this app from the British Geological Society. Includes over 500 geological maps of Britain, available to view in 3D or from a birds-eye view.

Roger’s Mushrooms

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Rogers Mushrooms

With detailed descriptions of over 1500 species of mushrooms and fungi across Europe and North America, Rogers Mushrooms app is a must for both beginner and expert mycologists. It includes multiple images of each species in different stages of maturity, along with a detailed description. Choose between the free Lite version or the Pro version for a price of £2.50.

ForestXplorer app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Forest Xplorer

Find out more about the trees around you with this app from the Forestry Commission. As well as a picture gallery and tree identifier you can download trail maps, see events happening in your local woodland and share your findings with your friends via Facebook or Twitter.

PlantTracker app

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Plant Tracker

Join forces with the Environment Agency, the University of Bristol and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology to help map some of the UK’s most problematic invasive plants. Learn how to identify these species and submit geo-tagged photographs whenever you come across them.

OPAL Bugs Count

Apps for Wildlife Lovers - Opal Bugs Count

Be a part of the nationwide bug hunt with this Bugs Count app. Learn about common groups of bugs, contribute to scientific research by taking part in a Species Quest and view the beautiful gallery of bug images from the Natural History Museum.

 

The Week in Review – 17th October

Monarch Butterfly
There are difficult days ahead for this fascinating and beautiful species. Photo by Deborah, Flickr Creative Commons

News from outside the nest

We have been keeping an eye on the webcam at Dorset Harbour following announcements that the largest flock of spoonbills ever to be seen in Britain were sighted on the Brownsea Island Lagoon.

The Natural History Museum Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, and we were as astounded as ever by the standard of photographs on display.

We read about the plight of the Monarch butterflies, their astounding migrations and the efforts being taken to save them from extinction.

Evolving in leaps and bounds, quite literally; poisonous cane toads in Australia are jumping straighter and farther, allowing this invasive species to expand into new territories at an alarming rate.

We learned some fascinating things about how birds cope with turbulence from an eagle wearing a black box flight recorder.

The beautiful Nature is Speaking series from Conservation International has kept us entranced.

And finally…Raffia the camel became the first animal to be involved with Google Maps in efforts to capture images of the Liwa Desert in Abu Dhabi.

New arrivals at the warehouse

The second addition of British Soldierflies and their Allies contains beautiful photographs alongside illustrations of key indentifying features. It also includes the most up to date information on species’ status.

Sex on Earth is a highly readable work that celebrates and investigates the hows and whys of sex on our planet.

Build-in sparrow boxes are now available in a terraced version, providing space for three nesting pairs. Choose from red or blue brick or face them with your own to perfectly match your building.

The Ltl Acorn 6310 is available with a choice of night vision LED types (standard or low glow) and is the latest addition to the range available at NHBS.

 

Six eponymous bird name facts

The Eponym Dictionary of BirdsThis month sees the publication of Bo Beolens’, Michael Watkins’ and Michael Grayson’s The Eponym Dictionary of Birds – a major publication with over 4,000 entries to fascinate the curious-minded birder. Each entry explains the biography behind the people commemorated in bird names, from lesser-known but dedicated collectors to officers, dignitaries and royals. Such as:

Passerini’s Tanager and Salmon’s Jacamar

Professor Carlo Passerini (1793-1857), an Italian entomologist and an early enthusiast of scientific photography, and Colonel Thomas Knight Salmon (1840-1878), a British railway engineer whose lung disease forced him into retirement and to opening a naturalist’s shop, are perfect examples of the hundreds of entries concerning those dedicated relative unknowns whose efforts have added rich threads to the natural history of birds and beyond. Salmon’s health deteriorated and he travelled to Colombia for the better climate where he spent seven years. He died in England leaving a collection of 3,500 bird skins.

Adelie Penguin

This entry exemplifies a theme of dedicating the naming to one’s spouse, in this instance Adelie Dumont d’Urville (1798-1842), the wife of Admiral Jules-Sebastien-Cesar Dumont d’Urville, who first found this penguin. Various places in and around Antarctica were similarly honoured, including the Adelie Coast.

It is not only the eponymous common names that are included. So many latin names contain dedications too, for instance:

The Red-headed ParrotfinchErythrura cyaneovirens gaughrani was named after American waterpolo player Dr James ‘Jim’ Alan Gaughran – who, apart from appearing at the 1956 Olympic Games and acting as head coach of Stanford University’s waterpolo team from 1969-1973 – was with duPont on the 1970 expedition to Western Samoa during which the parrotfinch holotype was collected.

Dig around and it won’t be long before you discover some familiar territory:

Lewis’s Woodpecker is named after Captain Merriweather Lewis (1774-1809), one half of famous explorers, Lewis and Clarke. Their expedition of over 4,000 miles across the North American continent was rich in discoveries, not least the collection of the holotype of this woodpecker. It was collected in near Helena, Montana, and is now in Harvard, perhaps the only bird specimen left from the expedition.

Finally, it must be worth mentioning that the Great Egret has been known as Queen Victoria’s Egret. Victoria was opposed to the feather trade and ordered her regiments to stop wearing plumes in their uniform, giving her a royal place in bird conservation.

The Eponym Dictionary of Birds

 

 

 

 

Birds and Climate Change – authors James Pearce-Higgins & Rhys E. Green discuss the impacts and responses

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses has just been published by Cambridge University Press. This key topic is given a broad critical review by James Pearce-Higgins, a Principal Ecologist at the British Trust for Ornithology, and Rhys E. Green, Principal Research Biologist at The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Honorary Professor of Conservation Science at the University of Cambridge. We asked them a few questions about the priorities and processes involved.

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation ResponsesGiven this is such a vast subject, is it possible to summarize what we know currently about the impacts of climate change on birds – and also how we know it?

There has been an increasing wealth of scientific information published in recent decades, documenting the impacts that climate change has had on birds, which we review in the first part of the book. One of the best documented impacts is that the timing of spring migration and breeding outside of the tropics has become earlier in response to warming. There is also strong evidence that the abundance within bird populations has changed in response to changes in climatic variables through time. This has occurred through a range of different mechanisms. In response to climate change, these processes have led to significant changes in the composition of bird communities through time, and to shifts in species’ distributions, which have tended to move poleward by an average of over 7 km per decade.

The precise impacts of climate change vary across the globe, with changes in temperature being much more important in temperate and higher latitudes, whilst variation in rainfall is the most important cause of change in the tropics, and to long-distance migrants. Although there is a burgeoning evidence base about climate change impacts on birds, much of this research is from Europe and North America. We show in a key graph how little research effort there has been in the tropics, where we have shown the ecological processes are different, and where the majority of bird species are found. Long-term monitoring of bird populations, breeding and migration are an important resource for climate change studies. These studies have been done both by volunteer enthusiasts and academics, but mostly in the Northern Hemisphere and outside the tropics. Addressing this monitoring and research gap should be a high priority.

Much of the long-term monitoring data required to study the impacts of climate change upon birds is necessarily collected by volunteers (citizen scientists) because this ensures that the data are sufficiently extensive and sustainable in the long-term. Thus, information about the changes in the timing of migration and breeding is collected through bird observatories and schemes like the BTO’s nest record scheme, whilst large-scale information about bird populations and distributions is collected by standardised monitoring by volunteer birdwatchers, such as through annual breeding bird surveys and periodic atlases. Ringing (banding) and nest record schemes provide information about birth and death rates, which can help identify the processes behind these changes. These data are complemented by professional studies which are often more intensive and particularly have helped to understand the ecological mechanisms of change.

What sort of conservation responses are available?

The second part of the book examines potential conservation responses to climate change. The first step in this is to predict the future impacts of climate change on birds, which is covered by its own chapter. Here we link projected range changes and extinction risk to the amount of climate change, and show that increasing amounts of climate change will threaten an increasing number of species. We then review the options for adapting conservation action to climate change, building on a range of tools already used by conservationists. These include deciding which species and places are priorities for conservation, the protection and management of a network of core sites, habitat protection and creation to enhance connectivity, management of the wider landscape to reduce other threats and more intensive methods such as translocations. We believe that it is important to build on the foundations of existing conservation management, so that the threat of climate change does not divert resources away from existing and important conservation action. Reducing the impact of other threats on species will increase their ability to cope with a changing climate and may be sufficient, in some cases, to compensate for the negative effects of climate change.

Maintaining and extending the existing protected area network, alongside initiatives to improve the management of sites in that network, will be vital in helping species adapt to climate change. For example, protected areas can provide opportunities for colonisation of areas where the climate has become suitable for a species because of climate change. However, we recognize that with increasing magnitude of climate change, this adaptation challenge will become more difficult, and require more radical solutions. The final chapter in this section also considers the additional complication that the ways in which greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, and other climate change mitigation, will also have a significant impact on bird conservation. Some renewable energy options are likely to have negative impacts on birds, whereas prevention of the release of carbon stored in forests and bogs because of inappropriate land use change, such as deforestation and drainage, is likely to be beneficial for the bird species which inhabit those habitats.

Can you give some specific examples of responses underway, and what sort of levels of success these are demonstrating?

There has been recent criticism that because climate change will result in shifts in where species are found, that a static network of protected areas will no longer be useful. However, a number of recent studies are reviewed which demonstrate that by protecting large areas of extensive semi-natural habitat, protected areas in fact ensure the existence of suitable areas of habitat for species to move into. This has been particularly demonstrated for wetland and heathland nature reserves in the UK. There has also been much discussion about the potential for the creation of stepping stones and corridors to help create more connected landscapes through which species may move more easily. This literature is also discussed, which demonstrates that these interventions may benefit 30% of bird species studied, or fewer. Indeed, for the most sensitive habitat-specialists, such as tropical forest specialists, about 50% of a landscape may need to remain forested to ensure connectivity. Evidence is also building for the potential to manage sites appropriately to increase their resilience to climate change. In particular, the blocking of drainage ditches in the UK uplands may raise water levels and reduce the vulnerability of peatland ecosystems to summer drought, which will benefit a range of upland bird species, such as the golden plover.

Global change demands global responsiveness – how much agreement is there over the priorities?

Priority setting will be an important aspect of conservation responses to climate change, and a range of different ways in which priorities may be assessed exist. We review a number of these in the book, as well as suggesting a number of ecological traits likely to be associated with species vulnerability to climate change. Whilst there are an increasing number of examples of these being applied to particular regions or countries, there remains a lack of consensus over priorities across continents or biogeographical areas. The need to address this is recognized, and as discussed in the chapter on conservation in a changing climate, there is potential to use existing policy instruments, such as intergovernmental agreements, to achieve this. Given the potential threat that human responses to climate change may also pose to birds, whether the impacts of renewable energy generation, or other potential changes in land-use and other sectors discussed briefly in the final chapter of the book, this consensus needs to extend to other areas in order to be effective.

What future developments are on the horizon in extinction risk assessment, and are you positive about the potential impact of conservation responses overall?

One of the most significant chapters in the book reviews the literature predicting the effects of climate change on birds, and provides guidance for how this should be used. There is considerable potential to extend these to include information about population size, rather than just occurrence, and to make them more process-based, incorporating information about demographic rates and the mechanisms by which climate change may affect the species of interest. This has been achieved in a small number of cases, producing models which may be useful to inform future decision making about conservation responses to climate change. Such development will be particularly valuable, because it will help to assess the likely potential impact of conservation responses, relative to the likely magnitude of future climate change. However, this detail comes at a cost, and will not be feasible for most, or even many species.

Birds and Climate Change: Impacts and Conservation Responses

 

 

A Sparrowhawk’s Lament author David Cobham interviewed by NHBS

A Sparrowhawk's Lament jacket imageOur readers may be familiar with you as the director of the 1979 film, Tarka the Otter, so your conservation credentials go back a long way. What first stirred you to get involved with the plight of our wildlife?

In the late sixties I made several films for the Midland Bank showing the advice they gave to farmers enabling them to reorganize their farms, specialize and make them more profitable. This always involved pulling out hedgerows, filling in ponds and knocking down old barns. Not very good for wildlife. I tried to get them to make a conservation film but they were not interested. In 1970 I met Henry Williamson, who wrote Tarka the Otter, and asked him if he’d be interested in writing a film for the BBC Natural History Unit called “The Vanishing Hedgerows”. The film would be based on his experience of farming in Norfolk between 1936 and 1946. Farming with horsepower initially, then the first tractor and finally pesticides. Running through the film was the story of the plight of the Grey Partridge. The film was a great success and won a conservation prize at the Montreux film festival.

Your new book, A Sparrowhawk’s Lament, explores the state of Britain’s birds of prey. How are they getting on, and what are the main threats to their survival?

The Hen Harrier’s existence as a British breeding bird of prey hangs in the balance. The main threat is persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors. It is coordinated throughout the Pennine chain. All predators, not only Hen Harriers, are exterminated. As a result there was no successful breeding in 2013. There is a chance that prospects may improve in 2014. Nevertheless this spectacular bird must not be allowed to become extinct as a British breeding bird. It is estimated that there is territory for up to 300 pairs of Hen Harriers on the Pennine chain. Poisoning of birds of prey is still prevalent throughout the British Isles. Red Kites, Golden Eagles and Common Buzzards are the main targets.

Illustration by Bruce Pearson
Illustration by Bruce Pearson
Did you spend much time roaming the countryside encountering these magnificent birds during the research process of the book? You must have met some interesting human characters too on your travels?

I spent three years researching and writing A Sparrowhawk’s Lament. Some of it came out of films I had made for the BBC and Channel 4. For instance I made 3 films on the Peregrine Falcon: one in Scotland, two in Cornwall. On them I worked with two experts, Roy Dennis in Scotland, and the late Dick Treleaven in Cornwall. I did travel to Scotland to meet up with Roy Dennis and glean some of his vast experience with Ospreys and Golden Eagles and I went to Mull to talk to Dave Sexton about the successful re-introduction of the White-tailed Eagles in Scotland. In the North of England I saw Merlin and Honey Buzzards and I talked to my cousin George Winn Darley who owns a grouse moor. Stephen Murphy of Natural England showed me round the Forest of Bowland which was once the stronghold of breeding Hen Harriers. There I was priviledged to hear his first hand account of the death of Bowland Betty. In the Midlands I met Tim Mackrill who took over the Osprey re-introduction at Rutland Water. Nearby at Rockingham I spent time with Steve Thornton and Derek Holman who’d been involved with the Red Kite release on the Forestry Comission land there. They also showed me nesting Hobbys at Lilford Hall. In Norfolk there was plenty of opportunity on our Hawk and Owl Trust reserve to see Marsh Harriers, Goshawks and Sparrowhawks. David Lyles showed me where to watch nesting Montagu’s Harriers on his land. On Salisbury Plain I met up with Nigel Lewis and watched him ringing young Kestrels and in the West Country Robin Prytherch took me round his Common Buzzard study area in the Gordano Valley near Bristol. Finally, Steve Roberts blew away some of the mysteries surrounding that extraordinary bird, the Honey Buzzard.

I also talked to a great number of wildlife cameramen. Mike Richards, Hugh Miles, John Aitchison, Simon King, Chris Knights, Martin Hayward Smith and Manny Hinge shared their often gruelling experiences with me.

Finally, there were many enthusiasts, amateur and professional who took time to talk to me and impart their knowledge. In particular, I must mention the late Derek Ratcliffe, Robert Kenward and Ian Newton.

What is the significance of the title A Sparrowhawk’s Lament?

As a film maker I was always keen to find a hook to catch the audience’s attention. If you didn’t they had the easy option of switching off. So before I wrote a word I knew I had to have a hook. Quite by chance I found my hook while I was in hospital for an operation. I was literally waiting to go down to the theatre when my wife came in with an armful of books for me to read. One of them was the Penguin Book of Bird Poetry. My wife left and I flicked through the pages. To my amazement I found an anonymous fifteenth century poem in which a male Sparrowhawk was complaining that the fear of death worried him. In the fifteenth century Sparrowhawks were protected – they were the hawks that a holywater clerk was allowed to fly. Did the Sparrowhawk have a crystal ball to forsee the future – persecution and pesticides? So that was the hook and the first chapter is a detective story seeking out from what it was that the male Sparrowhawk was fearful of dying.

How has our relationship with birds of prey changed in this country over the centuries?
Illustration by Bruce Pearson
Illustration by Bruce Pearson

For over three thousand years Man trained birds of prey to put food on the table. With the introduction of the double barrelled shotgun that relationship was severed. The 1831 Game Act let loose a period of persecution beyond belief. By 1916 five birds of prey were extinct in the British Isles – the Goshawk, Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Honey Buzzard and White-tailed Sea Eagle. Gradually, the swell of public opinion, nauseated by this senseless, selfish slaughter, held sway. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds was formed and the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 afforded  full protection for all British birds of prey. In recent years the BBC TV programmes, Springwatch and Autumnwatch, have gone to great lengths to champion the role of birds of prey in our environment and to show in a sympathetic way the difficulties they experience  in finding a mate, nesting, providing enough food for their offspring and finally in migrating to their winter quarters.

What are the current priorities now for conservation of our birds of prey, and how might this book inspire people to get involved?

The top priority at the moment is to ensure that the Hen Harrier does not become extinct as a breeding bird in England. It is on a knife-edge at the moment. Publicise the horrific cruelty of pole traps and poisoning. We need more Wildlife Crime Police Officers. We need to strengthen the law so that landowners are made to accept the responsibility for any crime against birds of prey that occurs on their land.

The Sparrowhawk’s fear of death in that fifteenth century poem, which I have called A Sparrowhawk’s Lament, inspired me to find out the true state of British breeding birds of prey, exactly how they were faring. I hope that some of the experiences that I have had will influence young and old to revere our birds of prey and join an organisation such as the Hawk and Owl Trust which are dedicated to the conservation of all birds of prey. They are thrilling birds. Whether you  revel in the sky splitting stoop of the Peregrine or the ground hugging dash of the Sparrowhawk the world would be a poorer place without them.

A Sparrowhawk's Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey are Faring

 

 

Tim Birkhead on Ten Thousand Birds, and his top 5 ornithology classics

Tim Birkhead is a professor of zoology at the University of Sheffield. A researcher and educator he regularly gives public talks, is a distinguished columnist, and has written many books including The Wisdom of Birds and Bird Sense. His new book Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin is out now.

Ten Thousand Birds jacket imageHow did you first become interested in ornithology?

My father was a bird watcher, so I became interested from an early age. I can remember looking at a song thrush nest at the age of about three, bird watching from about the age five, and finally getting a pair of binoculars when I was about twelve. That was a breakthrough! I often marvel at my persistence at bird watching without binoculars, but I know that several of my ornithological colleagues did the same.

Could you introduce your new book Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology Since Darwin, and describe what the publication of the book means to you?

The study of the history of twentieth-century ornithology has clearly seemed like a daunting task to the handful of ornithologists who have written about the history of ornithology as a whole. There’s just so much information. I decided it must be possible, although having made that decision, it took me a further year to decide how to tackle it, both in terms of reviewing what has been done, and writing about it in a way that was engaging.

It could have been done through the most eminent ornithologists, but the book would then have been little more than a succession of biographies. It could also have been done decade by decade – describing major discoveries in chronological order, but so many great ornithologists spanned several decades that that would have been messy and dull. As a biologist I liked the idea of biological themes: migration, song, population ecology and so on. Themes was what we went with. It meant writing a historical review of each topic – which my co-authors and I found both entertaining and educational. We learned a lot writing this book.

Our emphasis throughout is try to bring history to life by telling stories about the wonderful, extraordinary, sometimes crazily driven individuals that have contributed to our ever expanding knowledge about birds. Have a look at our website myriadbirds.com.

Ten Thousand Birds internal image
Otto Lilienthal’s analysis of the aerodynamically important dimensions of storks.

 

Any favourite stories from the book?

This is hard – ornithologists were (are) so idiosyncratic there are many great stories. I suppose one iconic story that I grew up with was the intellectual battle between David Lack (Oxford) and Vero Wynne-Edwards (Aberdeen) about the way bird populations are regulated. Wynne-Edwards thought that populations were controlled by their own behaviour and showed restraint – by laying fewer eggs or not breeding at all – when food was short, for the good of the population or species. Lack on the other hand promoted an individual selection point of view and suggested that when food was short those that bred successfully left more copies of their genes in future generations. Lack of course won. What was remarkable about Wynne-Edwards was how convinced he was by his own idea… and so wrong! By being wrong however, he stimulated other biologists to focus very sharply on the way natural selection worked, and that lead to a new and very productive way of thinking, described in the chapter on behavioural ecology.

A second story: I like the idea that in the 1940s biologists and ornithologists were utterly convinced that no organism had a magnetic sense. Yet within 20 or 30 years the fact that birds used the earth’s magnetic field to find their way around became one of the hottest topics in ornithology – and still is thanks to the development of geolocators and GPS devices for tracking birds and exemplified by the BTO’s wonderful and highly publicized studies of migration by Common Cuckoos. The revolution in bird migration studies is tremendously exciting and the discoveries of some of the long-distance, non-stop migrations are breath-taking.

Ten Thousand Birds internal image
A pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying.
From within your personal interest in ornithology, is there an area that particularly appeals, species-, or geozone-wise?

I have studied Common Guillemots on Skomer Island, Wales since 1972, over 40 years now: they’d be disappointed if I didn’t name them my absolute favourite. I know them better than any other species. But I also love hummingbirds and the oilbird is among the most bizarre of birds I’ve ever encountered, like something out a Harry Potter novel and with super senses too. But top of my list is the Eurasian Bullfinch: its mental abilities (rarely apparent except in captivity) are truly extraordinary, and it has the most unbird-like sperm of any bird I’ve ever studied.

Ten Thousand Birds available now

 

 

Tim Birkhead’s Top 5 ornithology classics:

(Please note these classic texts, with the exception of the Handbook of the Birds of the World, are out of print and not available from NHBS (try antiquarian book dealers or the website abebooks.com) – but we think this list makes interesting reading!)

Lack, D. 1968. Ecological Adaptations for Breeding in Birds. Methuen.
Arguably the most inspiring ornithology book and written by the most inspiring ornithologist of the 20th-century. I read it as an undergraduate and was mesmerized. Inspired by John Hurrell Crook’s comparative study of weaverbirds, David Lack used Crook’s novel approach to produce an inspirational synthesis of all that was known about the ecology and behaviour of birds. The result is a clear, engaging, insightful overview of bird biology up until 1968, further enhanced by Robert Gillmor’s superb drawings. When we were writing Ten Thousand Birds and we asked senior ornithologists which ornithology book they most valued, it was this one, and another written by David Lack.

Snow, D. W. 1985. The Web of Adaptation. Cornell University Press.
David and Barbara Snow worked in South America and at the Asa Wright Centre on Trinidad studying manakins, cotingas and the bellbird. The Asa Wright is a magical place and well worth a visit. David Snow writes beautifully, and this book discusses how a diet of easily acquired fruit fosters a sexually liberated, lekking lifestyle. This wonderful little book has not enjoyed the recognition it deserved.

Del Hoyo, J;  Elliott, A;  Sargatal, J. 1992-2013. Handbook of the Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions.
One of the first encyclopedias of ornithology, and certainly the first scientific one, was written by John Ray and Francis Willughby and published in 1676 (in Latin) and in 1678 (in English). The most recent encyclopedia of ornithology, the absolutely magnificent Handbook of the Birds of the World, is remarkably similar, despite an interval of over 300 years. This tells us a lot about how smart Ray and Willughby were about communicating their knowledge, but also that despite massive changes in publishing, readers still value clear writing, superb images, and comprehensive coverage. The major difference of course is that Williughby and Ray thought there might only be about 500 species of birds in the world in 1660, and we now know that there are around 10,000. Inevitably, 10,000 birds requires more text, but in addition, we know so much more about birds today. When we wrote Ten Thousand Birds: Ornitholgy Since Darwin, we estimated the number of publications on birds there had been since Darwin’s day – the answer is a staggering 400,000.  del Hoyo et al have done a magnificent job in summarising much of that information in this landmark publication.

Thomson, A. L. 1964. New Dictionary of Birds. Nelson: London.
I discovered this book when I was as an undergraduate in Newcastle in 1971. It seemed shockingly expensive at the time, but what an investment! I used it as the (unofficial) course text book throughout my entire zoology undergraduate degree because it provided excellent concise accounts of all major topics: genetics, ecology, behaviour.

Heinrich, B. 1989. Ravens in Winter. Summit Books: New Milford.
No other book so evocatively captures the masochistic rigours of fieldwork. This is a celebration of both field ornithology and the ultimate corvid. Heinrich himself was extraordinary: a professional biologist who was still running marathons in his 70s and who writes accessibly and engaging about birds.

The birding ID guide revolutionary Richard Crossley, interviewed by NHBS

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors jacket imageThe Crossley ID Guide series hit the market in 2011 with the guide to Eastern Birds, marking a revolution in identification guides. The plates of birds, scenically arranged in their natural context, are photographic composites and show a variety of angles. They cover plumage, sex, and age variations, and situate the birds among other species for comparison, and in perspectives unusual for an ID guide.  

With publication of the Raptor guide imminent, we asked ID guide mastermind Richard Crossley about the concept, and how well it’s working so far…

It has been two years since the first Crossley Guide hit the market. It’s a great design – context is often critical when trying to identify birds. How has the Crossley concept been received?

I think it has been received really well. It has been interesting to watch all the different reactions to something that was totally different from anything people had seen before. It has been the biggest hit with beginners and kids because it helps them to understand the ‘big picture’ of how a bird’s appearance and behaviour is linked to where it lives. It makes sense to them and they are generally not biased by any preconceived ideas of what a bird book should look like.

Adapting to this new approach may be harder for long-time birders who have used side-on, white backgrounds with arrows pointing to specific features. It has been interesting to see that many people are slowly but surely coming around, and may be now finding it tougher to look at traditional guides. Particularly inspiring for me are the number of kids who love the ‘discovery’ aspect of the plates. Today, they are taught at school to work things out for themselves by seeing patterns and repetition. This ‘discovery’ within each plate is just like being outdoors, but a lot easier. My dream is that this style of imagery will encourage more people, young and old, to go outdoors and have a better grasp of what they are looking at. That is the biggest compliment for me!

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds - plateHow would you sell the concept to the average birder who hasn’t been initiated?

I believe that birding is about the voyage of discovery and that learning how to look is the key. At school there are some teachers who make you learn by memorizing the answers parrot-fashion. The second type of teacher helps you to understand how to work the answer out for yourself. They also make it as fun and realistic as possible with lots of examples to practice on and build confidence. Practice still makes perfect! My books are intended to be the second one.

The intention is for the viewer to enjoy looking at the birds in their habitat, behaving as they do in their world so that birds’ personalities can be understood. Everything is connected so it is logical to show all the dots – the viewer can put them together. Today, we now know how the brain works much better than before and this is the better way to inspire all ages. I suppose the Crossley concept can be described as somewhere between traditional guides and reality.

How did you come to have such a passion for birding, and how did the road lead to the Crossley ID Guide concept?

My teacher, Mr. Sutton, introduced me to birding when I was 10 years old. Remarkably, I lived in Whykeham Forest just down the road from the now famous Honey Buzzard raptor watch site. I had collected eggs since I was 7 years old. I just loved it right away. I think there are lots of reasons why. I feel I have had an incredible life because I have seen and experienced so much in my quest to see birds. Birding has quite simply shaped my life.

Funnily enough, I am not a book person and rarely look at them. My favourite is the Collins Bird Guide, in large part because of Killian Mullarney’s and Dan Zetterstrom’s beautiful vignettes. It seemed logical to make books even more lifelike and create one scene. Digital photography and Photoshop came along just as we started the original edition of The Shorebird Guide. I soon became fascinated with book design. The backbone of The Shorebird Guide was the comparative wader shots and making every image as different as possible from the last one – to keep people interested. Ironically, we couldn’t get the comparative images needed and this was the catalyst for me buying a big ‘fancy’ lens and taking up photography. I soon became hooked. Amazing how things come about! Towards the end of making the The Shorebird Guide there was a simple question. How do you take 5 pages, about 15 photos and put all this information in to one image and make it lifelike?

So what goes into the making of a Crossley ID Guide? Do you do all the photography leg-work?

It is scary just thinking about what goes in to these books. The learning curve in the early days was brutal with so many things to work out. In hindsight, many seem quite obvious now. The close-up section of the backgrounds is the most difficult thing to create. There are so many decisions to make and then you have to try to piece it all together. If you don’t have a large selection of images to choose from, it can seem overpowering at times. It’s like a big jigsaw that can be frustrating but ultimately very rewarding.

I set myself the goal of taking all the images for The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds (I consider over 99 per cent to be good enough). I live with multiple, constantly updated, ‘want lists’ of crazy things. They include certain behaviours, different plumages, habitat shots and flight shots – back then nobody took flight shots of warblers, sparrows etc. I hand-held my big lenses for speed, didn’t use flash and moved quickly – this was not in vogue back then. I didn’t tell people what I was doing for some time because it seemed far-fetched and I didn’t think any one would believe it was possible. Technology has changed a lot in just a few years and now it is possible to get just about any image. How things have changed!

The Eastern guide had over 10,000 photos in it, took 5 years and more money than I care to remember. Most plates have dozens of layers of extracted images and require an intimate knowledge of both Photoshop and understanding what a camera can do. Like everything, practice makes perfect, and I feel like the learning curve is still fairly steep. Perhaps that is why it is still fun.

The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors - plateThe new book covers raptors in North America – does the chronicling of different kinds of birds in their natural environments present different kinds of challenges to the photographer?

Not really. It is all a challenge but that is the fun. It comes down to creating a mental image of what you want to create like any artist. Going to the right places makes life a lot easier. My paint brush is a camera and Photoshop. It is amazing what you can ‘paint’ these days with a few pixels and some time!
The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors only covers 34 species so it certainly gives you room to express yourself differently from a book covering hundreds of species. That was fun. It is always a challenge to think of new ways to capture people’s interest with new kinds of imagery that bring about a better understanding.

The Crossley Guide: Britain & Ireland - jacketWe are eagerly anticipating the Britain and Ireland guide later this year. Dominic Couzens is providing the text. Where next for the Crossley crusade?

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain and Ireland is just about finished. Dominic has been great to work with and I love his engaging writing style. I believe we are very much in sync.

Of course, it was a great excuse to spend a lot of time travelling to get all the photos I needed. Britain and Ireland are so photogenic and I really hope I have captured the essence in the book.

In many ways, this book is for my Dad. He is a very casual birder who loves his backyard and going for a stroll down by the river. Many of the bird books are written for Europe, which he finds a bit overpowering. He is an artist and likes things done right. The true test will be to see if my Dad puts his other books away!

We have lots of other projects going on. Hopefully we can get The Crossley ID Guide: Waterfowl finished in the next six months. We are also just finishing up The Crossley ID Guide: Western Birds. We have a couple more books on the go but I need to get out of the forest before thinking about those.

I am also the co-founder of a new global birding initiative called Pledge to Fledge. The goal is to encourage birders to introduce a non-birder to the outdoors and so fledging a birder. We have 2 weekends a year set aside for this; the next one is April 26-29. Eric Dempsey heads up Ireland and Alan Davies & Ruth Miller Britain (keep an eye on the Biggest Twitch website for more information about events in the UK). This campaign takes up a lot of time but hopefully we can have an impact, particularly in countries where birding is not currently so popular.

And finally, I couldn’t resist: what’s your favourite bird?

Oh come on, hard core birders don’t have favourite birds! Okay, here is your answer. There is one bird I like a lot, and more importantly, we have a lot in common. It is the Sanderling. We are both sort of chunky, always on the run, love the beach and tend to be in photogenic places. Although we both superficially have many colours, if you see past this, we are remarkably consistent in our shape and behaviour. We both travel the world a lot and are approachable – if you can catch up with us. I think Sanderlings are great!

Buy a copy of The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors

Available Now from NHBS

The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland – out November 2013

Pre-order The Crossley ID Guide: Britain & Ireland

 

The World’s Rarest Birds: an interview with author and birder Erik Hirschfeld

The World's Rarest Birds jacket imageThe World’s Rarest Birds is a sumptuous visual treat for birders, featuring a gallery of competition-winning bird photos from around the world. But it is more than that: Erik Hirschfeld – and collaborators Andy Swash and Rob Still – want everyone to be engaged with the plight of the rarest bird species. Here’s what he has to say about the book:

The World’s Rarest Birds compiles information from many different sources and represents a great conservation collaboration. What were your aims in writing the book?

I wanted to give the term “bird conservation” a more recognizable face. In order to evoke feelings, funds, and engagement for a cause, it is essential to make the cause recognizable. By presenting each one of the world’s rarest species in text and image, and sorting them in a geographical context, there is a bird for everyone: regardless of where you live, it should be easy to find the birds in your vicinity. I work much with beginners to birding, as a guide and lecturer, and the taxonomic order does not make sense to them. I think it is important to convince these newcomers about the conservation needs. It does not matter if you are a beginner or expert, Swede or Polynesian – there is a bird in the book that everyone can feel for in conservation terms. And that was my aim, as I think it is extremely important to spread knowledge about endangered birds.

Could you tell us a little about how you became a fully fledged conservation author?

My professional career is in an unrelated sector but I am basically a birder, and was heavily involved on the Swedish twitching scene in my early birding years. Over time my interest in birds has widened – I hardly keep lists any more, and I appreciate the birds’ context in nature more, as well as my own personal experiences of them. I am right now enjoying watching Rooks doing clever things on my street more than twitching a Yellow-nosed Albatross at my local patch (although I did twitch it…). I have always written: identification papers in the eighties, in British journals, and much about migration and faunistics. With the maturing of my interest it was quite obvious I should do something on conservation. I have been a staunch supporter of BirdLife International for 20 years, and am very happy that I could make them benefit from this book. It is important to remember though that the book is a team effort by Andy Swash, Rob Still and myself.

New Caledonia - The World's Rarest Birds page detailThere are some beautiful and striking images in the book, which we loved. Do you feel that the images are an essential way of engaging people with the species?

Yes, as I touched on in the first question. It is a matter of applying simple marketing principles from commercial contexts also in conservation and the NGO world, to make people aware of the birds. You know the old saying: a picture means more than a thousand words.

Some of the image contributions were from winners of an international photographic competition – did you get a good response?

Absolutely, I had tried it out with the Rare Birds Yearbooks so we knew it was going to be a success. The timing has also been good. With the digital photography boom, many people can take decent pictures, and you see much more camera equipment in the field now than 30 years ago when you had to wait a couple of weeks to get your films back. And we are very grateful to the photographers who submitted their images.

The World’s Rarest Birds is quite different in format and content from your previous series The Rare Birds Yearbook, did you also have a different audience in mind?

No, actually not, I thought that basically the same people would buy them. Andy Swash and Rob Still have been instrumental in the evolution to The World’s Rarest Birds and I was convinced by them from the beginning this was the way to go. I remember Ade Long at BirdLife suggesting already after the first edition of the Rare Birds Yearbooks that I should go more for photos and less for texts.

The East Asian-Australasian Flyway - The World's Rarest Birds page detailThe purchase of this book contributes towards supporting the BirdLife International Preventing Extinctions Programme which is a fantastic cause. Could you tell us about any notable conservation success stories that you have seen since your involvement with the project started?

Several. The Madagascar Pochard project in which the species population recently has quadrupled. The Spoon-billed Sandpiper project with artificial hatching and building up a captive population. The project that established a breeding centre for Spix’s Macaw, and now will release birds into the wild this summer. The banning of diclofenac in the Indian subcontinent which, slowly, helps vultures. Even if they are not saved yet, it is not all gloomy! And the many dedicated people and organizations behind these and other positive trends are success stories in themselves.

Buy a copy of The World’s Rarest Birds

Available Now from NHBS

New full-colour monograph focuses on the Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon jacket imageNew Holland have just published the third in their unique occasional series of ornithological monographs. Packed with brilliant full-colour photography, these attractive books are written by experts and passionate advocates for the particular species.

Patrick Stirling-Aird has studied Peregrine Falcons for more than 25 years. He is Secretary of the Scottish Raptor Study Groups and is an advisor to the British and Scottish governments on the conservation of the species. His monograph on the Peregrine has just been published and combines a detailed exploration of the science and natural history of the bird with an anecdotal tone borne of his years of personal experience.

Also available now in the same series:

Kingfisher by David Chandler and Ian Llewellyn (2010)

Barn Owl by David Chandler (2011)