Doomsday for Devon’s birds?

Curlew in flight by Smudge 3000 via Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0
Curlew in flight – attribution at end of post

My Atlas of Breeding Birds in Devon has a pale blue cover, a black-and-white picture of a stonechat on the front, and a price tag of £1.50. It is more than 40 years old.

The atlas, based on fieldwork from five breeding seasons, spanning 1968 to 1972, was described, somewhat inevitably, as an ‘ornithological Domesday Book’, from which changes in the status of the county’s breeding birds could be measured.

So how does the data, published in 1974, measure up to the new Devon Bird Atlas, published this year?

1970s vintage...
1970s vintage…
Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013
… This year’s model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cuckoo and starling were recorded everywhere in the old atlas, yellowhammer everywhere except Lundy. All three are now missing from large parts of the county.

The skylark was abundant throughout Devon then. Today it is scarce or absent from large areas, mainly farmland.

The skylark’s modern strongholds are Dartmoor and Exmoor and the new atlas says: “If present trends continue… the glorious song-flight will become less and less familiar in intensively farmed areas.”

The plight of the lapwing is even more pronounced. In the old atlas it was a widely distributed breeding species, despite a decline that had been noted since the 1930s; the new atlas records lapwing breeding in only three places, two of them at the RSPB’s Exe estuary reserves, the other on the southern fringe of Dartmoor.

Grey partridge was recorded breeding almost everywhere in the old atlas; now it is confirmed in only two places.

Dr Humphrey Sitters edited the old atlas, and in the preface to the new one says more agri-environment schemes are needed, but will only be put into effect if people who know what is going on “present the data we have collected and batter the politicians and bureaucrats into submission.

“Therefore, ultimately, if we lose our breeding birds it is as much our fault as everyone else involved.”

Species whose numbers have increased include siskin, Dartford warbler, Cetti’s warbler and great crested grebe.

Cetti’s warbler was not in the old atlas, the first British breeding record is from Kent in 1973 – it may now be present at all suitable sites in Devon.

There was little evidence great crested grebe bred in Devon in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Numbers have since expanded, although it is doubtful more than 15 pairs successfully bred between 2007 and 2013, the years when data for the new atlas was collected.

The old atlas does not map where peregrine was breeding. During the fieldwork years only one or two pairs managed to rear young and the bird’s future, then blighted by pesticides and egg collectors, was too uncertain to risk identifying nests.

Today it is recorded as ‘possible, probable or confirmed’ almost everywhere, although in small numbers. Persecution is still with us, however, and the new atlas again tries to mask the actual nesting sites.

The sorriest story is possibly the curlew’s. It was breeding in more than half of Devon in the old atlas, although in small numbers – curlew had still not recovered from the historically cold winter of 1962/63, a trait then shared by many other species. Now breeding pairs are down to single figures, and the new atlas says the “future of the curlew as a breeding species in Devon looks bleak”.

The great landscape historian and great Devonian W.G. Hoskins described a Blackdown Hills parish, in the east of the county, as “a country of deep, winding lanes running from one ancient farmstead to another, haunted by buzzards in the valleys and by curlews on the heaths above, and full of flowers”.

The buzzards are still there but will we again be able to hear the curlew?

The old atlas grew from the BTO/Irish Wildbird Conservancy Atlas Project 1968-72, the new Devon Bird Atlas from the BTO’s Bird Atlas project 2007-11, which resulted in Bird Atlas 2007-11: The Breeding and Wintering Birds of Britain and Ireland. A large number of other regional and county bird atlases are also available and NHBS has prepared a list showing upcoming titles.Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013

Buy a copy of the Devon Bird Atlas 2007-2013

Main image: Curlew in flight by Smudge 9000 via Flickr under license CC BY-SA 2.0 (image cropped to remove border)

Book Review – The Book of Frogs: A Lifesize Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the World

The Book of FrogsThe Book of Frogs: A Lifesize Guide to Six Hundred Species from Around the World

Edited by Tim Halliday

Published in hardback in January 2016 by Ivy Press

Ivy Press brand themselves as makers of beautiful books and The Book of Frogs is a fine example of this. These pictorial books (which we have informally dubbed The Book of… Series) have so far covered fungi, eggs, beetles, leaves, and now frogs (note: if you live on the other side of the Atlantic pond you might have noticed that Chicago University Press has the rights for the US).

Like the other books, The Book of Frogs is a hefty tome, weighing in at 2.3 kg, and portrays 600 representative species from across the Anuran family tree. It includes common and endangered species, and even some which sadly have since gone extinct. A short, 30-page section introduces the reader to the basics of frog biology, including their life cycle, calls, population trends and threats, diseases, and taxonomy. The text is aimed at a broad audience with little or no prior knowledge. Terminology is explained, and a 4-page glossary is included in the back (although does anyone really need to have things like “armpit” and “groin” defined for them?). The text is free from footnotes, and is not referenced, although a very short section with recommended reading is included; and there was the occasional factoid that aroused my curiosity (e.g. the specific frequency range of frog’s hearing means females are effectively deaf to males of other species) and made me want to look at the underlying literature – but it’s no great loss.

Book of Frogs internal image 1
The meat of the book is the 600 brilliantly illustrated pages that follow, each profiling a species. The same layout is followed throughout the book with the top third displaying some technical data: species name; adult size range; a table with family, synonymy, distribution, adult and larval habitat, and conservation status; a world map illustrating distribution; and a line drawing. The bottom two-thirds of the page contains a caption and two paragraphs of text giving a morphological description, some particulars on behaviour, reproduction etc., and a description of similar species. The real highlight is of course the photo content. A huge number of individuals and organizations have been approached to source high-quality images, which have been painstakingly cut out of their background. Most photos are duplicated, one life-size, the other blown up or scaled down. They highlight the diverse and sometimes bizarre appearance of frogs. Look out for the large-mouthed Surinam Horned Frog, the spectacularly coloured poison frogs in the family Dendrobatidae, or the barely frog-like Purple Frog. The book is a delight to flip through.

Book of Frogs internal image 2
Obviously, this book is not intended as a field guide or identification guide. Neither is it in-depth enough to be considered a fauna or encyclopedia, nor an iconography such as coleopterists and conchologists understand this term, although it does remind one of this to some extent. Given its global coverage, you can of course only give a selective cross-section in 600 pages. But calling it a mere coffee table book would not do justice to the carefully curated text. To my mind this book is squarely aimed at the armchair naturalist and those who love beautiful books, as the books in this series are eminently collectible. They make perfect gifts too.

Ivy Press has hit on a very successful formula here and I’m curious to see what will be next (butterflies, feathers, shells?). There are plenty of other small and colourful things to be found in the natural world that could be pictured in this format.

The Book of Frogs is available to order from NHBS.

Staff Picks 2015

As usual at this time of year, we like to have a look back at what we’ve been enjoying over the last twelve months – see our selection of staff picks below. We wish all our customers a happy new year – and look forward to working with you again in 2016.

Haeckel's Embryos: Images, Evolution, and FraudHaeckel’s Embryos: Images, Evolution, and Fraud

Haeckel’s drawings of developing embryos are some of the most iconic images in biology, and surely everyone who has studied biology will recognize them. Most people will also know that these images are notorious, and that charges of fraud have been levelled at Haeckel. But are these charges justified? And how much was lost in translation as these images were reproduced and disseminated in the 19th century? This richly illustrated book is the definitive account of these images and their history, going all the way back to the source material in the Haeckel archives in Germany, and hopefully will put the speculation and controversy surrounding these images to rest. A must-read for those interested in the history of science.
Leon – Catalogue Editor

The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?The Vital Question: Why is Life the Way it is?

This book stood out for me this year, as it ticks all the boxes: Lane is right at the cutting edge of science, he provides plausible and well-reasoned solutions to a whole host of fascinating questions. The Vital Question is very well written and I might even read it again!
Anneli – Senior Manager

 

African Wild Dogs: On the Front LineAfrican Wild Dogs: On the Front Line

Having spent most of my life obsessed with African wild dogs and having focused the majority of my degree studies on them, I jump at the chance to read any new book about these amazing creatures. This book* does not disappoint; it is part witty memoir, part serious exploration of African wild dog conservation practise. I promise you won’t be able to put it down.
Natt – Customer Service Supervisor

*Please note, African Wild Dogs is temporarily out of stock and is supplied from South Africa. We expect more stock in Spring 2016.

The Antelope of AfricaThe Antelope of Africa

The Antelope of Africa is a fantastic new field guide, and perfect for the armchair wildlife traveller. Not having visited the continent, Africa’s diverse landscapes and nature retain their mystery, and this appealing full-colour photographic guide evokes the desire to roam the grassy plains in the company of hirola, gazelle, and topi. However, I’m probably not the target audience for this book! It contains a substantial amount of scientific information and will be an essential tool for conservationists and policy makers striving to solve the challenges facing antelope populations in Africa’s stressed ecosystems.
Katherine – Marketing

Few and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain's Rarest AnimalsFew and Far Between: On the Trail of Britain’s Rarest Animals

Charlie Elder makes a memorable quest to the front line of British conservation in his search for some of our most iconic endangered species, and some of our more understated gems. He handles the potentially sombre topic of scarcity with true passion and optimism and writes with equal bounces of humour and thumps of heart. Few and Far Between celebrates the rich diversity of wildlife sharing our home, and is enlightening in how we can help to secure its place in the future.
Oli – Customer Service

 

SteriPEN Aqua Water PurifierSteriPEN Aqua Water Purifier

If you love camping, travelling and generally stomping around outdoors then the SteriPen Aqua is a great bit of kit. It uses UV light to sterilise water in less than a minute and doesn’t leave the nasty taste that you can get with iodine tablets (and it’s much quicker!). The SteriPen is small enough to fit into my rucksack and is always a reassuring component of my outdoor gear. I’m looking forward to taking it on lots more adventures in 2016.
Luanne – Equipment Specialist

 

The HuntThe Hunt

I watched the entire series of The Hunt, brought to us from the BBC’s highly acclaimed Natural History Unit in Bristol. With every new major production they release, the standard in wildlife film-making is raised yet again. The style of filming is consistently innovative and unique in places, such as attaching a camera onto the side of an elephant to get close up shots of hunting tigers. I guarantee you’ll be amazed. Here is the accompanying book, full of stunning photography and insightful text.
James – Equipment Specialist

 

State of the Planet assessments

End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth

Ever since George Perkins Marsh’s seminal 1864 work, Man and Nature: Or, Physical Geography as Modified by Human Action, books assessing the state of the planet have become a staple part of the environmental literature. Marsh’s magnificent work spawned some valuable retrospectives, including Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth (1956) and The Earth as Transformed by Human Action (1993).

But, since 2000, most of the really good stuff on biosphere and ecosystems science has been beyond the reach of many, behind the paywall of scientific journals (e.g. John Estes’ superb Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth, Dirzo’s Defaunation in the Anthropocene, and Diffenbaugh’s Changes in Ecologically Critical Terrestrial Climate Conditions).

Following his 2012 paper in Nature, Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere, Anthony Barnosky might well have followed the same route – but thankfully this brilliant and passionate scientist is also a believer in reaching out to a broader public: see his latest book, End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth.

Another leading light of planetary ecological assessment is the Swedish scientist, Johan Rockstrom, inventor of the ‘planetary boundaries’ concept, and author of perhaps the most influential peer-reviewed paper of the last decade (A safe operating space for humanity). He also has a new book just out, Big World, Small Planet.

Other notable recent publications on this theme include: The God Species (Lynas), The Sixth Extinction, an Unnatural History (Kolbert), the magisterial Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Eaarth (McKibben), The Living Planet report 2014, (WWF), Here on Earth (Flannery), and Global Environmental Outlook 5.

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucia reviewed by Plant Talk

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía jacket imageThis excellent field guide to the flowering plants of Almeria and the Sierra de los Filabres region covers an area of southern Spain with a particularly rich and varied flora. The book is beautifully illustrated with stunning colour photographs, and botanist Sarah Ball describes a good representative selection of the most frequent and characteristic flowering plants to be found, from the Sunshine Coast to the beautiful mountainous area inland, spanning 2000m in altitude. Aromatic thymes and colourful brooms dominate, along with other Mediterranean vegetation types, and Sarah has used the botanical collections of the University of Reading extensively to check her plant identifications and to further discover the distribution and variation of the species she describes.

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía contains background information on geology, habitats, vegetation types and classification, and descriptions of 625 plant species, with 575 illustrated by colour photographs. A comprehensive glossary will help novice users to understand the necessary botanical terms, and the text is also supplemented by information on traditional plant uses that bring the descriptions to life. There is an introductory account for each plant family and each species account includes the English and local Spanish names where known.

I think this book will appeal to local residents and holidaymakers, visiting botanists and students, and anyone with an interest in wild flowers, planning to visit the area. I travelled to this region of Spain in 2004 with groups from the Eden Project and the University of Reading, to study both wild and cultivated plants, and this book would have been invaluable… and small enough to carry easily in a rucksack!

Review by Shirley Walker at Plant Talk

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía is distributed by NHBS

Wild Flowers of Eastern Andalucía jacket image

What the reviewers say about Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction

“A Silent Spring of our time” – T.C. Boyle

“…a cogent overview of a harrowing biological challenge.” – Barry Lopez, author of Arctic Dreams

“A remarkable addition to the literature of our haunted epoch” – Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet

“I tore through Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction with a mix of awe and terror.” – Dava Sobel, author of Longitude and A More Perfect Heaven

“…an important book full of love and loss” – David Quammen, author of Spillover

The Sixth Extinction will be published in February 2014


The Sixth Extinction jacket image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stewart McPherson’s Sarraceniaceae volumes reviewed in the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society

Stewart McPherson is the owner and manager of Redfern Natural History Publications and author of many of its books. His global explorations have afforded him a place of significance in the botanical world, and many of his worldwide field trips have resulted in the classification of new plant species, with a particular emphasis on carnivorous plants such as the Sarraceniaceae.

This review is taken from the Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, Volume 170 – September 2012

Sarraceniaceae of South America by Stewart McPherson, Andreas Wistuba, Andreas Fleischmann and
Joachim Nerz. Poole: Redfern Natural History Productions, 2011. 562 pp., 488 images. Hardback. ISBN
978-0-9558918-7-8. £34.99.

Sarraceniaceae of North America by Stewart McPherson and Donald Schnell. Poole: Redfern Natural
History Productions, 2011. 808 pp., 571 images. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-9558918-6-1. £34.99.

Sarraceniaceae of South America jacket imageThese volumes together constitute a monograph of the New World pitcher plant family, Sarraceniaceae, and it has to be said straight away that McPherson and colleagues have produced another two beautifully illustrated books to add to their previous works! [See previous reviews to access information on the earlier works (Fay, 2009, 2011)]. These new books will feed the appetite of those who are fascinated by carnivorous plants (see Chase et al., 2010, for a description of the craze for carnivorous plants since the 19th century).

The South American volume provides the first complete study of Heliamphora (now 23 named species and some undescribed taxa) from the Guiana Highlands of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana. The authors describe five new Heliamphora spp. and document three incompletely diagnosed Heliamphora taxa for the first time. The North American volume is a study of all species of pitcher plants (eight Sarracenia spp. and Darlingtonia californica) from the USA and Canada, and the authors describe 18 new varieties and forms of Sarracenia and one new form of Darlingtonia and document an incompletely diagnosed Sarracenia taxon.

Sarraceniaceae of North America jacket imageThe number of new names presented in these two volumes (new species in one, new infraspecific taxa in the other) reflects the belief of the authors that taxonomic ranks have historically been applied differently in these three genera (notably in North America), and they argue a clear and strong case for making the ranks more even across the family. In the North American genera, varieties and forms have long been used in some species, whereas for other less well studied species, similar morphological variants have only been known by informal names. In this monograph, McPherson et al. attempt to remedy this situation by applying equal taxonomic logic:

‘the subspecific rank is used to distinguish morphologically discrete variants of a species that have a distinctive, and often disjunct geographic range. Varietal rank is used for elements within a population of a species that are morphologically discrete or exhibit a distinctive, consistent and inherited colouration type, and the forma rank distinguishes “deviants” within a population, for example variants that arise through gene mutation, but are stable and inherited.’

Based on extensive field work (Schnell, the co-author of the North American volume, has been observing
pitcher plants for five decades, for example), these authoritative volumes will be important books for all
who wish to study New World pitcher plants. The South American volume includes an introduction to
the family, the taxonomic treatment of Heliamphora and an appendix including the descriptions of the new species, accompanied by black and white drawings. The North American volume includes an introduction, taxonomic treatments of Darlingtonia and Sarracenia and an appendix including the descriptions of the new taxa, accompanied by coloured drawings. Both volumes also contain a list of societies and suppliers, a glossary, a bibliography and an index. No library of books on carnivorous plants will be complete without these reasonably priced and lavishly illustrated volumes. Buy them now if you haven’t already!

MICHAEL F. FAY

REFERENCES

Chase MW, Christenhusz MJM, Sanders D, Fay MF. 2010. Murderous plants: Victorian Gothic, Darwin and modern insights into vegetable carnivory. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 162: S47–S74.

Fay MF. 2009. Pitcher plants of the Old World. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 161: 449–450.

Fay MF. 2011. Carnivorous plants and their habitats. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 165: 439–440.

New from Redfern Natural History Productions:

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant jacket image

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant by Adam Cross

Aldrovanda: The Waterwheel Plant available now

Two reviews of Fauna Verlag’s ‘Birds in Africa’

The following two reviews of Fauna Verlag’s ‘Birds in Africa’ represent the book as a quality general survey of the avifauna for those with a wide interest in Africa’s bird life:

Birds in Africa jacket imageBirds in Africa

Rainer Christian Ertel

Published by Fauna Verlag, Distributed by NHBS

Review published online at the African Bird Club

“When Vögel in Afrika by the same author became available in 2009 (reviewed in Bull. ABC 17: 254 – 255) it was a landmark on the German market as there was no book available covering the entire birdlife of Africa. Now it has been translated into English and is therefore more readily accessible to a much wider audience, but must also face stiff competition from several other
excellent photographic (field) guides. Ertel’s book covers more than 1,300 species using a single photograph for each. Most photographs are of good quality and compared to the German version some images have been improved immensely…” Continue reading the review

 

Review published in the March 2012 edition of Der Ornithologische Beobachter

“It is noteworthy, and a seal of the quality of the original, that a German natural history book should be translated into English, as has been ‘Birds in Africa: An Introduction to and Survey to the Birdlife of Africa‘ by Rainer Christian Ertel, published 2009 by Fauna Verlag, Nottuln. Nik Borrow – supplement, revision and translation – is a prominent author of books on bird identification in West Africa.

The pages on the right have 8 colour photographs, faced opposite with short texts about the species, with small distribution maps. In both the German and the English version, the scientific names of over 1,300 species can be found in both the German and the English language.”

Translation by NHBS

Available now from NHBS


Primates of West Africa “in much more detail than other field guides” – review

Review published in the Gorilla Journal 43, December 2011 

Primates of West Africa: A Field Guide and Natural History

John F Oates

Published by Conservation International

Primates of West Africa jacket imageThis field guide introduces the primates of West Africa in much more detail than other field guides. The species/subspecies are not only described (and shown in drawings by Stephen D. Nash as well as photos), but their behaviour and ecology are also explained. But it is not just a field guide, it contains much more information for people interested in West African primates; the appendix introduces important sites for primate conservation and observation (also with respect to tourism), also illustrated with photos, and finally, 52 pages with references suggest material for further reading.

Angela Meder

Available now from NHBS


“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.”

Available now from NHBS

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