By Erik Hirshfield. Published by Birdlife International. 273 pages; numerous colour photographs and google maps . ISBN 978 0 9552607-3-5, Softback, £18.95
Review by Martin Birch
This is a book about the 189 rarest species of birds on our planet, those categorised as Critically Endangered on a global scale. The rarest of the rare, some indeed so rare that they haven’t been seen for years and it is uncertain if they may still be out there. Rare Birds Yearbook 2008 describes the situation of these birds in a comprehensible and popular way. How can Magenta Petrels be protected from introduced predators? Is there a chance that White-eyed River Martin is just waiting to be rediscovered.
But there is hope for those species facing extinction. No known species have been lost since the late 1980’s – were it not for intensive conservation actions some sixteen species might have otherwise joined the list of extinct species. Many are now on the road to recovery.
This new Yearbook will inspire you to get involved with Birdlife International and take an active part in preventing further extinctions. Erik Hirschfield should be congratulated as editor. But aside from the species accounts, essays on The Madagascar Pochard, the impact of climate change and my personal favourite species finders – the lives and adventures of four field ornithologists are on their own sufficient reason to buy this book. I am sure I am not alone in wanting to swap suburban life for the lives of Paul Salaman, Frank Lambert, Jonathan Eames and Per Alstrom – four birders who have probably described more species new to science than anyone else.
There then follows the species accounts, covering range and population, threats, conservation actions to date and conservation actions required. Most accounts are illustrated with previously unpublished images of these rarest of the rare along with range maps.
If there’s one criticism I have of this book it is the use of Google maps. The species included are so rare that birders are hardly likely to stumble across them. Each will require meticulous pre-trip planning if a birder hopes to connect. It is questionable therefore whether these maps really add any value given the accompanying text on range and population and the space these maps occupy.
More interesting is the nation by nation analysis of the 189 critically endangered species. The United Kingdom has one species, Balearic Shearwater, due to its regular offshore occurrence. Brazil leads the list with 25 critically endangered species. Colombia, India, The Philippines and the US (including Hawaii) all have more than 10 critically endangered species.
My only other criticism is that the book has the look and feel of a directory, but perhaps that is intentional if it’s only meant to have a one-year shelf life. A pity given the quality of the opening features and the photography throughout. But this is a minor quibble for what is a hugely important contribution to conservation. Erik Hirschfield and Birdlife International are to be congratulated.
Buy this book now at www.rarebirdsyearbook.com and £4 goes straight to bird conservation.
We look forward to the Yearbook 2009.