Book: Birds of Caithness
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Review: Birds of Caithness

Editors: Davey P., Manson S., Maughan E., Omand D., Smith J., Munro K.,

Published: Caithness SOC (2015) 458pp

Sometimes a volume of work comes along that sets itself apart. It might not be the content, the artwork or imagery, or the mind-boggling facts, but all of the above rolled into a single beautiful production by a tiny band of dedicated ornithologists. Birds of Caithness is a true labour of love and a prime example of what can be achieved with perseverance, dedication and a clearly passion for the subject.

For collectors of county avifauna’s it is obviously a must have; for those, like myself with a slightly obsessive interest in the county, it is indispensible; and for others with a curiosity in the ornithological delights of the UK’s wildest county, then it’s superb reading.

The Whimbrel account: brimming with information on one of the counties most important species

The Whimbrel account: brimming with information on one of the counties most important species

The opening sections include a succinct and clear outline of the methods employed to collect the data and instructions on how to read the maps. This is followed by a fine synopsis of the history of ornithology in the county and leads into a breakdown on key habitats, from the phenomenal seabird cliffs to the endless, beautifully bleak flow country complete with its myriad lochans and pools.

These habitats’ together with areas of woodland, dunes, grazing marshes and shallow lochs. support an exceptional variety of species including some of Britain’s rarest breeders (Black-throated Diver, Common Scoter, and Wood Sandpiper to name but three).

The section on key habitats also includes summaries of some of the best sites within each habitat and what can be seen there. There is a section on the changing nature of bird populations within the county including conservation efforts, and current and emerging threats.

A clear map indicates the best birding locations within the county.

A superb section covers the primary habitats and their significance for birds within the county

A superb section covers the primary habitats and their significance for birds within the county

The species accounts are clear and well-laid out with each one containing stunning images. Some species such as Greenland White-fronted Goose, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Arctic Skua are afforded slightly longer accounts in acknowledgment of Caithness’ importance to them on a national or international level.

Scarce and rare birds recorded during the Atlas period are dealt with in a separate section following on from the main species accounts and this seems to have been thoroughly covered.

This is then followed by a further section on rare birds recorded outwith the main Atlas period.

Greenland White-fronted Goose is afforded a larger species account in acknowledgement of the counties' importance for the species

Greenland White-fronted Goose is afforded a larger species account in acknowledgement of the counties’ importance for the species

The additional information section in Appendix 5 offers a brilliant insight into the significance of the Pentland Firth in influencing the distribution and abundance of birds between Orkney and Caithness, a mere seven miles apart yet Orkney has never recorded Tawny Owl, a widespread breeding species in Caithness, yet has had five (!) Tengmalm’s Owls, a species yet to be recorded in Caithness.

If this volume had been produced by 100 hard working ornithologists it would have been a work to be proud of, but, to have been crafted by a mere seven editors and additional volunteers, it is a monumental feat.

This is made even more impressive in that the entire project from species accounts; editing; artwork; page make up; photo collection and commissioned work; indexing; proof reading; final artwork production and delivery was completed within 12 months of receiving the main grant award from Caithness & North Sutherland Fund.

Inevitably in such a compressed schedule minor errors have crept in, such as one or two incorrectly placed maps, Cackling Goose is lumped in with the Canada Goose account, yet Greenland and European White-fronted Geese have separate accounts. However overall this publication is truly remarkable in its thoroughness, attention to detail, beautiful design, stunning photography, and the sheer dedication of the team and volunteers to documenting the avifauna of one of the most exciting corners of our country.

Currently Birds of Caithness is available as a DVD at £15(+£1.50 P&P) from:

Sales Team: birdsofcaithness@gmail.com

With sufficient interest a small print run may be possible. For more information on this and any other enquires please contact the sales team on the above email.

 

Dan Brown