A Work Commenced September 1 2023
Title Britain’s Birds: An Identification Guide to the Birds of Great Britain and Ireland
Authors: Rob Hume, Robert Still, Andy Swash, Hugh Harrop & David Tipling
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Though I certainly wouldn’t call myself old, I’m certainly old school, preferring traditional ways of doing things compared with modern ‘gee whizz’ techniques. And when it comes to birding, I enjoy the challenge of first seeing and studying a new species, taking some notes, and then doing some bookwork to make a formal identification. Up to now, I’ve been using the RSPB Handbook of British Birds, which has served me quite well. It’s packed full of details about bird behaviour, habitats and basic biological information, but the illustrations, while being decent, have sometimes lacked enough detail for me to nail the identification of many smaller birds, such as warblers and finches. But that’s where this new work, Britain’s Birds: An Identification guide to the birds of Great Britain and Ireland hits the mark. This new work is lavishly illustrated with excellent full-colour photographs – a total of 3,591 in all – of the birds of the British Isles in their various stages of life, which makes identifying species much easier. The subjects are presented in their natural habitats which can prove very important to making those final decisions on the identity of a target.
Unlike the RPSB Handbook, the accompanying text is very concise and, for me, achieves an excellent balance between providing enough information to achieve an identification but leaving out unnecessary extraneous details that can all too often side-track the reader. The field experience of this multi-author text is abundantly in evidence, with astute insights conveyed to craft succinct ‘word pictures’ that clearly reveal expert identification knowledge. Each bird species is accompanied by a map of the British Isles showing where they are most likely to be found, together with arrows conveying migratory routes from Scandinavia, central Europe and Russia, as well as where summer migrants to the British Isles depart these islands in the autumn.
Although Britain’s Birds is touted as a field guide, its substantial weight – a whopping 1.4 kilograms – precludes its regular use as a true resource that can be used in the great outdoors. But it has a good quality sewn binding unlike the glued pages of the RSPB Handbook, which will increase its longevity going forward.
I found one entry that genuinely confused me. On page 474, the entry under ‘Nuthatches’ shows a map of the British Isles where you would come away with the impression that this species is not actively present in Scotland. This seems to be an anomaly. Nearly every passing day I’ve recorded two and sometimes many more of these birds in many different locations throughout Scotland. Nuthatches are alive and well in Caledonia!
Although published by Princeton University Press, 40 pence out of each purchase is donated to the RSPB. Undoubtedly, the RSPB, which is now approaching the 130th anniversary of its founding, has done a great deal of good in raising awareness about bird conservation and initiated many schemes across the country to conserve endangered species, there are worrying concerns that this charity has recently been infected by woke ideology, recently launching a scathing invective against the British government. I for one do not want any charity or public institution becoming politicised and promoting climate change alarmism and other ridiculous scaremongering claptrap. I don’t want to see the RSPB go down the dangerous road of virtue signalling- a path that has ruined numerous other charities. If you go woke, prepare to go broke!
That being said, Britain’s Bird’s is a tremendous work that deserves great success. Now in its second(2020) edition, it’s an indispensable guide that birders and naturalists will find invaluable. And at a retail price of £20, it’s an absolute steal!