Dominic Mitchell, 2017. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Hardcover, 335 pages. Price: Euro 28,00
Since the completion of the seminal Handbook of the Birds of the Western Palearctic (BWP, nicknamed 'the Cramp') in 1994, its concise edition in 1998, as well as WP Checklists published by Birdwatch magazine (and Dominic Mitchell) in 1998 and again in 2000, it took until last February for this long awaited checklist of the region to be published.
BWP mentioned 1.019 species for the WP, while this latest checklist boosted that total to 1.148 species. This mainly because it now includes Iran and the Arabian Peninsula, a.k.a. the ‘greater’ Western Palearctic, several species new to the Western Palearctic, and thanks to taxonomic revisions splitting a single species into two or more. This total further includes some 37 species which are not native to (parts of) the region and have successfully established themselves outside of their natural range. Obviously the exact borders of a biogeographic (sub)region such as the WP will always be arbitrary and in the Introduction the author goes to great lengths explaining the rationale behind the boundaries as they are being used in this checklist.
The bulk of the book is the systematic list of species of course, and each species entry includes scientific and English names, taxonomic notes, distribution and range/vagrancy occurrences within the region. Regarding taxonomy, Mitchell chose to follow the IOC World Bird List but in a few cases deviated from it (in which case it is explained why this was done so). Possible future taxonomic changes are mentioned in the species entries as well. The breeding and wintering distribution are being summarized for each (sub)species and wherever a species has been recorded as a vagrant this is mentioned per country/territory. For vagrants with less than 10 records all records are listed in full. The deadline for inclusion of records was 31 December 2013 (and 31 December 2015 for three more species), so the checklist is quite up-to-date. I could find only a few omissions, mainly regarding the status of vagrants in some countries, and the checklist looks to be very thoroughly researched and executed. So at least until Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson finally publish their Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds this will remain the primary reference on the occurrence of birds in the region.
In addition to the main list, appendices detail regionally endemic and extinct birds (n = 2), those no longer considered to have occurred (23), the national lists of all regional countries/territories (and a checkable list of species. These are followed by 33 pages of references and an index of species.
Apart from the cover, and a map of the region and its boundaries, the book lacks any illustrations whatsoever. While in itself this is only logical for a checklist, a number of line drawings or pictures (perhaps of some of the 87 regional endemics?) surely would have enlivened the book somewhat. But this doesn’t take away from the sheer amount of information presented in a very clear way and Dominic Mitchell is to be congratulated on this publication. Essential reading for all those with an interest in the WP and its avifauna!