Pierandrea Brichetti & Giancarlo Fracasso 2018. The birds of Italy, volume 1. Anatidae-Alcidae. Edizioni Belvedere. Latina. 512 pages, 82 colour photographs. Price: € 48.
The Mediterranean region is a huge area on three continents of the Old World (Europe, Asia and Africa) and arguably the most important part of the Western Palearctic (WP) region. Due to its specific climate, geography and biotopes, the region has many localised endangered breeding species, is very important for migratory and wintering birds, and gets many amazing vagrants. For most countries in the Mediterranean, we have books describing the avifauna, many in English. Now, Italy also has its first English-language avifauna. The first volume (Anatidae-Alcidae) has just been released, while the second volume is due in early 2020. The book's authors are two outstanding experts – Pierandrea Brichetti and Giancarlo Fracasso – who studied Italian birds for c 40 years. Both also authored the impressive 9-volume series 'Ornitologia Italiana' (in total more than 4000 pages!) published in Italian in 2003-15 (http://www.aves.it/ornita.htm). The English-language book is a kind of extract of that work updated to 2017, with 384 species being covered in the first volume, including 109 species with 'rejected records'.
The first chapter contains concise information about geography, bioclimate and vegetation of Italy with maps of the major topographical features, administrative subdivisions, macrobioclimates and vegetation, illustrated by 22 beautiful photographs of stunning Italian landscapes. The second chapter is a brief history of ornithology in Italy from the Middle Ages to the end of 20th century, in which we learn more about people well-known from species names, like Scopoli, Savi, Bonaparte and Moltoni. These chapters have been written by others than the book's main authors.
The next chapter is an introduction to accounts of all species recorded within the boundaries of Italy from the early 19th century to the end of 2016 (and for some species also 2017). There is also a review of exotic species that have established self-sustaining populations (category C) and species for which a possible wild origin is still considered undecided (category D) and occasionally recorded exotic species for which a wild origin is considered impossible (category E). There is an appendix for these groups at the end of the book. For English and scientific names, the IOC Word Bird List v.8.2 has been followed. References include mainly Italian books, papers, conference proceedings, reports, and other sources difficult to find for non-Italian readers. For rarity records, the decisions of the Italian rarities committee (COI), operational since 1981, are followed. Historical vagrant records have been critically analysed by the authors, who both have been secretary of the COI between 1980 and 2017.
The text lay-out resembles that of the Helm monographs. For breeding species, detailed data on distribution, habitat, populations, trend, density and breeding biology and also movements, wintering and ringing recoveries are given. For many species, there are distribution maps (181 in total) and graphs (c 100). Many of the non-breeding (wintering) species have a TRIM graph showing the trend both in the short-term (2001-16) and long-term (1993-2010) based mainly on mid-January IWC (Wetlands International) counts. For vagrant species, the distribution by region, season and possible other data of interest are commented upon. For very rare vagrants (up to 10 records), all information is listed in detail. The information on historical records not found in Italian rarities reports are particularly valuable.
As there is so much information in the book, it is difficult to make a choice for examples. Here are some that caught my eye. Both species of flamingos have a positive trend. The breeding population of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus increased from 1.300 pairs in 1993 to over 27.000 pairs in 2015 (most in Sardinia). For Lesser Flamingo Phoeniconaias minor, there are now c 37 records, and it is annual since the early 2000s with a first successful breeding pair in a Greater colony in 2012. Intriguingly, there are more than 100 records of Western Reef Heron Egretta gularis, including several probable hybrids with Little Egret E garzetta. Great White Pelican Pelecanus onocrotalus is an uncommon migrant and rare winter visitor in all months with a peak in June; records usually involve singles or small flocks, but there have been several large flocks in historical times (eg, 100 in Piedmont in 1858 and 40 in Tuscany in 1919); more recently, there have been at least 11 records in 2006 and 34 individuals in early March 2008 in Sicily and Sardinia. There are also 11 Dalmatian Pelican P crispus records. The population of Pygmy Cormorant Microcarbo pygmaeus increased from the first breeding in 1981 to as many as 2.125 pairs at 16-18 sites in 2013. Among the latest estimates of breeding populations of raptors are 11 pairs of Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus, 10 pairs of Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, 44 pairs of Bonelli's Eagle Aquila fasciata and 425-515 pairs of Red Kite Milvus milvus.
The variety of vagrant species (and often their numbers) in Italy is very impressive. They include Baikal Teal Sibirionetta formosa (11 records), King Eider Somateria spectabilis (eight), Harlequin Duck Histrionicus histrionicus (two), Yellow-billed Loon Gavia adamsii (seven), Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena (one; the sole WP record), Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris (three), Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel Hydrobates monorhis (one), Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus (one; the sole WP record), Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis (one), Cape Petrel Daption capense (one; the first for WP), Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii (four), Von Schrenck’s Bittern Ixobrychus eurhythmus (one; the sole WP record), Intermediate Egret Ardea intermedia (one;the sole European record), Black Heron Egretta ardesiaca (one; the second for Europe), Brown Booby Sula leucogaster (three), Crested Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhynchus (one; the first for Europe), Tawny Eagle Aquila rapax (two; the only European records), Eastern Imperial Eagle A heliaca (45), Levant Sparrowhawk Accipiter brevipes (13), Striped Crake Aenigmatolimnas marginalis (one; the third for WP), Allen’s Gallinule Porphyrio alleni (eight), Purple Gallinule P martinica (two), Spur-winged Lapwing Vanellus spinosus (four), White-tailed Lapwing V leucurus (four), Kittlitz’s Plover Anarhynchus pecuarius (one), Lesser Sand Plover A atrifrons (one), Caspian Plover A asiaticus (four), Upland Sandpiper Bartramia longicauda (10), Pin-tailed Snipe Gallinago stenura (one), Western Willet Tringa inornata (one), Cream-colored Courser Cursorius cursor (as many as 128, but only nine since 1980), Ivory Gull Pagophila eburnea (two), Grey-headed Gull Chroicocephalus cirrocephalus (one), Ross’s Gull Rhodostethia rosea (three), Laughing Gull Larus atricilla (five), Franklin’s GullL pipixcan (five), Ring-billed Gull L delawarensis (five), Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus (four), Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii (four) and Little Auk Alle alle (five).
At the end of the book, a set of 60 beautiful colour photographs illustrate some of the most representative and typical species of the Italian avifauna.Perhaps, though, one would have expected to see at least a selection of photographs of Italian vagrants, especially those rarest in a WP context.
To conclude, the first volume of the first English-language Italian avifauna is a fantastic compendium of knowledge about c 300 species presented. Without a doubt, this is a must-read for scientists, conservationists and birders. We can look forward with great anticipation to the second volume!
Sample pages of the book are available on the publisher's website.