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Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Shearwaters, Jouanin's & White-Chinned Petrels

1 september 2020  ·  Rinse van der Vliet  ·  1044 × bekeken

Bob Flood & Ashley Fisher 2020. Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Shearwaters, Jouanin's & White-Chinned Petrels. Illustrations by John Gale. ISBN 978-095-6886-77-4. Scilly Pelagics. 439 pp, hardcover. Price: € 55,-

The authors published their first work on North Atlantic Seabirds in 2011 (Storm-petrels & Bulwer’s Petrel), followed by Pterodroma petrels in 2013 and Albatrosses and Fulmarine Petrels in 2016. With this guide on shearwaters the series is completed. The whole series now covers 50 species of tubenoses, all occur or might occur (as a vagrant) in the North Atlantic. Moreover, the series also covers all species occurring in the Northwest Indian Ocean. Thus, in addition we now have an in depth coverage of all the (possible) Western Palearctic (WP) procellariiformes. The publication is remarkably timely with more recent mega-rare tubenoses in the North Atlantic and WP than ever before: White-chinned Petrel in Scotland, Short-tailed Shearwaters in Brittany and Ireland, Flesh-footed Shearwater in the Azores, Tahiti Petrel in North Carolina and Oman (see appendix) and, of a more regional importance, a Scopoli’s Shearwater in the North Sea, a Yelkouan Shearwater and huge numbers of Balearic Shearwaters in the English Channel. Next to all this, a paper was published recently about the first Audubon’s Shearwater for the WP in the Skagerrak, found dead in 1912.

With 439 pages, 560 colour photographs and 162 colour paintings this guide is more chunky than the previous three. The format follows the structure of its predecessors: 45 pages containing obligate chapters as introduction, topography (a tubenose bill, for instance, consists of seven differently named parts), summary of the species covered, an overview of common aspects on petrels and shearwaters and ends with nineteen pages about ID and aging: jizz, size, structure, plumage, moult and flight behaviour. The main part of course is shaped by the species accounts, covering nineteen species plus ‘Menorcan Shearwater’: six Ardenna shearwaters: Great, Buller’s, Sooty, Short-tailed, Flesh-footed and Wedge-tailed Shearwater; all four Calonectris shearwaters: Cory’s, Scopoli’s, Cape Verde and Streaked Shearwater; seven Puffinus shearwaters: Persian, Manx, Yelkouan, ‘Menorcan’, Balearic, Barolo, Boyd’s and Audubon’s Shearwater; plus Jouanin’s Petrel and White-chinned Petrel.

The species accounts contain paragraphs on subspecies (although only four species are polytypic), conservation status, world population, range, post-breeding migration, vagrancy, jizz & main characteristics, size, structure, bare parts, traveling flight, foraging flight and everything one can imagine about plumage. All this is detailed and thorough. It even seems the authors described a new ID-character for Audubon’s in the greater underwing secondary coverts: “ About 30% of birds had far more extensive dark markings than any Boyd’s that we studied, a diagnostic feature based on our study,…The entire tract can be dark with only white fringes so that the white region in the coverts as a whole is significantly reduced” .

The book is illustrated by an average of 27 high quality photos per species depicting all you want to know. Much effort has been made to show variation and behaviour. The quality of the photographs is good, sometimes much more than that. Most of them are well chosen to illustrate the particular aspect the authors want to point out. ‘Menorcan’ has only one photo of a bird in flight, I guess better material is lacking(?), but the pictures of birds in the colony are illustrative.

The colour illustrations by John Gale are really good! These are getting better with each volume and are now among the best available paintings on tubenoses. I could not find anything in colour, pattern or shape which does not recall nature. All species have one or more illustrations of a swimming bird and the underside and upperside in flight, which not only show fresh plumage, but also moulting and/or worn plumages. Finally the extremes of known variation are depicted. ‘Menorcan shearwater’ is not illustrated, but I can imagine that (for now) this might be too much to ask for.

In contrast to the previous three books, which included DVD’s, this volume comes with a USB memory stick (USB card) with over two hours of highly informative material and includes subtitles with explanation on what we see. This seems to be a logical choice, because who still uses a DVD-player nowadays? All 19 species plus Tahiti Petrel have their own video. A number of confusing species have the most similar species in the same video for almost direct comparison. E.g. the video of Jouanin’s also contains Bulwer’s, with their differences evidently shown. The main purpose of the videos (in MP4 format) is not to show plumage details in the first place, but to get grips on jizz, flight style and behaviour. The download speed is good, especially on a PC with Windows 10 (in my case), a little less so on my (brand new) Mac. The length of the videos ranges between three (Boyd’s) and eight minutes (Great Shearwater). The differences in video duration probably reflect the availability of certain footage, accessibility to and knowledge of a certain species. Compare, e.g., the amount of material for Audubon’s, Barolo and Boyd’s with Cory’s and Manx.

The range maps are clear and based on the latest spatiotemporal insights of geolocator research. They differentiate between breeding sites (islands) and wintering/moulting areas. The phenology in these areas is indicated per month and arrows show the main direction of the migration routes.

After the species accounts there are another 47 pages in which, again, the authors didn’t spare any effort to explain (with the same paintings as in the main text) how to identify nine potentially confusing pairs & groups (e.g. Barolo and Manx). This will probably be the most useful chapter for use in the field, e.g. while on a Scilly Pelagic.

The book ends with 24 pages containing 510 references (imagine having read them all..) and five pages of acknowledgements.

The whole achievement of this and its preceding publications is even bigger, when you realise that they were entirely self-published, including design, DTP and distribution.

I have had the opportunity to work with Bob on Barolo and Boyd’s and from that experience I can assure that, assuming that his structured and systemic approach and thorough work was comparable for the other species, there is not much more to say than that this series will be the definitive work on ID of North Atlantic and Western Palearctic tubenoses for a long time to come. Whether you are a boat-based birder, a shore-based bird counter, a researcher in a museum collection or on an island in a breeding colony, you should better buy this book!

Rinse van der Vliet

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