Roger White, 2019. ISBN 978-0957-1695-31. 207 pages, paperback. Price: €27,95.
I have always had an obsession with bird books, and as a kid I particularly loved poring over identification and ‘where to watch’ books, fantasizing about exotic species and rarities. Over a decade before I moved to the Netherlands I had bought a copy of Arnoud van den Berg’s ‘Where to watch birds in Holland, Belgium and Northern France’. I had no intention of visiting, and certainly wasn’t planning to move here, but I just wanted to know as much as possible. I read it with interest, and suspect, away from Texel and Oostvaardersplassen, there were very few sites that I had actually heard of. However the species were intriguing, so close to the UK and breeding birds such as Black Woodpecker, Crested Lark, Common Rosefinch, Penduline Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Golden Oriole and Great Reed Warbler. Admittedly I didn’t jump on a ferry straight away but it sounded exciting.
Roll on 15 years and I am desperately reading through that book to try and work out what delights might await me prior to my move to Arnhem. I contacted a couple of Dutch birders I already knew and even received inspiring advice from Rik Winters: ‘the best thing about Arnhem is its proximity to the A12, A15 and A50, all of which will take you to decent birding locations within 2 hours!'
Sadly after a few weeks living here it transpired that Arnoud’s book was out of date, Crested Larks had declined (now extinct as a breeding species and rarer than Black-winged Kite). Common Rosefinch and Penduline Tit had never really taken off as we Brits thought, and it transpired that Golden Orioles didn’t breed in every stand of poplars (in fairness to Arnoud: he never said they did!). With the advent of the internet there seemed no need for such a book anymore, with Dutch Birding and waarneming.nl it really was possible to find just about every species you wanted to. And yet I still longed for a book…
In the meantime I had had very good experiences with two books by Roger White about birding in Germany, namely ‘A Birdwatching Guide to Brandenburg and Berlin’ and ‘A Birdwatching Guide to North EastGermany and its Baltic Coast’. Both were well written with clear maps and indispensable when designing new tours to those areas. When I heard that Roger was writing a new book ‘A Birdwatching Guide to The Netherlands’ I couldn’t wait to see a copy.
I first received a review copy from Birdwatch magazine in the UK, and was shocked at the number of mistakes, not only spelling and grammatical mistakes but nearly 200 place and bird names had been misspelt. I contacted Birdwatch, and had direct contact with Roger, who told me that there had been some mistakes but that there was a reprint on its way to me. I was optimistic that this would be the end of it.
Sadly, when the reprint arrived it was clear that many mistakes had again slipped through the net, both in the English text and in the Dutch place names. I emailed Roger to let him know and understandably he was disappointed.
Having said all that, is the book still useable and useful? The answer to that is definitely yes, certainly for birders visiting from outside the Netherlands. The book splits the country up in 5 regions, taking in all 12 provinces. The geographical spread of sites covered is good and the introduction gives some information about getting around, species to expect and even a few tips about Dutch bird names.
The individual site descriptions are well written often with large maps, several colour photographs, access details and a list of potential species based on season.
Of the sites I know well these details seem accurate, with parking places (with GPS), hides, and paths clearly marked. I do have a few issues with the maps though, these vary from missing legends, different styles and sometimes photographs of paper maps or of notice boards from areas visited. The latter two are often dark and difficult to read. There are also some spelling mistakes in the maps which may make finding some roads difficult, although in theory with GPS you should be OK (assuming the GPS coordinates are correct).
The place name issue continues in the index with some names being spelt differently in the main text than in the index, and one site on Texel has no page number - although maybe this is deliberate to keep people away? ;-)
It’s a shame that the Dutch contributors to the book weren’t asked to check the Dutch bird and place names as that would have helped enormously with the quality. It’s unlikely there will be a second reprint, but I have supplied the author with a list of errors just in case. In my opinion there is still a hole in the market to be filled and a where to watch book from Crossbill Guides would be welcome.