Common birds of Qatar
By Gillespie, F., Eriksen, H. & Eriksen, J. 248 pages and over 400 colour photographs illustrating 215 species. Softcover. € 34.
Available from NHBS - www.nhbs.com
This book is the first field guide to the birds of the tiny Arab nation of Qatar. Of the 280 or so bird species recorded in the country, this book describes 215. Each species is shown in at least one colour photograph, and each page also includes a bar chart detailing the occurrence and status of the bird throughout the year, as well as a small, blank map of Qatar indicating its distribution. Species are grouped together according to preferred habitat. Habitats are schematized as a deserts and arid plains; b lakes, lagoons and coasts; and c gardens, parks and farms. The introduction provides advice on how to watch and identify birds, what equipment to use and where to find birds in Qatar.
Photographs take up half a page and are of excellent quality, which will come as no surprise to anyone who is familiar with the work of the Danish photographers Hanne and Jens Eriksen. Although the book is clearly directed at birding novices, the focus is not exclusively on bright, colourful plumages, thankfully. For example, it is interesting to see juxtaposed flight shots of female Common Falco tinnunculus and Lesser Kestrel F naumanni (p 122-123), distant flight shots of Hypocolius Hypocolius ampelinus and a photo of autumn Saunders's Tern Sternula saundersi. On the other hand, female/first-winter Bluethroat Luscinia svecica is not shown, and neither is first-winter Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola. Immature plumages of large gulls Larus are left out altogether. As happens all too often in 'basic' field guides, the book contains a few mistakes in the form of birds that have been wrongly identified:
- The inset on p 66, included for comparison with the main species (Common Nightingale L megarhynchos), does not show a Thrush Nightingale L luscinia as advertised, but another (eastern) Common Nightingale. It was photographed in duller or shadier light conditions but the long outermost primary (slightly longer than primary coverts), prominent pale supercilium, and obvious pale fringes to the wing-coverts are all still there;
- The 'Willow Warbler' Phylloscopus trochilus on p 74 looks more like a Common Chiffchaff P collybita to me, with its white eye-ring, greyish underparts, dull ear-coverts and dark legs;
- The standing 'Black Kite' Milvus migrans on p 126 is, in fact, an adult Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus;
- and, with such a long, pointed bill and greenish legs, the winter-plumaged 'Lesser Sand Plover' Charadrius mongolus on p. 190 surely should be a Greater Sand Plover C leschenaultii?
In general, the authors seem to have taken care when identifying and labelling the birds in the photographs but, as the book is intended as an educational tool for birding novices and copies of it will be distributed to school and university libraries within Qatar, it is unfortunate that a few mistakes have slipped through.
Species have been grouped together according to preferred habitat. This may make it easier to identify the common birds you are seeing around you at a given moment (if none are outside of their usual habitat, that is) but makes it harder to search for a particular species in the book. In that case, it will generally be necessary to look it up in the index. A few species have been given a somewhat unusual vernacular name, such as 'Western Great Egret' Casmerodius albus and 'Western White Stork' Ciconia ciconia, and some birds have been put in what seems like a random position within their habitat section (eg, House Crow Corvus splendens, here included - on p 144 - as a species of wetlands and coast, is placed between Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia and Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus).
Publication was sponsored by Maersk Oil, an international oil and gas corporation, which is why the book includes a foreword by the Qatar Deputy Managing Director, Sheik Faisal Al-Thani. While it is probably a good thing to see oil companies take an interest in bird publications like this, I cannot help but feel ambivalent about it, as it seems but an alms for the environment...
In conclusion, this is a practical, pocket-sized book that will certainly come in handy for people who want to quickly familiarise themselves with the Qatar avifauna or who want to do some birding at leisure in the region, without having to carry huge tomes with them. It is also a beautiful piece of work that invites simply flicking through the pages and enjoying the quality of the photographs. It is not an in-depth identification guide and is not entirely free from mistakes, but is certainly valuable as an educational tool.