Working for birds in Africa

African Bird Sounds: Birds of North, West and Central Africa

Fri, 12/21/2012 - 15:15 -- abc_admin
Claude Chappuis, with the collaboration of the British Library National Sound Archive (London). 2000. Société d'Etudes Ornitholologiques de France (SEOF), Paris. Available from The British Library, National Sound Archive, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DB. E-mail:
p 74

Volume 1: North Africa and Atlantic Islands.

Four CDs in a boxed set with a 68-page French / English booklet. UK£36.

Volume2: West & Central Africa.

Eleven CDs in a boxed set with a 196-page English booklet. UK£75.

Volumes 1 and 2 (complete publication).

Fifteen CDs in a boxed set with a 196-page English booklet. UK£98.

Claude Chappuis' name has long been firmly associated with West African ornithology, and his set of 11 vinyl LPs covering around 450 species, published more than 20 years ago, was a true milestone. With the publication of this attractively packaged 15-CD boxed set, he will be immortalised in the world of bioacoustics. This is a major publishing event in ornithological discography, and an achievement that matches the multi-volume Birds of Africa in its scale and depth.

The set is divided geographically into two volumes, which are available separately or together. Volume 1 comprises four CDs and covers North Africa and the Atlantic Islands of the Canaries, Madeira and Cape Verde. It is largely concerned with the Sahara and Mahgreb, up to the eastern border of Tunisia. A total of 423 species is represented on these discs, including both residents and migrants. Volume 2 comprises 11 CDs and covers 1,043 mainly resident species from West and Central Africa, including the Gulf of Guinea islands of Bioko, São Tomé and Príncipe. The region treated extends to the borders of Sudan in the east and Angola in the south. Thus a total of 1,466 species is included in the complete set, which, according to the author, represents some 95% of the 'regular species' in the region. Together with the wonderful set of recordings for southern Africa from Guy Gibbon, we now have comprehensive coverage of the entire western half of Africa, from the Mediterranean to the Cape. Hopefully, eastern Africa won't be too far behind.

Many species' voices are published here for the first time, and these are listed in the accompanying booklet - about 270 species in total. No fewer than 136 recordists contributed to the project, although the majority of recordings are from Cbappuis himself. Inevitably perhaps, some of the recordings were made outside the region, but this is noted in the booklet where relevant. Not surprisingly, the North African set has a larger proportion of extralimitally recorded species than the West and Central volume.

The chunky booklet includes an introduction to the project as well as various lists of species illustrating acoustic and taxonomic points of interest (such as first-ever published recordings, new species discovered by their voices, possible taxonomic splits / lumps, parallelism and divergence in acoustic evolution, acoustic convergences and coincidences, and island species etc). The bulk of the text is devoted to the list of species, which are in taxonomic order (rather than the order they appear on the CDs). Basic details are given for all featured species (date, locality, recordist etc), but in many instances further information is given; sometimes this is quite extensive and helpful. For the sake of completeness, all 1550 'regular species' of the region are listed in the booklet, with brackets around those for which no recordings were available.

So, what of the recordings themselves? Most species are represented by a single recording of the song or call (sometimes both), or by a short series of vocalisations. The recordings are generally of a high standard and are unannounced. I did not find any misidentified species, although the author himself acknowledges that a few errors may remain; this would hardly be surprising when so much of the region is relatively poorly known, with many species whose voices have not been published before. Listening to the recordings in conjunction with the booklet is usually straightforward, but as the North African species (CDs 1-4) are interspersed throughout, they are not always in sequence. In addition, a few species are out of taxonomic order, but these are only minor irritations.

It is impossible to be anything other than complimentary about this set of CDs. It is a truly magnificent achievement, and birders and ornithologists will be forever indebted to Chappuis and his collaborators. Whether these recordings are used in the field or for reference at home, they will be of immense value for years to come. Anyone with a serious interest in African birds will need the whole set.

Nigel Redman

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