Over ten years in the 'making', this atlas has been well worth the wait. It collates the vast amount of information stored in the Wetlands International databases, as well as drawing on an extensive bibliography. Not only does it map individual species distributions but also provides population estimates and identifies key sites according to various criteria including the 1% population level, cold weather and drought refuges, presence of globally threatened species and whether there may be a high degree of turnover of the population during passage periods. The maps of key sites in Europe and especially Africa are fascinating and really highlight the importance of areas such as the Banc d'Arguin in Mauritania and the Senegal and Niger River deltas.
Most people will turn straight to the species accounts. Ninety species were considered, ranging from the probably extinct Slender-billed Curlew Numenius tenuirostris and the rare endemic St Helena Plover Charadrius sanctaehelenae to more abundant species such as Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus and Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola. A summary of the different races is given along with a map of key sites and a description of the routes taken by different populations. These maps reveal the complexity of migration undertaken by these shorebirds. Individuals from the same Siberian breeding area could end up on the east or west coast of Africa, thousands of kilometres from each other or, conversely, birds in the same South African wintering area could breed in parts of the Arctic many thousand of kilometres apart.
For many Afrotropical species we don't understand the distribution or population sizes particularly well. Some African countries are not covered by any counts leaving huge gaps in coverage for parts of Central and North Africa. For many species such as Egyptian Plover Pluvianus aegyptius, which tend to be widely spread in suitable habitats from West to East Africa, population estimates tend to be informed guesses. This species at least congregates around watercourses where they can be counted but estimates for birds like Bronze-winged Courser Rhinoptilus chalcopterus, which are thinly spread across a vast area, must be treated as highly provisional. With such uncertainty surrounding population estimates, the determination of any population trends is impossible and these are only really possible for those species that pass through a small number of key sites that are monitored, or are picked up during large-scale European surveys. These gaps in our knowledge are one of the main take-home messages from the atlas and they also provide an inspiration to go out and fill them!
Despite such limitations, the distillation of the International Waterbird Census counts has identified 876 key sites in 85 countries, which are listed in the back of the book. These provide a snapshot of our current best knowledge and will be especially useful for policy makers and conservation bodies alike. The editors have done a fantastic job pulling together information from a huge variety of sources and the bibliography stretches over 30 pages and numbers over 1,000 references. The book contains a wealth of information and is produced to a very high standard. It is illustrated throughout with excellent colour photographs and its design makes it very easy to read. It will be essential for anyone working with waders but also deserves a place on the bookshelf of anyone with even a passing interest in shorebirds, their ecology, distribution and conservation.