Working for birds in Africa

Birds Île Maurice / Rodrigues. Birds of Mauritius and Rodrigues

Thu, 04/07/2016 - 11:41 -- abc_admin
Jacques de Spéville, 2014. 108 pp, 183 colour photographs, one map. Hardback. ISBN 978-99949-38-04-9.

Since his retirement in 2010, Jacques de Spéville has combined his passion for birds and photography to produce a wonderful selection of photographs of the birds of Mauritius and Rodrigues. The objectives of this book are to showcase the best of his photographs, generate interest in the birds of Mauritius and Rodrigues, and provide funds for conservation. 

The book’s main content is spread across four sections that cover the islands’ endemic, native, migrant and exotic bird species. Each of these sections has a short introduction followed by the photographs and a brief description of each species including its status. The quality of the photographs is very high indeed showing a wealth of detail, with the birds in good light.

The section on endemic birds will doubtless be of greatest interest to ornithologists and visitors to the islands, and includes all of the species unique to Mauritius and Rodrigues. As an example, there are four photos of Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, three of perched birds and one of a juvenile (with prey) in flight. The species’ short description includes the fact that it was close to extinction in 1974, with only four known birds including a single breeding female. Today, there are c.400 birds, a conservation achievement considered to be one of the world’s most successful avian restoration projects.

Each of the endemic species is covered in a similar level of detail with some great photographs, my own favourites being a perched Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, a female Mauritius Cuckooshrike Coracina (Lalage) typica, an amazing closeup of a Mauritius Grey White-eye Zosterops mauritianus, a pair of the Critically Endangered Mauritius Olive White-eye Z. chloronothos and a Mauritius Fody Foudia rubra.
The section on native birds includes remarkable flight shots of both Mascarene Swiftlet Collocalia francica and Mascarene Martin Phedina borbonica. Any readers who have attempted to photograph swifts in flight will understand the technical difficulties as well as the demands of time and patience to achieve in-focus and well-lit images. Tropicbirds and terns are well represented in this section, but the rarest bird photographs are probably of a Pterodroma petrel on its nest and in flight, captioned as being a ‘Round Island Petrel’. The status of Pterodroma species breeding on the island is currently something of a taxonomic conundrum, with Trindade P. arminjoniana, Herald P. heraldica and Kermadec Petrels P. neglecta all having been recorded, with the commonest of the three there, P. arminjoniana, hybridizing with both others.

The section on migrant birds consists mostly of photographs of Palearctic-breeding waders in nonbreeding plumage. The standard of photography is in keeping with the rest of the book, with close-up views of Curlew Sandpiper Calidris ferruginea, Bar-tailed Godwit Limosa lapponicus and Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus.

The section on exotic birds will probably contain less of interest to readers of this review. Introductions of species native to Madagascar, continental Africa and Asia have all occurred, and it is a sad fact that most of these species are thriving, whereas endemic species have become extinct or have required intensive recovery programmes to save them. 

The book’s other sections comprise a short foreword by Dr Vikash Tatayah, Conservation Director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, a prologue by the author and a brief introduction. Following the four main sections is a list of some of the vagrant species, a glossary of terms, maps of both islands showing the major birding areas, a bibliography and an index of
scientific, English and French names.

The book is neither a field nor photographic guide, but an expression of the beauty of the avian world of Mauritius and Rodrigues as captured by the author. However, it does contain photographs of 58 species, i.e. nearly all species possible, if one excludes vagrants and migrant seabirds, making it very useful for identifying those birds most likely to be seen in the islands.

The book will be a useful addition to the libraries of those with a keen interest in the Mascarene avifauna. Birdwatchers and visitors with a more casual interest in birds will find it useful, while anyone with an interest in high-quality photographs of birds will enjoy this book. 

Jacques intends to donate all proceeds from the book to the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the organisation that has done so much to restore the natural wildlife of Mauritius. This gives an additional incentive to purchase the book should one be needed.

John Caddick

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