Working for birds in Africa

The Birds of Morocco: An Annotated Checklist

Fri, 21/12/2012 - 13:24 -- abc_admin
Michel Thévenot, Rae Vernon and Patrick Bergier. 2003. BOU Checklist No. 20. Tring: British Ornithologists' Union and British Ornithologists' Club. 594 pp, 74 colour photographs, 7 maps. ISBN 0907446-25-6. Hardback.
page 67

Considering how many birdwatchers visit Morocco these days, it is surprising that such a book has not been published before, but this actually represents a huge advance for Moroccan ornithology, building on and vastly improving the previous reference available from 40 years earlier, Heim de Balsac & Mayaud (1962) Les oiseaux du nord-ouest de l'Afrique. I echo James Monk's foreword in congratulating the authors on their accomplishment.

Very nicely produced, if somewhat old-fashioned and conventional in style, the meat of the book is of course the mass of information for each species, all duly referenced, which although inevitably rather dry, provides a clear source of baseline information by region, for future authors to detect trends and changes. The summaries for each species account are succinct, but the accounts themselves could arguably have been made more interesting had they included more comments on population trends to date, or by highlighting what we don't know as well as what we do. I feel duty bound to comment on the Northern Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita information, which is a good example of this, providing a very thorough summary from numerous sources, important documentation of the decline of the species, but there's little by way of comment or interpretation of more recent trends, nor on their conservation status. Sixty-five pages of references provide an important and up-to-date bibliography. An extensive, 20-page long gazetteer lists all localities and geographical features within Morocco mentioned in the text. There are useful overviews of climate, geology, vegetation (illustrated by some beautiful photos, together with some of the speciality bird species) and geographical divisions. There are signs of poor organisation in places, for example the text and map of the geographical divisions are separated by several pages, and this map is then reproduced (without a title) on both the inside back and front covers - a missed opportunity for other useful information to appear there.

The conservation section includes a map of 'important bird localities' which is also referred to as 'important bird areas' in the legend. This seems like an adaptation from BirdLife's list of IBAs, but it would have been a good opportunity to reinforce such a list if so. This may simply be a case of the timing of publication being too close to do so. Another status that would have been useful to cite with a map might have been SIBEs (Sites d'Interest Biologique et Ecologique), although I realise that not all of these are directly relevant to birds.

I do think it is a pity that no attempt was made to include Arabic species names as well as French, Spanish and English. It is also a shame to note that there are no Moroccans amongst the authors - something that I feel sure will not be the case for future updates on this type of work, and I suspect marks the end of an era. It is a reference that will be key for many years to come, and anyone seriously interested in Moroccan ornithology will simply have to have it. Let's hope it will provide the basis and information for the production of more popular texts or maybe even a Moroccan field guide, and get more Moroccans interested and involved in the fascinating bird fauna of their country.

Chris Bowden

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