Working for birds in Africa

Birds of the Seychelles

Sat, 22/12/2012 - 00:00 -- abc_admin
Adrian Skerrett and Ian Bullock. Illustrated by Tony Disley. 2001. 320 pp, 53 colour plates, 18 black-and-white illustrations. A. & C. Black, London. UK£25.
page 70

The islands of the Seychelles are well known among world birders and conservationists for their sought-after endemic landbirds and internationally important seabird colonies. The country's position in the western Indian Ocean, between Africa and Asia, also ideally places it for a host of migrants and vagrants. Indeed several Asian species have been recorded in Seychelles and nowhere else in the Afro-Malagasy region. Despite this, there has never, until now, been a decent field guide for the country.

All species to have been recorded in the Seychelles are described, including all of the 120 plus vagrants recorded in the country. One of the book's unique points is that it also covers (albeit in less detail) 136 species that have not yet been recorded in Seychelles, These are either species whose occurrence has been suspected but not proven, or long distance migrants to East Africa or southern India that could potentially reach Seychelles.

The first 30 pages of the book are occupied by a useful and informative introductory section including five maps of the country, a brief list of the key birding sites, a checklist and a fascinating insight into the origins of the native Seychelles avifauna.

The 53 excellent colour plates then follow, each accompanied by a brief text describing the status and the major identification features of each species, as well as reference to the relevant page in the main text.

The main texts are broken down into sections covering 'Description', 'Voice', 'Behaviour', 'Range', 'Status' and 'Similar Species'. Native breeding species have an additional section, 'Threats and Conservation', which summarises the conservation status of these species and any particular threats they face.

Nomenclature does not follow a standard reference. Instead, the most frequently used common names in series, such as The Birds of Africa and Handbook of the the Birds of the World are generally used. Species names are given in English, French and Creole, the three official languages of the Seychelles. As only the commonest and most familiar species in Seychelles were traditionally given Creole names, the vast majority of the Creole nomenclature is new. As the authors point out, as one of the first steps in an interest in birds is being able to put a name to what you see, the new Creole nomenclature will hopefully encourage a greater local interest in birds.

The species descriptions are concise and clear. There is a liberal scattering of black-and-white sketches illustrating specific identification features where required. For some species, for example Yellow Wagtail Motacilla flava, racial variations are also described concentrating on those most likely to occur in Seychelles. The section on similar species reminds the observer to eliminate potential confusion species - many records submitted to the Seychelles Bird Records Committee have not been accepted because of this.

This is unashamedly a book aimed primarily at the serious birder. However it is easy to read and contains a wealth of information that will surely enhance any visit to the Seychelles. In practical terms, no longer will visiting birders have to pack Seabirds, Shorebirds and a European field guide just in case. If you are planning to visit Seychelles, this is the book for you. More importantly, it is going to be an excellent bird identification resource for use by the growing number of Seychellois conservationists, many of whom will be unfamiliar with the majority of the Palearctic migrants that appear irregularly in Seychelles.

Rob Lucking

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