Working for birds in Africa

Birds of Somalia

Sat, 22/12/2012 - 00:20 -- abc_admin
J.S. Ash and J.E. Miskell, illustrations by M. Woodcock. Pica Press 1998. 336 pages, 5 plates, 24 black and white photographs, numerous maps. Hardback UK£40.
page 80

There can be few ABC members who have not, at one time or another, dreamt of visiting the Horn of Africa. Ongoing political problems continue to frustrate those of us keen to do so and this excellent book, a comprehensive follow-up to the authors' Birds of Somalia, their habitat, status and distribution will add to this frustration.

A short introduction sets the scene, providing a brief snapshot of the ornithological history of the country and setting out some of the difficulties facing the authors as they attempted to study the birds of the country. The accompanying map, showing the squares that have been visited, evidences their incredible achievement; of the 208 (259 cover the entire country) half-degree squares visited, the authors personally conducted fieldwork in no less than 161 of these, 62% of the total.

The introduction is followed by a series of colour plates featuring 26 endemic or near-endemic species and races, and a copy of the illustration of the endemic Warsangeli Linnet Acanthis johannis from the dusk jacket. Larks feature heavily in the illustrations, with 11 species being included, among which are such rarely illustrated species as Obbia Lark Spizocorys obbiensis and Archer's Lark Heteromirafra archerii. The illustrations of those species with which I am familiar appear accurate, but with many of the species covered being familiar in the field to few people other than the authors it is difficult to pass a wider judgement.

Three colour maps featuring topography, vegetation zones and geology and a series of eight introductory chapters follow the colour plates. The introductory chapters, including contributions from six additional authors, cover vegetation and soils, a historical review of ornithology in Somalia, geology, climate, bird and wildlife conservation, bird migration, breeding seasons and a review of the treatment of species. As expected, the introductory section is both readable and informative, providing an excellent insight into the subjects covered. The accounts are literally sprinkled with a selection of photographs of habitats and ornithological pioneers in Somalia.

The General Treatment of Species section provides background information on the individual species accounts, including a summary of data, an explanation of the accompanying lists, order and nomenclature, status, distribution, habitat, topography and climate, sources of data and the format of species within the lists.

The individual species accounts - 654 species in total - comprise the bulk of the book and provide information on all species recorded in the country up to the end of 1996. Each account includes a distribution map detailing sightings, specimens and breeding records, and a short text provides information on status, numbers occurring, range etc. This text, although necessarily concise, is informative and in many cases lists additional references providing more detailed information. The maps are supplemented by lists of species recorded offshore (six), species requiring confirmation (33 including, perhaps controversially, Bulo Burti Boubou Laniarius liberatus, which the authors do not consider to be a proven species), hybrids (two), species recorded in Somalia mapping squares, but within Kenya, Ethiopia or Djibouti (13) and endemics (seven).

Additional chapters cover Bird Ringing in Somalia, detailing the numbers of all species ringed in Somalia and recoveries, including birds from Germany, Iran and Ukraine, a glossary, a gazetteer, a summary of English and Italian names, and a map depicting the position of the main towns and villages. The gazetteer features 185 localities and includes the modern Somali name, either English or Italian names, geographical coordinates and the map square.

The book concludes with a bibliography listing 564 references and bears testimony to the amount of research undertaken by the authors, and an index listing both scientific and vernacular names. Although the £40 price tag may deter some potential purchasers, the authors and Pica Press should be congratulated on the production of an excellent book, which deserves a place on the bookshelves of anyone with an interest in African birds. Roll on the Ethiopian equivalent.

Richard Webb

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