Working for birds in Africa

Echassiers, Canards et Limicoles de l'Ouest Africain

Fri, 28/12/2012 - 14:29 -- abc_admin
Olivier Girard. Illustrated by Jean Chevallier and Serge Nicolle. 1998. 135 pp, 51 colour plates and many distribution maps. Castel Editions, available from ONC, Reserve de Chanteloup, F-85340 Ile d'Olonne, France. FF70
page 72

As the author clearly states in his introduction, this is a book with a very specific purpose. "The primary objective is to help those persons involved in counts of West Africa, and who possess few if any works on identification". These then are the criteria with which the book must be judged rather than against more expert and well produced monographs or wider African guides. Olivier Girard and the Office National de Chasse in France have certainly rendered a service to those involved in wetland work in West Africa. Anyone working in the field with local co-workers will know that little material is available at reasonable prices and, at the same time, the difficulty that many of these often enthusiastic workers have in making accurate identifications, especially of species which closely, or sometimes not too closely, resemble each other. This is true even of park rangers, guides, and others working directly in the field. The book attacks this problem head-on with good plates and a short section on those species which closely resemble each other pointing out the specific differences. There are good examples of this on page 108 dealing with Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius, Ringed Plover C. hiaticula and Forbes' Plover C. forbesi, and 109 dealing with Kittlitz's Plover C. pecuarius, Kentish Plover C. alexandrinus, White-fronted Plover C. marginatus and juvenile Sanderling Calidris alba - I suspect, from personal experience, that even a few more experienced observers may have slipped on the latter. Go back and look again! The distribution maps are also useful and should help to avoid one or two of the more outlandish assertions one hears from time-to-time, although vagrants clearly do occur. The plates are of good quality with arrows pointing to the most important identification features, although they will not particularly excite those of us who enjoy good artwork in our bird books. They do however show the important details in good colour and they compare favourably with most average field guides, which is the essential. The introductory chapter contains several very useful ideas and hints for those involved in counts. There is also a section on wetlands and their importance, and addresses of some ringing centres, which will be useful. There has been an effort by Wetlands International to involve local people in wetland studies in West Africa and these people will need a minimum amount of equipment and materials. Monsieur Girard's book will certainly be an important working tool. Two quibbles! I feel that it would have been both useful and interesting to include a separate list of Asian and American vagrants as these certainly occur and may well be overlooked. Greater Sand-Plover Charadrius leschenaultii, Caspian Plover C. asiaticus, Lesser Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica, White-tailed Lapwing Vanellus leucurus, Lesser Yellowlegs Tringa flavipes and Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus have been recorded in Nigeria, and several of these also occur in Ghana. It is certainly worth bringing these possibilities to the attention of new observers, even if accompanied by a cautionary remark. They are real possibilities and certainly add to the excitement! The second concerns the map of West Africa on page 7. This is of very poor quality and gives a poor impression at the beginning of the book. Dahomey has been known as the Republic of Bénin since 1975, and the full name of the former Haute Volta is Burkina Faso rather than just "Burkina", which is the popular street name for the country. People for whom the book is primarily intended can be sensitive about such matters and it is an inconsistency of presentation in the book itself.

Patrick Claffey

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