Working for birds in Africa

A Guide to the Birds of St Helena and Ascension Island

Fri, 21/12/2012 - 13:02 -- abc_admin
Neil McCulloch, 2004. Sandy, UK: The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. 92 pp, numerous colour illustrations, 3 maps. Paperback. ISBN 1 901930 46 7.
pages 174 - 175

It may be rather surprising that a guide to the birds of these remote and little-visited islands has been published. The author informs us that it is 'a response to the many requests made over the past ten years by visitors, local teachers and other interested islanders for a simple identification guide to all the birds likely to be seen on the two islands'. No singular regional field guide covers these.

The introduction presents the islands' environments, relates these to the birds and includes a section on where to watch birds, illustrated with two rudimentary maps. The main part of the book contains the accounts of 28 species likely to be seen, equally split into 14 seabirds and 14 landbirds. Each species is illustrated with a lively and accurate full-page watercolour sketch by Dan Powell, which should enable easy identification. A small error has crept in the caption of the all-brown form of adult Red-footed Booby Sula sula, which is labelled as being the white-headed form. Each island boasts an endemic: St Helena Plover or Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae, St Helena's only surviving endemic landbird, reclassified in 2004 as Vulnerable (from Endangered: BirdLife International 2000, 2004) and numbering c.350 - 400 individuals (see also: McCulloch, N. 1999), and Ascension Frigatebird Fregata aquila. Appendices list extinct birds, accidental visitors (31 for St Helena, 46 for Ascension) and failed introductions. Curiously, Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis, which, as a 'frequent visitor', has a full species account, is also listed as accidental for both islands. Sanderling Calidris alba, stated to be a 'not infrequent passage migrant' by Rowlands et al. (1998) is relegated to the accidentals list, whereas Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, an accidental visitor unlikely to be seen, gets a full species account. These, however, are very minor inconsistencies that do not impair the usefulness of this sympathetic and attractively produced guide.

Ron Demey
BirdLife International. 2000. Threatened Birds of the World. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International & Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
BirdLife International. 2004. Threatened Birds of the World 2004. CD-ROM. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.
McCulloch, N. 1999. St Helena Wirebird: the forgotten plover. Bull. ABC 6: 95-99.
Rowlands, B. W., Trueman, T., Olson, S. L, McCulloch, M. N. & Brooke, R. K. 1998. The Birds of St Helena: An Annotated Checklist. BOU Checklist No. 16. Tring: British Ornithologists' Union.

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