Working for birds in Africa

Palearctic Birds. A checklist of the birds of Europe, North Africa and Asia, north of the foothills of the Himalayas

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 14:14 -- abc_admin
Mark Seaman. Harrier Publications, Stonyhurst, England
page 56

At first glance this work appears to be largely a new brave effort, attempting to resolve some of the controversy over English bird names. In fact, the checklist goes beyond the English names (which might, arguably, be of interest mainly to English speaking ornithologists) to deal with difficult taxonomic, distributional and nomenclatural issues, which have plagued ornithological work in the Palearctic region.

The volume consists of six main sections; An introductory section; systematic list; taxonomic notes; notes on English names; notes on distributional status and omitted species.

The introductory section establishes the author's general approach towards avian taxonomy and the selection of English names, and provides a geographic definition of the Palearctic region. The systematic list is presented in three columns providing scientific names, proposed English names and for some species, alternative names. Over half of the volume is occupied by the notes on the taxonomy, English names and distribution, which are provided for selected species highlighted in the systematic list. The section on omitted species is basically an extension of that on distributional status, but dealing largely with species with dubious occurrence in the Palearctic.

As the author states from the outset, this checklist assumes a conservative approach towards avian taxonomy particularly in the light of the controversial works by Sibley & Monroe. Taxonomy largely follows that of Voous. The section on taxonomic notes provides an excellent and most useful commentary on numerous outstanding taxonomic and nomenclatural issues. I found this section very informative because it provided a concise summary (albeit not comprehensive) of many recent (as well as old) developments and changes in avian taxonomy, some of which I was not aware of. The level of detail provided in each species account varies according to the complexity of the issue at hand, but also according to personal experience and personal communications, which introduces a wealth of new information.

As with taxonomic issues, the author generally also has a conservative approach to English bird names, and resists major en masse changes, particularly changes that are never going to find widespread use. This, however, did not mean that some difficult and controversial proposals were not made. Choices like loon over diver and jaeger over skua for example, will certainly be subject of further debate. I found many of the notes on English names very informative and often entertaining. The history and origin of some English names are particularly interesting.

In Africa the southern limits of the Palearctic are extended further south mostly to follow latitude 21 degrees N, which means the inclusion of several additional Afrotropical species, not included previously in the Palearctic list. The notes on distributional status and omitted species largely deals with species which occur only marginally in the Palearctic, and involves mostly Oriental and Afrotropical taxa; or vagrants which have been recorded very few times in the region. This thoroughly researched volume is a valuable and informative contribution to the library of the amateur and the professional alike.

Sherif M Baha El Din

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