Working for birds in Africa

Sounds of Zambian Wildlife

Fri, 21/12/2012 - 11:36 -- abc_admin
R. Stjernstedt, 2008. Salthouse: WildSounds. DVD-ROM featuring over 600 species. ISBN 9-78189866-518-2.
page 113

What with a new IBA book, a new avifauna and a new Luangwa Valley checklist (the latter two also reviewed herein), something of a glut of resources for Zambia has appeared within the last couple of years. With this DVD, the feast continues and a very welcome addition it is too.

Bob Stjernstedt has been recording African bird sounds for several decades now and he has published a number of collections previously, mainly on cassette. These have been invaluable to birders not only in Zambia, but also further afield in Africa. However, we now leap into the digital age and on this single disk are mp3 recordings of over 570 bird species, 20 mammals and 32 frogs found in Zambia.

To navigate, you can either print one of several .pdf indices from the disk, or open an HTML index, which allows you to view the species list in several permutations and access them via hyperlinks to the sound files. The format makes finding and listening to individual tracks extremely easy.

As one would expect, the quality of the recordings varies from excellent to adequate, depending on the species, and for many, several different vocalisations are included. The only anomalies I found were as follows. The recording of Red-necked Falcon Falco chiquera is not listed in the indices and is, in fact, tagged onto the end of the recording of Grey Kestrel F. ardosiaceus, whilst Usambara Weaver Ploceus nicolli is included, apparently in place of the very similar Olive-headed Weaver P. olivaceiceps, despite not actually occurring in Zambia.

To have mammal and frog sounds included as well is a tremendous bonus. For many birders, the frog recordings in particular will open up an entirely new nocturnal soundscape. The only thing I felt was lacking was information on the localities and dates of the recordings, which data are essential for students and serious researchers, and sometimes even for birders too. Admittedly this would be a time-consuming addition, but one well worth considering for a future edition.

Returning to the birds, this is a remarkably comprehensive collection, littered with regional specialities such as Chaplin's Barbet Lybius chaplini, Bocage's Akalat Sheppardia bocagei and Babbling Starling Neocichla gutturalis and even mouth-watering enigmas such as Chestnut-headed Flufftail Sarothrura lugens. There are also surprises. How many people have heard the long series of hoots given by an African Finfoot Podica senegalensis at night?

There are a few omissions, but the majority concerns either silent non-breeding migrants or extreme rarities. When one considers that this is the work of one person, the coverage seems astonishing and I hope that if anyone raises an eyebrow at the price, they will pause to consider that this disk represents thousands of hours in the field, endless technical hitches, vehicle breakdowns, doses of malaria, broken bones and even police arrests. It is a mammoth achievement and Bob is to be warmly congratulated.

Pete Leonard

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