Working for birds in Africa

Birds of Seychelles

Wed, 05/06/2013 - 09:20 -- abc_admin
Adrian Skerrett and Tony Disley, 2011. London, UK: Christopher Helm. 176 pp, 65 colour plates. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-4081-5151-8.

Birds of Seychelles is an updated and compact version of the 2001 guide of the same name, published in the Helm Field Guides series. The publication of the first guide was something of a landmark in terms of the species covered and the sheer amount of information contained; this new guide is a slim and efficient volume covering all of the species recorded reliably in the Seychelles up to mid 2011.

The new publication includes 65 plates and 1,000 illustrations, of which >90 are new, and sports a completely revised text. This covers 254 of the 257 species recorded. The introductory sections in the book are minimal but informative, covering geography, climate and Important Bird Areas. There are also appendices including a checklist of bird names in English, French and Creole. There are no distribution maps, but given the geography of the islands these are not essential. Most of the guide, 130 pages, is devoted to the description and illustration of resident, migrant, vagrant and introduced birds. The illustrations are great and the text clear and concise, conveying just what you need to identify a species.

The Seychelles appear to be just close enough to Africa and Asia to act as a wintering site for shorebirds and as a landfall for vagrants, and some of the smaller islands with limited habitat make perfect sites for vagrant hunters. Aside from the staggering seabird colonies, engaging endemics and perhaps not so desirable introduced birds, you never know what you may find on the Seychelles.

Some of the difficult species groups that may be encountered are well covered. For example, cuckoos, falcons and snipes include a range of similar species that could reach the archipelago from Europe, Asia or Africa, and the guide is more than adequate to clinch their identification. Some species would have benefited from a larger number of illustrations depicting different races or plumages, but the guide has struck a sensible trade-off so that more space could be allocated for some of the variable resident species.

Could I find anything to criticise? Well no, it’s a fine work. I am mindful that the large range of species covered may make it difficult for some audiences to access the information. Casual birders and, in particular, school children may find it difficult to use, and a cut-down version focusing on the regular species would be great for education and engagement. But as a singe resource to take with you to the Seychelles, this compact and comprehensive guide certainly does the job. You may well encounter species not covered in the guide, but they will be national firsts.

James Millett

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