Sunday Book Review – The Birds of Buckinghamshire by the Bucks Bird Club

M01848-194x300Although this is described as the 2nd edition of the book of 1993 it is much, much more than just a revamp.  This edition includes data from the recent atlassing frenzy and so it is pretty much up to date (and was published in 2012).

Buckinghamshire is one of those mysterious counties as far as I am concerned.  I never go there on purpose, but sometimes realise I am in it!  I am always passing through and have only the vaguest notion of its geography.  Milton Keynes is in Buckinghamshire – where else is? Princes Risborough, Winslow (with its boys), Chesham and Gerrards Cross.  It’s completely my fault that I am so ignorant of Bucks – but I am.

There are lots of people, lots of birders and a few birds in Bucks.  This book does a good job in telling you about the birds.

I was interested in the lists of breeding losses and gains: 10 species have been lost since 1900, eight of them in the second half of that period (Stone Curlew, 1964; Red-backed Shrike, 1971; Whinchat, 1983; Cirl Bunting, 1984; Wryneck, 1985; Wood Warbler, 1992; Redstart, 1997 and Stonechat, 2003) – I was surprised by how recent some of these losses were. On the other side, 21 species have been gained as breeding birds and six of those have been since 2000 (Oystercatcher, Herring Gull, Black-headed Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Goosander and Peregrine).  Three more species have come and gone – Lady Amherst’s Pheasant, Ruddy Duck and Dartford Warbler.  I predict the Dartford Warbler will be back.

There is an interesting bunch of graphs concerning arrival dates of migrants.  Most are getting earlier, but the authors rightly point out that this might be due to increasing effort (more birders0 or better reporting (better behaved birders)). Either may play a part, perhaps the main part, but I’d doubt that the c3 weeks earlier arrival of the House Martin is due primarily to those factors.  I’d guess, and the authors seem to agree, that climate change is partly involved.  Of course, those species that are increasing in numbers (some are and some aren’t in those displayed) are likely to have slightly earlier arrival dates too – if you tell 5 people to arrive somewhere at noon and 50 people to arrive at noon, the earliest arriver is usually going to come from the 50.

Likewise, those species which are declining in numbers tend to show later arrival dates or at least not earlier ones. The Turtle Dove is now seen arriving in Bucks later in the year – I guess that is simply because there are very few of them around now.

There are other interesting synthetic analyses and essays in the book although most of its bulk comprises species accounts.  These are exactly what you would want if you live in Bucks – and make interesting reading.  For a non-resident they are also interesting and simply ram home the message, that we all have nationally, that some species are doing very badly and others, often non-native species, are doing very well.

Three successive species accounts partly summed this up for me: Turtle Dove (declined from c2500 pairs in the 1970s to c20 pairs now), Ring-necked Parakeet (absent in the 1970s and 50 pairs in the south of the county now (spreading north)) and Cuckoo (2000 pairs in the 1970s and only c250 now).

If you are plugged in to the birding news then the decline of birds such as Spotted Flycatcher and Corn Bunting, and the increase in Red Kites (thanks to reintroduction) and Egyptian Goose (an introduction), are not news.  But they and other national trends are well-illustrated in this book.

David Ferguson edited this book – and he and his co-workers did a good job.

The Birds of Buckinghamshire, edited by David Ferguson, is  published by the Buckinghamshire Bird Club.

 

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5 Replies to “Sunday Book Review – The Birds of Buckinghamshire by the Bucks Bird Club”

  1. As a Bucks boy born and bred I was born within a mile of another place you may have heard of, Mark, Bletchley Park. Indeed, we had a member of the staff billeted with us during the war and I recall that my mother was most concerned about her morals as sometimes she was very late home and even stayed out all night. Of course we had no idea what went on there and I was only tiny!

    Several of my uncles had farms in Bucks and it was there that I learnt to love natural history from those who had a natural empathy with their environment and a responsibility for it's care. Streams full of water voles, ponds with great crested newts, hedges with yellowhammers and the dreaded linnet and fields with many lapwings nesting. It seems that most of our time was spent in the countryside as children without the distraction of television or the internet. Most of all this now subsumed within the sterility of Milton Keynes.

    Now living in Oxfordshire, and still only about a mile from the Bucks border, my main foray into Bucks is on the M40 where between Oxford and High Wycombe most of the 40+ red kites to be seen in the sky would be over Bucks.

    Incidentally, I don't think that the Winslow Boy (singular) has anything to do with the eponymous village!

    Regards, Richard.

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  2. Well assuming a similar pattern has happened over most of the country it drives home how desperate the present position is for lots of birds.

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  3. Mark - as well as lots of red kites Bucks famously has lots of black poplars in the Vale of Aylesbury, and if you fancy going there on purpose in a few weeks they should be displaying their wonderful red catkins. I hope to 'discover' them some time myself.

    Thanks as ever for the interesting book reviews.

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