Sunday book review – Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: an annotated checklist by Dominic Mitchell

I cannot completely imagine how much work has gone into producing this book – it is a labour of love and of scholarship.  It’s simple in theory, all one does is find out which species of birds have occurred in a particular part of the world and produce a list of them. Nothing to it really!
But what is a species?  They keep changing as species are mostly split but also lumped. And what name should you give them – there are often plenty of choices.  And what should be the boundaries of ‘this part of the world’? Here Dominic takes a more expansive definition than BWP and includes Iran and the Arabian Peninsula – almost certainly sensible decisions but also ones which increased the size and difficulty of the task. And in which order should one list the species? That keeps changing as taxonomic knowledge changes (and presumably improves) – I still can’t get used to the falcons being separated from eagles etc. And countries have changed a bit over time too, which has implications for how to track down the information.
But having decided which species and which countries to use, and which order to write the list, one still has to unearth all the information and summarise it succinctly. Not many of us could even contemplate embarking on such a task without shuddering at the thought and recoiling in horror. Personally, I wouldn’t have got beyond Common Ostrich Struthio camelus ((Ostrich or North African (Red-necked) Ostrich) let alone reached Indigo Bunting Passerina cyanea.
This book is the ultimate reference book and I envisage using it often as time goes on.  By its very nature it is already out of date and will get more so as the world changes. But if you think you can do better then you’d better start work now and I’ll review your effort in, shall we say, a decade.
I don’t often comment on the price of books in these reviews, because prices vary between outlets, but this volume strikes me as being good value for money considering the wealth of information it contains.
Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: an annotated checklist by Dominic Mitchell is published by Lynx.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review and it’s now out in paperback.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.

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3 Replies to “Sunday book review – Birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East: an annotated checklist by Dominic Mitchell”

    1. There's someone out there that wakes at 0600 every morning, opens Mark's blog, doesn't read it, presses the dislike button and goes back to sleep! Mark probably knows who (s)he is

  1. Reminded of this publication by your review - and the very positive critique - I went to the town's specialist Natural History bookshop (Picture Book, Leek) and bought a copy. As a hardback I agree it is very good value and you could almost say worth it alone for the succinct yet detailed potted account and explanation of the history of the definition or delineation and rationale of avifaunal geographic areas and specifically the Western Palearctic (WP) and now the Greater WP. But it is lovely also simply to have in one comfortably held handbook a summary of the status and distribution of every species which is the main purpose. Great book!


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