Balancing the books

It’s all too easy to shout about the things that don't match expectations while quietly enjoy the things that do, never publicly giving them the praise they deserve. With that in mind, I thought it was worth balancing out my comments on Robins & Chats with a few positive thoughts on some other books from (relatively) recently.

First, another in the Helm Identification Guides series: Wildfowl of Europe, Asia and North America by Sébastien Reeber. It’s a great book, well written, comprehensive, and clearly extensively researched. Little details, like carefully written photo captions, help to add even more value. It’s how a Helm Identification Guides book should be. If you’re only allowed to ask Santa for one expensive book this Christmas, I suggest this one.

Undiscovered Owls by Magnus Robb et al. is everything you’d expect from The Sound Approach Team. Magnus’s writing style makes it eminently readable while at the same time a presenting a phenomenal amount of information – and not just on vocalisation, even if that is the main focus of the book. A couple of the species splits might be a bit liberal (“For the sake of argument we will treat each [of the three Macaronesian barn owl taxa] as species…”) but there’s no shortage of information to allow the reader to make up their own mind on the matter, and no attempting to hide where evidence might actually be lacking (“…but let’s be clear; their sounds differ only subtle and none has been the subject of a thorough genetic study”). Tell Santa you’ve been a really good boy/girl this year and point out that if China can end their one child policy then he can end his one expensive book policy.

Martin Garner’s Challenge Series: Winter is a great follow-up to last year’s Autumn book. Both books give a really nice overview of the some of the tougher-to-identify taxa and I use them fairly often as a quick go-to to remind myself of the most important features – and usually find myself learning something more in the process. At £17.99, you can return those awful M&S character socks and grandpa slippers your auntie bought you, persuade your mum to buy the credit voucher off you, and use the cash you’ve just gained to buy this one yourself.

And if your interest extends beyond birds, Steven Falk’s Field Guide to the bees of Great Britain and Ireland looks, after a quick flick through, like it should prove to be an excellent book. It’s illustrated by Richard Lewington, which already makes it great. There won’t be any bees for a few months now, so put this one on your birthday list or something.