Working for birds in Africa

The Birds of Israel

Sat, 12/29/2012 - 14:04 -- abc_admin
Hadoram Shirihai, edited by Ehud Dovrat and David A. Christie, 1996. Academic Press/Unipress. UK£60.
pages 137 - 138

Israel, being on the periphery of the African continent, is of particular relevance to students of African ornithology. The distribution of many North African species extends across Israel, and the country is situated on one of the main migration routes for birds travelling between breeding grounds in Europe and Asia and wintering quarters in Africa. A number of Afrotropical species have occurred in Israel as vagrants, including some first records for the Western Paleartic. Weighing nearly five kilos and containing over 700 pages The Birds of Israel could easily qualify for the title 'Mother of all Bird Books'. This impressive book reflects the determination and huge effort of the author and his passion for birds. It is also the culmination of a great co-operative effort by the Israeli ornithological community which has contributed selflessly to this work. The wealth of ornithological information available about Israel from the many visiting and local birders is apparent in the level of detail in the information presented. Hadoram Shirihai in collaboration with a team of editors and consultants, has summarised an extensive database compiled over many years, updating the knowledge of the contemporary avifauna of Israel and the Occupied Territories. The main body of the text discusses the status and distribution of all birds recorded in the country and, to a lesser extent also addresses the taxonomic and identification issues of some key species. An introductory section provides a summary of the history of ornithology in Israel and an overview ot the Israeli avifauna. Most interesting for me is the discussion of bird migration through the country. A second part of the introduction explains how to use the text and maps and presents some brief information on the geography, climate and habitats of the country. Information is provided on general distribution, status, movements and breeding; with minimal comments on the habitats or the more regular species and sporadic ecological notes. Maps (as many as five per species) show migration routes (for spring and autumn separately if different), winter and summer distributions, breeding, as well as the relative density in each case. A bar chart summarises the annual occurrence of each species in the country. Special attention is given to subspecies, with descriptions of varying lengths and detail provided for most subspecies occurring in the country. Under the occasional entry 'novospecific identification' some recently split species, which the author recognises as full species, are briefly described. An assortment of notes of various length, mostly about taxonomic issues but sometimes on distribution or ecology etc, are distributed throughout the main text. Attractive black and white illustrations by Alan Harris embellish many pages of the book. A splendid collection of some 380 colour photographs of characteristic and rare birds occurring in Israel and 90 habitat and landscape shots, make the book appealing even for the casual reader. The book is loaded with information, which would be of special interest to anyone involved in Middle Eastern and Western Palearctic ornithology. However, I could not help but feel that there is too much crammed into this single volume, some of which is not necessary in a national account like this (for example, general distributions of species and subspecies which are largely well known and can be found in any regional work). The irregular inclusion of numerous long notes, and the rather selective entries on subspecific identification do not serve the text well. The inclusion of comments on Sinai in many species accounts, besides being peculiar and awkward is of almost no value and further contributes to the fragmentation of the text. The design and layout of the main text (the species accounts) are not very user friendly, with too many font sizes and styles, as well as symbols and abbreviations. In one randomly selected species account there were at least nine abbreviations, that is in addition to map and graph symbols. At first glance I thought that one might need a users manual! (in fact there is one which occupies 12 pages in the introductory section!). But it is always difficult and challenging to try to summarise a vast quantity of data in an easily comprehensible fashion. All in all there is no doubt that The Birds of Israel makes an important contribution to the ornithology of the Middle East and places in our hands a treasury of information. It is a valuable addition to any reference library, and is highly recommended for all those interested in the birds of the Middle East and North Africa.

Sherif M Baha El Din

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