Working for birds in Africa

Oiseaux de Tunisie / Birds of Tunisia

Fri, 12/21/2012 - 12:56 -- abc_admin
Paul Isenmann, Thierry Gaultier, Ali El Hili, Hichem Azafzaf, Habib Dlensi & Michael Smart. 2005. Paris: Société d'Etudes Ornithologiques de France (SEOF), e-mail: seof@mnhn.fr, website www. mnhn. fr/assoc/seof/accueil. htm. Paperback, 432 pp, 432 pages, 130 plates, 150 maps.
page 110

Tunisia is a relatively small country (164,500 km2) in north-west Africa. The climate is typically Mediterranean in the north, becoming more arid toward the south and Saharan in the southern half. A wide range of habitats is present: cork oak forests, mountain ranges (highest peak 1,544 m), steppe plains, an immense depression with salt lakes, 1,300 km of Mediterranean coastline with steep cliffs, coastal lagoons and a considerable area of intertidal flats, oases and impressive sand dunes. This variety in habitats, the rich avifauna, good infrastructure and touristic facilities (including cheap flights) make the country a popular destination for visiting birders. In addition there is a growing local birdwatching and conservation community. The three Tunisian co-authors are members (El Hili also founder and President) of 'Les Amis des Oiseaux', a succesful organisation established in 1975. All 46 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) have been protected since 2001!

Following the synthesis of the birds of north-west Africa (Les Oiseaux du Nord-Ouest de l'Afrique), which included Tunisia, written by H. Heim de Balsac and N. Mayaud in 1962, the only recent attempt to produce a modern annotated list of the country was The Birds of Tunisia by Peter Thomsen and Peder Jacobsen (Copenhagen, 1979). Although the latter book was rather incomplete, based on limited sources and is now out of print, it was my main source of information during a few visits to Tunisia. However, during my next visits I will definitely be carrying another book. Carrying in the most literal sense of the word, since the new Birds of Tunisia has become an impressive 432 page volume on good-quality paper. The size is due to the fact that the book is entirely bilingual (English and French).

Short, informative introductory chapters cover geography, history of Tunisian ornithology, a compact checklist of all 395 species recorded (of which 193 breed), biogeographical analysis, and short comparisons with the avifauna of Algeria and Libya, as well as describing changes to the breeding avifauna in the 20th century, and the Mediterranean and trans-Saharan migration systems. The main part of the book is formed by the annotated checklist, summarising available information on taxonomy, status, distribution, habitat and phenology of each species, together with data on nesting and ringing recoveries. The information presented is rather anecdotal, with many dates, localities and observers (mostly visiting birders) mentioned. The 150 distribution maps, given for most of the regular breeding species show the 'potential breeding range'. Knowing that one of the authors (Gaultier) has been working on a breeding atlas based on half-degree squares, I would have preferred to see (in addition) the actual known breeding distribution by using symbols for possible, probable and definite breeding.

English species accounts within the same light purple shading as used for the English versions of the introductory chapters would have made reading easier. The book is lavishly illustrated with over 130 high quality colour photographs (many by Gaultier and Azafzaf). Dates and localities are not mentioned, and a photo captioned Botaurus stellaris shows an immature Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus. Nonetheless, despite these few minor remarks, it is an excellent book, and the authors are to be congratulated on their achievement.

Peter L. Meininger

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