Catching the Bug: Book Review

Review by Martin

The fourth in the series of books by the Sound Approach joins my line of ergonomically challenged books with brightly coloured spines.  From the outset I confess I am a fan of the Sound Approach and if part of the goal has been to popularise bird sound, recording, sonograms and such like, then its growing adherents includes me.  Out of the four this is a particularly thick book – 287 numbered pages – with only that tour de force which is the Petrels Book being slightly larger.  It is a good third bigger than the original, red spined ‘The Sound Approach to Birding’.
From the outset I found this to be an eclectic read.  The overall aim to chronicle the changing habitats, birds and birding in Poole Harbour set in the narrative of the conversations over 20 years of a group of friends meeting in a local pub. Chock full of history, colourful maps, and wonderful photos, excellent illustrations and of course pioneering sonogram analysis. It embraces a very wide spectrum of bird and birding related content.
I confess to finding it at times most enlightening and in other places a frustrating read. Chapter titles (some rather bizarre) often not fully connected to the ensuing chapter content (some kind of abstract might have helped) didn’t help me to engage.  Thankfully every so often my attention would be grasped by a fascinating insight such as the discovery of White-tailed Eagle remains during a televised Time Team exploration, or similarly the number of Puffins killed formally where now they are extremely rare.  I think some chapters could have benefitted from some tougher editing to making them pithier and more clearly focused.
Punctuated among the less easy-to-read chapters are some real gems.  Chapter four ‘If that’s a Bibby’s Warbler I’ll eat my Hat’, taught me much about Dartford Warblers than I’ve known before and how young darfordiensis can have underparts colours as on a Chestnut-eared Bunting, compared to apparently greyer underparts of the southerly breeding nominate undata (though the accompanying photo of a juvenile undata in Portugal seems not to fully endorse this).  The attempt to document differences in calls between dartfordiensis and undata are (uncharacteristically) unconvincing, at least to my ears. Maybe I am missing something?
The same cannot be said for the comparison of Cabot’s and European Sandwich Terns.  The differences in calls seems quite distinctive and further confirming that they should best be treated as good species and adding another identification feature for vagrants on either side of the pond. The Sound Approach at its best!
Similarly the Cormorants chapter containing super illustrations by Killian Mullarney of the two key taxa, keeps both the ID and ‘at-risk’ status of Atlantic ‘carbo’ to the fore. Though it seems one time too many that I have read the name ‘Richard Benyon MP’, a man charged with government ministerial role but taking diametrically opposed actions seemingly driven by personal hunting/shooting/fishing interests.
Chapter 14 is my favourite and kind of what I expected/hoped that, more of the book to be filled with. It deals in some depth with Visible Migration on the south Dorset coast.
Hold on!
Writing this review on October 30th I thought I would just check the Trektelen site for visible migration records from south Dorset.
Flip! Nick Hopper and friends have been out this morning. Have a read of some of the birds they have seen:
Bee-eater 1
Mediterranean Gull 3
Swallow 9 (at end October!)
Brambling 53
Goldfinch 565
Siskin 151
Bullfinch 25
Hawfinch 4
Ring Ouzel 4 (grounded)
Kind of sells it doesn’t it? They are out there doing it. And Chapter 14 tells you how and why. It’s the inspiring stuff on distinguishing calls, sonograms, and variation in common bird calls that will certainly have me reading chapters and sections like this over and over.

Bearded Reedling (Nick Hopper) and Sonagram (Magnus Robb) from ‘Chapter 14’

Chapter 16 ‘Drab’, is similarly engaging though the initial, personal  ‘putdown’ of another observer detracts from an otherwise good argument. The chapter deals with the identification and calls of the Siberian Chiffchaff. It certainly takes the debate further and for those keen to have the latest word on the subject this chapter is a must read.
2 CD’s accompany the book, filled with top quality recordings. However I have found myself very reluctant to take one of the two CDS off the sleeve and put it into the computer.  It’s something I rarely do these days, as it’s all there on t’internet.  My personal preference would be for a web-space linked to the book so that as I browed the books content I could just click onto the sounds itemised in the chapters and listen to them on my phone/tablet/laptop.
The book ends with a summary which indicates a presumed hope for the book.  It says,
“Catching the Bug is our snapshot of birding the harbour… We figured that if we have been successful and infected you with that same bug then there will always be someone to look after the birds of Pool harbour, whatever the weather”. 
Well,  I did see the incredibly confiding Lapland Bunting on the day of the Little Swift dip back in the 1980’s, and once saw a summering Red-rumped Swallow at Corfe Mullen but apart from that I don’t have a massive interest in the birds of Poole Harbour and its environs – certainly not enough to buy a £30 book.  Thankfully, the book is a lot more than an insular view of a local birding patch.  As I’ve just listened to the (little known) calls of Jack Snipe, enjoyed the ‘jammy ringers tape’ by Mark and Magnus, spent far too much time on the migration chapters and just occasionally I admit had my attention grabbed by historical details in the harbour.  This is a book which has somehow, almost in an unplanned way, managed to contain something that could interest most birders, including those who’ve never been to Poole Harbour or even intend to go. Some chapters are a bit of a must have. And did Horace Alexander really see a Siberian Thrush there in January 1961?
You will have to read the book to find out…
For more information and to order, go to the Sound Approach Website
Have you read this book? Any further comments? Agree/ disagree with anything I have said.
Fire away and have your say!

Oh and here’s that darn Bee-eater from yesterday: 

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About Martin Garner

I am a Free Spirit
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One Response to Catching the Bug: Book Review

  1. Pingback: Siberian Chiffchaff and Common Chiffchaff: Part 2 | Birding Frontiers

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