Bird Migration by Dominic Couzens New Holland ISBN 184330970X £12.99
In the introduction to this book the author states; It is also written from the point of view of what could be described as a knowledgeable beginner. Further in the same paragraph he mentions a book he has drawn on a great deal which he describes as a more learned work… Peter Berthold`s Bird Migration: A General Survey. What I have to say is thank you Dominic! I have read a number of reviews of Berthold`s book, all of which say it is brilliant and the seminal work on migration – it may well be and I trust their and Dominic`s opinion, but I found it totally unreadable! It is wordy and as far from plain English as the average computer manual! I remember one sentence being eleven lines long which used several technical terms including one which was just plain wrong. I tried hard to persevere as migration is as fascinating a topic as can be but I gave up, very little the wiser.
Now along comes this book by Mr Couzens that is exceptionally lucid and flows like a novel with a good plot. It is deliberately chatty in style and one could even call it popularist – yet he explains all the key terms with enviable simplicity and a feather light touch. I am not saying that I have remembered every term but I have absorbed enough to realise how frequently birders misuse terms like, for example, reverse migration when they are talking about a bird that has migrated northwest instead of south east. I now know that the itchy feet I get when badly in need of a birding holiday is zugunruhe the restlessness exhibited by migratory birds when its nearly time to go and they must stuff themselves silly with uncharacteristic foods. What is more, and pardon me if I shock you with my former ignorance, I now know that the common quail heads north, breeds in Spain, and then moves on to the UK and does it again… no wonder they turn up in late May or early June.
There is plenty in here for the absolute beginner, the knowledgeable beginner and even the old hand. If ever a topic need someone to give a clear statement of current knowledge it is migration and Dominic Couzens does it par excellence. I read it in one sitting and yet I will definitely be referring to it again as it has a handy chart giving a species by species account of when, where and how much our birds migrate. I understand now why my favourite coastal hedge is alive with garden warblers in August and pied flycatchers a month later… not only does this help me go look for missing ticks in my year list but is also an aid to ID… when flitting inside a hedge in poor light garden warblers, reed warblers and even willow warblers can all look remarkably similar without a size reference or colour contrast.
I`ve recommended many books before – us bibliophiles can`t help it, but the majority have been fieldguides or personal recollections. This is a single topic [if something as complex as migration can be called a single topic] book that is simply the best introductory volume I`ve ever come across and should be on the shelf of every bird obs and reserve where young birders stay and in the library of every European birder who has got past just twitching rarities and wants to know why they turn up here at all.
Created: 16th Aug 2005