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Adriatic East Coast: Seeing Birds

…the legacy of a passionate and committed conservationist

Guest Reviewer: Charlie Moores from Talking Naturally*

* http://www.talking-naturally.co.uk

Adriatic East Coast: Seeing Birds & Experiencing Nature in Historic Landscapes on the Mediterranean Coast By Martin Schneider-Jacoby & Borut Stumberger | 266 pages | Many Colour Photographs | EuroNatur Travel Guides| Paperback | 2012 | ISBN: 9783000359521I'm old enough to remember when birding info for overseas travel came in the post via the inexhaustable Steve Whitehouse, who would mail out black-and-white trip reports on sheets of A4 for a pound or two. Big brown envelopes would contain - depending on how popular the destination was and how many birders has been there - just a couple of sheets stapled together or a half a tree covered in hand-drawn maps peppered with arrows and thrilling instructions like 'turn left at blown-up tank' or 'rabid dogs often on this corner - watch out'.

Of course things have moved on since then. There are now guide books to a huge number of birding regions (both obscure and well-known), printed on high quality paper that come loaded with glossy photos and captured google maps. Undoubtedly we will soon be buying apps for tablets that allow for 3D representations of the locales we'll be visiting and glowing digital pins to show us exactly where to look. I'm sure time-restricted birders will welcome the next generation of GPS-linked, interactive, instantly updateable field-guides (and who amongst of us doesn't love technological advance), but there will surely be some of us who also look wistfully backwards to a more basic approach when the passion of the author(s) was always of more importance than the style of presentation.

Which brings me to 'Adriatic East Coast' [AEC]. Produced by the Germany-based conservation organisation EuroNatur as part of its Travel Guide series, 'AEC' is at first sight a rather plain, basic looking book that doesn't immediately grab the attention in the way that, say, a WildGuides or Helm production does. The design inside doesn't shout 'innovation' or 'high-tech' either, recalling in some ways those older trip reports I referred to at the start of this review. But don't for a second let any of this put you off because this is actually a gem of a book.

Written by Martin Schneider-Jacoby (who tragically died at just 56 while the guide was still in press) and Borut Stumberger, ‘AEC’ has been translated from the original German text by Nell Zink (and occasionally the odd phrase does make it apparent that this is a translation, particularly in a few of the section titles: I'm not sure, for example, how 'Nice views and bike paths' would read in German but presumably a little less prosaically). It contains a wealth of information on the geology, culture, and flora and fauna of a region that spans from Slovenia south to Albania - an area I suspect few of us could even locate on a map without the use of the aforementioned search engine.

That small niggle about translation aside (which coming from a monoglot Brit does make me sound extremely ungallant, but as a reviewer it should be mentioned) this is genuinely a rather beautifully-written book. Again like those older reports there is a sense of discourse, that we the reader are having a conversation with the writers as they talk us through a region they clearly feel huge affection for. It's all rather lilting and poetic really, more reminiscent of the writings of Eric Newby or Alfred Wainwright than the more routine and elliptical prose used in some modern guides.

'AEC' is also satisfyingly stuffed with photographs, and while there are few full-page images most are large enough and well-reproduced. The range of photos reflects the breadth of the subject matter, with a selection of plants, amphibians, and (especially) birds, as well as landscapes that certainly gave this once almost full-time traveller distinctly itchy feet again. Flicking through quickly might give an impression that this is predominantly a bird guide, but 'AEC' is - depending perhaps on your viewpoint - much more than that. It’s about the nature and history of the region, and while it does contain plenty of quality data on where to find and see birds, it also discusses conservation, changes to the countryside as agriculture intensifies and hydroelectric schemes suck once vast wetlands dry, and issues like hunting and sustainable tourism.

I wrote a few lines ago that whether you think this more-embracing approach does make 'AEC' more than just a bird guide depends on your viewpoint because I read a comment that one disgruntled German reader had complained that there was too much conservation on offer - which strikes me as very odd given that without the efforts of conservationists there would be far, far fewer birds to see. There are also few maps and those that are here are simply drawn and populated - which has been another criticism levelled at 'AEC'. It's possibly true that if you are looking for a 'Where to watch…' guide which simply plots a course from Bird A to Bird B to Bird C along a topographically accurate roadmap then this may not be the book for you, but if you prefer to come away from a guidebook feeling that you understand far more about a place than you did before reading it then this little book is well worth searching out and buying.

And if you do buy it and are prepared to give it time, then I'm willing to wager that 'AEC' will really grow on you. The simple design is actually a strength, the lack of a confusion of symbols (a collective term I'm coining in this review) makes the pages easy on the eye, and the gentle conversational style becomes more beguiling the more you read.

I didn't know the lead author Martin Schneider-Jacoby of course, but I sincerely hope that 'Adriatic East Coast' will be recognised by birders and nature enthusiasts everywhere as the legacy of a passionate and committed conservationist. He evidently loved this beautiful and relatively unknown part of Europe, and if it does - as he hoped - encourage birders or naturalists to the region and that in turn does encourage local officials to better protect the biodiversity that still exists within it, then he and his co-author will have achieved something of real and lasting importance.

Charlie Moores - Talking Naturally

Buy this book from www.nhbs.com

* http://www.talking-naturally.co.uk