Collins Bird Songs and Calls
By Geoff Sample – 128 pages, book: 3 Audio CDs – Harper Collins 2010 (New Edition)
ISBN 9780007339761

A unique beginner’s guide to birdsong, this new edition of the established classic now features all recordings digitally – re-recorded versions of the original habitat CDs ensuring that they are even clearer, but just as atmospheric thus introducing the user to the major bird habitats of Britain and the birds that live in them.

The new edition also contains a third CD containing a unique beginner’s guide to birdsong in a course of 12 monthly sessions. Covering around 30 of the commonest garden and parkland bird species in the 12 sessions, it also gives an outline of the behavioural context; when different species sing, why they sing and what is going on in the wider bird community. The group of species featured each month is chosen for the similarities in their voices and songs; often this will mean birds of the same family. So, for instance, it makes sense to begin with Great Tit and Blue Tit for January, two of the few birds that can be heard that month, but also species with songs built around simple repeated patterns. By introducing a group of similar sounding birds each month, and starting with the easy birds first, this accessible guide will help you to quickly appreciate the wonderful range of bird voices and to discover just what birdsong is all about.

I would not take issue with any of the above adapted from the publisher’s handout. The recordings are, indeed, crisp and clear and a joy to listen to in themselves as they are so evocative. The accompanying book is, I think, rather undersold as it contains a great deal more than just the species accounts. The background on how songs and calls have been appreciated historically through to the popularity of Percy Edwards’ bird call impressions makes for a good read as well as imparting a great deal of useful info, especially for those like me who have ‘tin ears’.The one thing I find awkward is that the species accounts are in taxonomic order but the recordings on two disk are by habitat and the third disk by season and by comparison of similar songs. This latter CD is a great idea and would have been a perfect accompaniment to CDs ordered exactly the same way as the book, taxonomically. I also found the presentation of the ‘song season’ of each bird less than pleasing… a good idea to show their presence in the country and the months they sing as there is a difference, but the smudged colour bar just looks messy.

This aside, and it’s a pretty nitpicking aside, it’s a good book, and an excellent CD set which I would say is definitive for anyone who seriously wants to get to grips with European bird calls.

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