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Reviews / Review: Learn more about Shetland’s birds

SHETLAND is internationally famous for its bird life and draws visitors from all corners of the globe to enjoy it. Those of us who live here are privileged to witness it each and every day.

Over 450 species have been recorded here in Shetland since ornithological records began and Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason’s new book Discover Shetland’s Birds: A Photographic Guide to Shetland’s Breeding, Wintering and Migrant Birds (published by Shetland Heritage Publications – the publishing arm of the Shetland Amenity Trust) concentrates on around 180 species that are most likely to be encountered throughout the four seasons. Primarily intended as an aid to finding and identifying these birds, it offers a lot more.

The introductory chapters covering Shetland’s breeding, wintering and migratory birds offer a fantastic and concise insight of our birds through the seasons.

From there, the bulk of the book is comprised of accounts for each of the 155 core species most likely to be encountered. Each species is listed by the common English name along with the Shetland name. The scientific name for each species has been omitted though these are given later in the book within a checklist of all the species ever recorded in Shetland.

Each of the core species covered contains a useful monthly dateline of when it is likely to be encountered, favoured habitats and locations, the status of the species in Shetland and a more detailed suite of key identification features. The latter sub-section is particularly well written and executed with each species’ text containing a plethora of useful features and tips to assist in the identification process.

Being a photographic guide means there are lots and lots of photographs! At least one page is devoted to each core species but fifteen species have warranted a double-page spread. Accompanying each species is a selection of photographs of which two are the norm but there as many as six in some instances (e.g. gannet).

Each of the 23 rarer or scarcer species is illustrated within a single small inset on the page of the most likely confusion species. The main (and thus largest) image generally displays the identification features referred to in the text and in most cases the main habitat in which they are described to occur.

This works very well for the vast majority of species but there are a few images that perhaps could have worked better – e.g. the image of common guillemots on the cliffs on p.100 has been used elsewhere in the book and should perhaps be replaced by a ‘raft’ of birds on the water.

The images themselves are generally of a good (in some cases excellent) quality throughout but it is evident that quite a few have not been taken in Shetland and have been sourced from ‘south’.

The penultimate section of the book is a useful 12-page gazetteer that lists a total of 46 of the best-known (and many lesser-known) sites to watch birds (and of course other wildlife) in Shetland.

It offers grid references, on site directions and species likely to be encountered. Eleven landscape images chosen from all corners of Shetland illustrate this section but I’m not sure why an aerial of Baltasound was chosen instead of the magnificent Noup of Noss. What about Mousa? Loch of Spiggie? Fetlar? With two (if not three) spare pages at the back of the book maybe these more ‘iconic’ sites will creep in to a future edition – along with a Birdwatchers’ Code of Conduct.

At £19.99 for a softback version and £24.99 for the hardback version, the title offers good value for money, especially when one considers that a local bird report will set you back £12.00.

The book will make a lovely addition to your bookcase and you’ll certainly learn more about Shetland’s birds each and every time you delve in to it. Recommended.

Hugh Harrop / Shetland Wildlife