For me, one sign of a good book is the number of times it has been revamped and improved. Having first appeared as a slim 270 page volume in 1987, this has now appeared again as a fifth edition with a stonking 432 pages! So if you bought an earlier edition – even the last one in 2003 – there are good reasons to buy this new version. In total 159 locations are described.
Another reason for trusting this book is that the authors are all editors of excellent books on their own counties, so not surprisingly they know their stuff. So while it would have been easy to sit back and tweak a few pages and add an extra species here and there, the authors have added new sites. Taking my own home county of Surrey, some 43 sites are included, although some of these are in that part of “old” Surrey that is really Greater London. A number of these merely got a brief mention in earlier editions, but now are treated in more detail. A good example is the relatively new RSPB reserve called Farnham Heath.
Clearly the status of birds changes over time, and when the first edition appeared over twenty years ago the Firecrest was a rare breeder in Sussex, yet in 2006 it could be found at three sites, with 49 territories at one of these. So the choice of this species to adorn the front cover was a good one. The book has been revised carefully to reflect such changes. The maps have been updated, and are clear, showing access points and viewing positions. The habitat at each site is described, and the species are summarised. Access is also described, and a calendar included, highlighting particular species to expect in each season.
vSo are there any shortcomings? The list of useful contacts is a bit thin. Details are only given for two RSPB reserves – despite plenty of others featuring in the earlier chapters. Also it would be useful to have a systematic checklist of the birds that occur in the region with an indication of when they might be seen. However you can use the index of bird names to help you find your target species.
The Helm “Where to Watch Birds” series has been hugely successful over the years, and the key to that success has been the publisher’s efforts to make sure that the books do not become dated. £18.99 may seem to be a high price for a softback, but at 12p per site this book offers a lot of information in return for your investment.
Authors Don Taylor, Jeffrey Wheatley and Paul James, Christopher Helm/A&C Black, 2009, 432 pages. PB, ISBN 978-1-4081-0585-6