A Field Guide to the Bird Songs and Calls of Britain and Northern Europe

Author Dave Farrow, Carlton


A bit like picking up a foreign language, learning birdsong is probably most easily done when you’re young.

If though, like me, you let it pass you by in your younger years, you’re missing out on a huge amount. You probably all know at least one birder who can pull ticks out of thin air just by stopping and listening, and you probably wish you could do the same.

Dave Farrow’s new field guide, then, would seem to be ideal. It covers 200 species, with 350 full-colour drawings, but the real draw is the two CDs included, which contain 200 song and call recordings.

They complement the extensive descriptions of songs and calls given in the text, and of course could easily be uploaded onto an iPod or MP3 player, to take around with you in the field.

And they work very well. Rather better, for me at least, than those textual descriptions, which seem of variable value in the field. Farrow has done a fine job of coming up with a systematic way of writing down birdsong, but even so I found it hard to relate the description of, say, the Curlew’s bubbling trill, to the actual sound. Admittedly that’s a very difficult one, and many of the simpler annotations work much better, but it’s the CDs that are likely to really pay dividends.

Another problem is that the book itself is not comprehensive enough to suit even beginners as a field guide, with species such as Mute Swan, Hen Harrier and Jack Snipe missing, so you’re unlikely to want to carry it round in the field.

On the other hand, it’s not going to break the bank, so if you have a spare £20, buy a copy, keep it and the CDs in the car, and I guarantee you’ll find it useful in complementing more conventional books next time you find yourself baffled by the calls of a maddeningly elusive bird.

MATT MERRITT, JUNE 2008