Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland

Authors Mike Archer, Mark Grantham, Peter Howlett and Steve Stansfield, T & AD Poyser, 2010, ISBN 978-1-4081-1040-9, HB


The 18 bird observatories scattered around the British Isles have been playing a hugely important role in monitoring migration since 1933, when the first was set up on Skokholm, off the south-west coast of Wales.

And, although in these days of hi-tech rarity-chasing they might seem like a throwback to a different era of birdwatching altogether, they’re actually seeing greater numbers of visitors, and having to adapt accordingly.

This chunky volume tells their story simply and methodically, allocating a chapter to each observatory. You’re told the history of the site, and there’s plenty of information on where to see the best birds, as well as accounts of the most notable past sightings.

The text is broken up by plenty of photos, plus tables of statistics for each observatory. The latter help you grasp just what a valuable scientific role they’re playing.

I enjoyed the appendices, too, which include checklists (including one for non-avian species, and another for birds new to Britain and Ireland found at observatories).

But as well as all the concrete details contained within, one of the less obvious pleasures of the book is the way it shines a light on some of the unsung heroes of British birding – the wardens, volunteers and visitors whose willingness to put in long hours has made the sites what they are.

If you’ve been involved with the observatories in any way, or if you’d like to experience the full glory of Britain’s bird migration at first hand, this is a fine summary of 18 little birding gems.

MATT MERRITT, DECEMBER 2010

Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland (Poyser Monographs)
£60.00
By Mike Archer, Mark Grantham, Peter Howlett, Steven Stansfield