Birds of the United Arab Emirates--a Helm Field Guide.
I first met Simon Aspinall when I arrived in the UAE during the spring of 2005. Over the following years, up until his death in 2011, he became a great friend and a truly inspiring birding mentor. So to be asked to critique a field guide, of which he was co-author, was both daunting and an honour.
This guide, Birds of the United Arab Emirates, is an abridged version of the larger guide, Birds of the Middle East (2nd edition), by the same authors and maintains much the same representation in terms of plates and formatting. Of course, it contains a species list specific to the UAE, which currently sits at 454, nine more than when this book was published!
The UAE is truly a remarkable birding destination. Resident and visiting species include some hard to come by species (given their range restrictions) and include crab plover, collared kingfisher and Sykes's warbler, through to Hume's, red tailed and variable wheatear. The vagrant list is astounding, with recent firsts including great stone curlew, Asian paradise flycatcher, black-naped oriole, Radde's accentor and even white-rumped sandpiper. Besides the above, and remarkably, the list of vagrant waders to the UAE is quite astonishing. Painted snipe, Eurasian woodcock, Kittlitz's plover have been observed and even buff-breasted sandpiper, pectoral sandpiper, lesser yellowlegs and Wilson's phalarope are on the national checklist.
The book is an immensely useful guide for the increasing number of visiting birders to the UAE. Overall the book is very birder-friendly, with text, maps and plates appearing alongside each other. The text, while brief, is generally quite accurate and it is good to see species in a variety of plumages. The spacing and placement of the species on the plates is also good. The additional pages that cover escapes and non-native species makes for interesting, although quite sad, reading. This list is not exhaustive, either. I have seen several species of escapes not listed here, including black swan, Hadada ibis and galah.
There are some criticisms however. The maps are those of the entire Middle East region, not the UAE and the key to the maps is not the easiest on the eye, especially the hatched reference for passage/ winter visitors. I was also slightly disappointed with some of the species reconstructions. Several of the Sylvia, Hippolais and Acrocephalus warblers are very strange-looking individuals indeed, nothing like they appear in the field.
These points aside, this is a very useful field guide, both for residents and visitors. If you are planning to bird the UAE, you simply must get this guide. Even resident birders and nature lovers should keep a copy of this guide to hand. I'm also told there are plans for an Arabic version of this guide, something that would only help to encourage the slowly increasing number of Emiratis who are taking up birding.
As the first bird field guide devoted to a single country anywhere In the Middle East, it sets a benchmark for others to follow in due course. The Environment Agency--Abu Dhabi, EAD, which funded publication and also contributed substantially to the cost of the 2nd edition of Birds of the Middle East, deserve credit for their valuable contribution to knowledge of the birdlife both of the UAE and of the region as a whole.
Neil Tovey is a member of the Emirates Bird Records Committee
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|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2012|
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