Books  Zoology  Ornithology  Europe/Western Palaearctic 

Catching the Bug: A Sound Approach guide to the birds of Poole Harbour

By: Mark Constantine(Author), Nick Hopper(Author), The Sound Approach(Author)

287 pages, colour photos, colour illustrations, 1 colour map, 2 audio CDs

The Sound Approach

Hardback | Aug 2012 | #199185 | ISBN-13: 9789081093309
Availability: Usually dispatched within 3 days Details
NHBS Price: £29.99 $39/€33 approx

About this book

A précis of the concerns, puzzles and conundrums set by the natural world to a group of amateur birders meeting over twenty years in a pub in Poole. Read how tens of thousands of birds secretly migrated through the area, and get tips for seeing them, or finding similar migrant corridors near your home. Learn the flight calls of these migrant songbirds from original stereo recordings, illustrated and explained using annotated sonograms.

Explore the idea of the Dartford warbler being Britain’s first endemic species, along with the differences between Atlantic and Continental great cormorants, and the role of sound in common cuckoo conservation. Listen to the sounds of waders as they come and go with the tide, while enjoying the author’s stories of bird racing, year listing and being stopped by the police for possession of a super ray gun.

As usual, the book will come with two free audio CDs packed with great sounds.

"Mark Constantine and the Sound Approach team have produced a book so delectable in concept, so mouth-watering in production, and, ultimately, a text so wholesome it must have a calorific value"
- Sunday Express

"I just loved it. The authors need to be congratulated for this exceptional contribution to the library"
- Lee G.R. Evans, 400 Club

"The Sound Approach at its best"
- Martin Garner, Birding Frontiers


"Most readers of this journal will already have caught the bug. But if any of the unconverted are exposed to this latest opus from the Sound Approach team, they will surely become infected. Although it is modestly subtitled 'a guide to the birds of Poole Harbour', it is, in effect, a guide to better birding on anyone's local patch. The 'concerns, puzzles and conundrums' preoccupying the group of amateur birders meeting over twenty years in a pub in Poole are relevant to any birder, anywhere, and make endlessly fascinating and inspiring reading. ls our Dartford Warbler an English endemic? Should we be searching through Sandwich Tern flocks for Cabot's Tern? Are there three species of Great Cormorant in Britain? Just what is causing the decline of our farmland birds? And, of course, the authors' reminiscenses of bird-racing, year-listing, dipping and scoring ring bells with us all.

All this is conveyed in the same beautifully produced landscape format as the previous works from the Sound Approach team, with exquisite illustrations by Killian Mullarney, well-chosen location photographs, and what has become the Sound Approach's trademark secret weapon – two audio CDs with 203 recordings of bird songs and calls on 91 tracks, illustrated and explained using annotated sonograms. These are not only invaluable for learning the flight calls of migrant songbirds when identlfiying migrant corridors near your own house, but also revelatory in featuring such original recordings as female Nightjar churring, Firecrest singing like Goldcrest, the difference between reedbed and forest Cuckoos, and the range of Chiffchaff taxa vocalisations. Do not be fooled by the parochial approach, the rogues gallery of Poole birders on the endpaper, or such personal touches as Ian and Margaret's wedding photograph. This is a book for all birders."

- Bryan Bland, Birding World 25(10), November 2012


"The Sound Approach to Birding (2006) – with its fresh approach to bird calls and its practical introduction to sonograms – forever changed the time I spend in the field; I have since become something of a bird vocalisation junkie. But where did The Sound Approach start, and what is it that drives the authors of this monumental series of books? Catching the Bug starts with things at the beginning – the very beginning. The ancient history of Poole Harbour, to be precise. The text flows on to a chapter on wildfowling in the area; then seamlessly onto "Keep-Away Island"; and onwards to the next chapter, a discussion on the subspecific identification of Dartford warbler. The tone of the book is set: a highly readable and highly varied trip through Poole Harbour and all that makes it what it is for the authors.

For many birders considering buying this book, the audio-identification component provides one of the biggest draws. This book may not be as packed with revolutionary taxonomy and ground-breaking discoveries as some of the previous titles, but it certainly still packs a solid sonogram-fuelled punch. In addition to the Dartford warbler discussion, Siberian chiffchaff, Cabot's and sandwich tern, cuckoo, and even cormorant get The Sound Approach treatment. Sound recordings are – unsurprisingly – of the highest quality, and Killian Mullarney's plates and sketches are equally as gorgeous. Gems, like the recording of the nightingale with church bells, the churring nightjar, and the singing woodlarks, are a joy to listen to.

The text provides a very personal account of birding around Poole Harbour; but at the same time, everything written in the text has a distinctly universal feel about it. The finches and thrushes migrating over Poole Harbour could be passing over any visible-migration watchpoint; the attempts to catch up with a local-patch bogey bird are probably familiar to most patch-workers (though, alas, not all of us can have aquatic warbler as our local-patch bogey bird); and the tales from the 'birder's pub' likely reflect on all similar gatherings across the country. Despite – or perhaps because of – the everyday nature of some of the topics, the book proved hard to put down; in fact, I read it in just two sittings.

I've heard grumbles that the size and shape of The Sound Approach books – effectively A4 landscape – make them hard to hold; I've never found this a problem. The shape and size, in my opinion, work perfectly to showcase the content of the books to the highest standard. The foam buttons on the inside cover, used in previous books to hold the CDs in place, have been replaced with much sturdier plastic studs. The paper is glossy, the book is well bound, the attention to detail is second to none. It is, in many ways, something of a luxury product; a publication to indulge in. Is there anything wrong with this book at all? Well, I noticed a couple of commas had been mistakenly formatted in bold – yes, this book really is so close to perfection that a few punctuation formatting errors are the worst of its sins.

I suspect the authors would be satisfied if this book made you want to visit Poole Harbour, but I imagine they'd be even happier if it inspired the reader to get out in the field and discover the same joys in their own local area. Anyone who owns any of the other The Sound Approach books will undoubtedly have this one on their bookshelf – or open on their desk – already; for those who haven't yet caught The Sound Approach bug, there's no better place to start than with this book."

- Stephen Menzie, Wednesday 14th November 2012,


"I do like The Sound Approach books. They take quite basic, albeit often cutting-edge, questions that ‘normal’ birders ask, and answer them, substantially by the study of bird sounds. As a concept, it is a stroke of genius. Books such as The Sound Approach to Birding (Constantine & The Sound Approach, 2006) and Petrels Night and Day (Robb, Mullarney & The Sound Approach, 2008) have broken new ground in redefining the relationship between birders and the birds they watch, providing a popular language for addressing bird observation through the medium of sound. Catching the Bug is a retrospective of over 25 years of birding Poole Harbour, Dorset, and its surroundings, and is as much about the birders concerned as the birds themselves. It captures the excitement and frustrations of patch-watching, but its appeal and value goes beyond the boundaries of Poole.

The format follows the established Sound Approach style – high quality, hardback ergonomic disasters with a bookshelf-disrupting landscape format, containing (in this case) 27 more or less self-contained chapters and two CDs. Most of the sound files on the CDs have accompanying sonograms in the relevant parts of the text, allowing the reader to see the detail that birds hear. Some of the chapters carry on where The Sound Approach to Birding left off and address generally important issues. Chief among these is the lengthy Chapter 14: ‘A flock of birds forever in flight’. Recording the visible migration of landbirds (‘vis mig’) is the new seawatching and carries even more problematic standards for recording and reproducibility, requiring as it does the rapid identification of fly-by birds, often primarily by their voice, and often at night. Addressing these insecurities about accuracy and reproducibility, the chapter leads the reader through the common calls of the birds most likely to feature in vis-mig studies, demonstrating the usefulness of recording kit and sonograms, and is recommended reading. The wader calls in Chapter 17 fulfil a similar function. Sandwiched between them is another recurring problem – identification of Siberian chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis – and, in typical Sound Approach fashion, Chapter 16 describes a visit to Tomsk where the variation in Siberian chiffchaff vocalisations from the core of the taxon’s range were recorded.

Other chapters take the reader on evocative trips to hear European nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus, woodlarks Lullula arborea and hobbies Falco subbuteo on breeding territory, with the top-quality sound recordings and sonograms we have come to expect. There are musings on global warming, the changing status of what used to be southern European breeding birds in England, the accuracy of WeBS counts, a bird race and even a wedding. Single-subject chapters tackle such issues as the status of ‘continental’ great cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis and ‘British’ Dartford warblers Sylvia undata dartfordiensis. This latter is an example of how The Sound Approach books work. Starting with a justifiable and quite perceptive question – ‘Why aren’t English Dartford warblers an endemic?’ – the chapter reaches an answer through the medium of superb artwork, sound recordings and photographs: ‘Because there are lots of them in France too.’ So much to the good, but how that stretches to 14 pages, I have no idea.

Catching the Bug does seem self-indulgent at times. That may be its strength – apparently everything that occurred to the authors is in here – but a more in-depth analysis of fewer subjects would have made a more satisfying book. I personally could live without all the ‘boys’ club’ stuff, and several chapters left me wondering what the point was. The informal writing style is a characteristic of The Sound Approach books, and is to be welcomed. However, the mildly mocking criticism of another ornithologist for disagreeing with the authors over the criteria for identification of Siberian chiffchaffs was quite jarring, especially when The Sound Approach to identification (‘if the bird itself is telling us it’s a tristis then that’s good enough for me’) ignores the many real complications and unknowns surrounding the problem.

With the resources to publish privately, The Sound Approach team are apparently limited only by their imagination. Catching the Bug represents self-publishing at its very best: glorious in its extravagance, educational, inspirational, entertaining, robustly untroubled by concepts of self-effacement or doubt. Some chapters are superficial, and the whole ‘birding tribe’ aspect a bit vain, but few readers will fail to find something they didn’t know. As a whole the book successfully captures the highs and lows of intensive bird study at a single site."

- Martin Collinson,, 28-12-2012

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