This latest addition to the Best Birdwatching Sites series is the largest yet produced, reflecting the wealth of birding riches uncovered by author Brian Unwin in all parts of Northumberland, Co Durham and Cleveland. Readers will find details of renowned sites such as the Farne Islands, Lindisfarne and the RSPB's exciting new Saltholme reserve, but Brian also enthuses about many exciting bird walks in inland Co Durham and Northumberland as well as coastal migrant hotspots and the former industrial sites now becoming havens for nature.
- Up-to-date information on 17 birding sites in Cleveland; 37 sites in Co Durham and 42 sites in Northumberland
- Birding tips for each site – based on practical experience.
- Detailed maps (100 in total) and access information.
- All sites evaluated for wheelchair access.
- Target birds for each site – and how likely you are to see them.
- What birds to expect – month by month.
- Public transport options.
"It is thankfully rare when an author fails to see his book published. This unfortunately was the case with Brian Unwin's eagerly awaited site guide in this series to birding areas in the Northeast, taking in Northumberland, Co. Durham and Cleveland. Brian died of cancer shortly after Christmas in 2011 at the early age of 66. As a founding member of the Durham Bird Club and with an encyclopedic knowledge of the whole area, he was well-placed to write this site guide. Various friends and acquaintances ensured it was finished and published, including John Miles, Bob Coursey and Ian Kerr. The end product is a fitting testimony to Brian's character as it is eminently readable, often not the case with site guides as they can be quite bland. I had the good fortune to meet Brian on a number of occasions, most notably a chance encounter in the Harthope Valley in Northumberland when this jaunty chap with a straw boater introduced himself. His perky personality shines through this guide in the many snippets. My favourite is the idea of bagpipe players in the altogether at Skirl Naked and this image unfortunately stays with me. And who knew that Sir Walter Scott sat in the Rose and Thistle at Alwinton nearly 200 years ago brushing up on Rob Roy? Durham birders will undoubtedly be aware they have a herd of bison at Bishop Middleham and that Billy Elliott was filmed mainly at Easington Colliery, but I am sure that many more will be enlightened.
The guide is split into sections for the relevant counties and, by using the end-paper maps, numbered sites can be found easily without having to refer to the index. Each site is covered in the same way with a useful key-points section providing a quick guide, a comprehensive map and a guide to what birds may be expected. Disabled access, where possible, is covered in detail. The bird summaries for each area are split into target species, with percentage likelihood of finding, and other possible birds. These percentages, although largely accurate, will hopefully not lead people into thinking that they will definitely find a Temminck's stint Calidris temminckii in the Druridge Bay area with only three or four visits in prime conditions (marked as 30%). In addition, I do feel that the space utilised by the list of common birds would have been better utilised to include more sites. I expect that Malcolm Hutcheson, who has spent many years surveying the Berwick area, will be miffed to see that the whole section of coast from Holy Island northwards has been omitted. Likewise, it is perfectly possible to find many rare migrants in the section of coast between Craster and Amble. Perhaps Brian was trying to keep some of Northumberland's secrets in place!
However, this site guide admirably does what it says on the tin, as the best birdwatching sites are covered in detail with a nostalgic note of past major rarities and a highly readable summary for each area. It will inevitably be compared with the revised Where to Watch Birds in Northeast England by Dave Britton and John Day, published in 2004. Although both publications are well worth purchasing, I do feel that Brian's guide is the easier to use, and includes better maps and directions. It is also completely up to date with references covering recent publications even into 2012. Ian Kerr has helpfully added an end section that details the status of all species recorded in the area, which is an extremely useful guide for birders visiting the area and a source of reference to county birders in the region.
To summarise, I would heartily recommend purchasing this guide and I can see it sitting in many a birder's glove compartment as a reference source ready for when that next mega turns up at a little-known site!"
- Tim Dean, www.britishbirds.co.uk, 13-11-2012
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