Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic describes in detail the 157 species of extremely rare birds that have occurred in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. All species that have occurred less than 10 times have been included. The records are listed with references to books and articles, and include a photograph of the actual individual, if available. Some of these images are published in Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic for the first time.
"This book does exactly what it says on the tin. It is the first attempt to draw together all the records of exceptionally rare birds in the Western Palearctic, as defined by BWP, focusing on the 155 species that have occurred in the region fewer than ten times. The author does not discuss patterns or causes of vagrancy, nor identification, but has concentrated on producing an accurate, concise and thorough documentation of all those records in an attractive and well-produced book.
The taxonomy follows that of the Dutch authorities so that (for example) Amur Wagtail Motacilla (alba) leucopsis and Least Tern Sternula (albifrons) antillarum are treated as full species (the BOU still treats both as subspecies). At a higher taxonomic level, I was aware that the boundaries of some families are under review but was surprised to see the New World warblers (Parulidae) and blackbirds (Icteridae) placed in the buntings (Emberizidae).
The majority of the book is taken up by the individual species accounts. A brief text in the left-hand column lies opposite a list of accepted records (up to and including 2008) in a highlighted box in the right-hand column. The text outlines the breeding and wintering range of the species, includes additional well-documented records from 2009 and 2010, and presents details of some records that were unacceptable or of doubtful origin to complete the picture.
A real strength of the book is the number of photographs included. For many species every record, or a good proportion of them, are backed up with photos. Many are specimens, some held in private collections, for example the Faroese Sandhill Crane Grus canadensis from October 1980 and the Maltese Striped Crake Aenigmatolimnas marginalis from April 2004. As might be expected, the quality of the photographs varies. Some are first class but a lot are best described as record shots; occasionally it is disappointing to see a poor-quality image when much better ones have been published elsewhere. In my view it is arguable whether a handful are actually identifiable, while even locating the White-eyed Vireo Vireo griseus or the 2005 Azores Hooded Warbler Wilsonia citrina in their respective photographs is a challenge in itself. Only 32 of the 155 species covered are not accompanied by photographs, although images of two of these, Wilson’s Warbler Cardellina pusilla and Bay-breasted Warbler Setophaga castanea, both in Cornwall in October 1995, were published in BB.
Since this book covers a region with so many different records committees, from the ultra-conservative BOU to the more liberal (and arguably more pragmatic) Dutch, some inconsistencies are bound to occur. For example, the very first species account is for Ross’s Goose Anser rossii, where we have three pages of Dutch records but just a brief summary, lacking any details, of records from elsewhere. Yellow-headed Blackbird Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus and Daurian Starling Agropsar sturninus suffer in similar fashion. Surely it is time for some consistency of treatment, at least across Europe.
Inevitably, books of this nature become out of date before they are published and it seems likely that the status of some species included will change markedly over the next few years. Kuwait, Egypt, Mauritania, the Cape Verde Islands, the Azores and Iceland are all now receiving much better coverage and perhaps it won’t be long before the Ural mountains are ‘sussed out’.
A key element of this book is that so much relevant information – records, photographs, details of museum specimens and references (over 700 of them) – is brought together concisely and the author is to be commended for this. The book will certainly appeal to the increasing band of Western Palearctic listers and those with an interest in rare birds and vagrancy – testament to the fact that just about anything can turn up anywhere. I am not so sure, however, that there is enough here to appeal to many outside this rather specialist audience."
- Paul Harvey, 16/07/2012, www.britishbirds.co.uk