Over the years, books resulting from the Important Bird Areas (IBA) Programme of BirdLife International have evolved from dense text with few maps to well-illustrated folios with several pages per IBA, site maps, and photographs, such as these on Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Each is divided into Introduction, Methodology, Biomes in Central Asia, Overview of the country, IBA overview and analysis, IBA conservation, site accounts (48 IBAs in Uzbekistan and 121 in Kazakhstan), Bibliography, and six appendices. The IBA accounts cover birds and habitats, but also rare fauna and flora; two-coloured site maps and monochrome photographs are included. Appendices list all the bird species recorded in the five Central Asian countries of the former USSR (thus including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan), with scientific, English and Russian common names, also 16 additional taxa, such as Larus heuglini, Parus songarus and Carduelis caniceps, treated as full species in these publications; they also show the distribution of globally threatened birds (the maps are arranged alphabetically, by scientific name), and sites holding more than 20 000 waterbirds on migration or in winter.
The inventories highlight the importance of both countries (especially Kazakhstan) for many Eurasian species, particularly waterfowl. Kazakh stopover and wintering sites such as the Korgalzhyn, Ingiz-Turgay, and Naurzum IBAs support hundreds of thousands of waterbirds. Impressive numbers of other Palaearctic species are found in Kazakhstan: for example, 5-10% of the world's Dalmatian Pelicans Pelecanus crispus, 14 000 pairs of Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus (Korgalzhyn), 2200-2600 pairs of Pallid Harrier Circus macrourus (Ortau Uplands), 300-350 pairs of Steppe Eagle Aquila nipalensis (foothills of the Kalba range), 688 pairs of Asian Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca (Urda Sands), 640-1220 pairs of Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni (Chingiztau), and 200-480 Macqueen's Bustards Chlamydotis macqueenii on the Zhusandala plain (Almaty).
Some shortcomings found in these publications are likely to stem from the common framework for both books (and the forthcoming `IBAs in Turkmenistan'), as well as insufficiently rigorous editing. For instance, some introductory chapters are identical, both books discuss biomes found in Turkmenistan but absent from Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (images of the Karakum Desert and Kopetdag Mountains in Turkmenistan appear in both books). Kazakhstan case studies are shown in the Uzbekistan book, and so on.
The Introduction to both volumes is wordy and, at times, repetitive. Information on the government structure of Uzbekistan, and the country's exports (p. 41) is irrelevant. Both books repeatedly use scientific names of birds throughout the text even though both common and scientific names appear in each IBA table, and in the appendices. The illustrations come in the form of `figures', `maps', `tables', `boxes' and `images', all numbered differently and inconsistently. For example, `Map 1' appears on pages 15, 34, 41, and 56 of the Uzbekistan book, and `Map 2' on pages 18 and 46. Site codes on the map showing all Uzbek IBAs (p. 41) require a magnifying glass. Bar and pie charts often duplicate each other. Interestingly, photographs of meetings, plaque openings, and similar events are captioned in both volumes, whereas images of sites, birds and other wildlife are not. Although charismatic species, such as Redbreasted Goose Branta ruficollis, are easily recognizable, other images leave the reader guessing. The appendix headers are in small font and do not stand out. Both books lack site indexes: although all IBAs are listed on the last page (called `Forewords' in the Uzbekistan book, and `Bibliography of Site Account Descriptions' in that on Kazakhstan), they are not in alphabetical order.
The Uzbekistan volume contains some contradictory claims (e.g. the percentage of protected IBAs is given as 54.7% and 85%), and bizarre statements such as `antipoaching units deliver important data on the status of the species and, as a by-product, augment the government anti-poaching service'. These are probably artefacts of translation. Regretfully, some Uzbekistan raptor hotspots (Surkhan, Kitab, Zaama and a few others) were omitted from this inventory, apparently because of concerns about border security.
Although the `IBAs in Kazakhstan' is mostly free of errors and anomalies, one statement stands out: `substantial hazards for steppe ecosystems are annual fires'. Though fires do indeed destroy nests and young birds, the process is essential for the steppe's very existence. Suppressing fire will affect plant communities, and consequently grassland birds. Another fault with the Kazakhstan book is a discrepancy in the spelling of place names, e.g. (on p. 72) a village called `Zhangala' in the text appears as `Dzhangala' on the map. Site KZ117 `Tortoise Islands' is unlikely to be known by that name in Kazakhstan.
The publication of these inventories deserves praise, although the Forewords and initial chapters leave the false impression that very little bird work was done in both countries prior to the BirdLife IBA project. A statement explicitly refers to Central Asia as `one of the least studied regions of the world', failing to acknowledge 150 years' worth of studies by Russian (Severtsov, Przhevalsky, Zarudny) and later Soviet and post-Soviet ornithologists, as well as landmark monographs, such as The Birds of Kazakhstan (Dolgushin et al. 1960-1974, and Gavrilov & Gavrilov 2005), The Birds of Uzbekistan (three volumes; N. M. Matchanov et al. eds, 1987- 1995), Birds of Central [Middle] Asia (Volume 1 of a projected five-volume series, edited by A. K. Rustamov & A. F. Kovshar, 2007). Central Asian birds also received good coverage in the classic six-volume Birds of the Soviet Union (Dement'ev & Gladkov, 1951-1954; English translation 1966-1970) and in the six volumes to appear so far of the still-incomplete Birds of the USSR [now Birds of Russia and adjoining regions] edited by V. D. Il'ichev et al. (1982-2005), and other publications. Thus, Central Asia can hardly be called `one of the least studied regions of the world'.
Michael Patrikeev, IBIS