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The Birds of Ghana: An Atlas and Handbook

Field / Identification Guide

By: Françoise Dowsett-Lemaire(Author), Robert J Dowsett(Author)

713 pages, 21 plates with colour photos; b/w photos, b/w illustrations, colour distribution maps

Tauraco Press

1 customer review
Paperback | Jul 2014 | #216120 | ISBN-13: 9782872250073
Availability: In stock
NHBS Price: £34.99 $45/€39 approx

About this book

This is the second account of the birds of Ghana (ex-Gold Coast), the first having been published by Grimes in 1987. It presents detailed information on the some 750 species known (among which there are 150 migrants from Eurasia and North America, of which more than 100 winter locally). Extensive field-work by the authors, augmented by the contribution of visiting or resident naturalists, means that the maps (for all species except vagrants) present a clear picture of distribution in this country of nearly 240,000 km2. The text complements the maps, with a synthesis of what is known of ecology, status, movements, breeding seasons, taxonomy and conservation concerns. Some 600 published references are cited, and there are details of ringing recoveries and a gazetteer of more than 860 localities. In 116 pages, the introductory chapters review the vegetation and major bird habitats, biogeography, migration, conservation and the history of ornithological exploration in Ghana. The conservation chapter draws attention to the considerable pressure that human activities (including deforestation, danis and over-fishing) are exerting on the environment and wildlife. Six species of birds have become extinct in Ghana in the last century, and several others are heavily threatened. Forty-nine species are considered to be of global or regional conservation concem, and the importance of the country’s wildlife reserves is stressed, with forest reserves and other natural habitats being decimated at an alarming rate. Twenty-one pages of colour photos illustrate the habitats of Ghana as well as a selection of typical bird species. No bird is endemic to Ghana alone, but the country contains no fewer than 179 Guineo-Congolian forest species, including all but four of those endemic to Upper Guinea (Ghana westwards), Ghana is the one country where the striking Yellow-headed Picathartes (or Rockfowl) can be seen by all visiting birdwatchers.

"[...] Overall, this work is destined to remain the reference on the birds of Ghana far into the future. I almost wrote that this book is an astonishingly thorough and authoritative piece of work, but actually it is not. By which I mean it is no longer astonishing, since we have come to expect such thoroughness and authority from these authors. This volume is easily a match for its predecessors in scholarship, comprehensiveness and attention to detail. Anyone with more than a superficial interest in the birds of West Africa, let alone Ghana itself, will want to own a copy."
– Lincoln Fishpool, Ibis 157, 2015

"This awe-inspiring volume follows the style of the same authors' The Birds of Malawi and The Birds of Zambia [...] and anyone familiar with these already classic works will immediately recognise the same high standard and layout. [...] Available superlatives are probably insufficient for this superb and thoroughly essential, academic work. For anybody interested in Ghanaian birds and their distribudon, it should be a compulsory purchase and would ideally be used in conjunction with a field guide that covers the topic of species identification, thereby affording the user the most complete overview of the country's avifauna that has ever existed."
– Nik Borrow, Bulletin of the African Bird Club 22(1), March 2015

"Ghana, although far from the largest of countries, covers three major vegetation zones: Guinea-Congolian rain forest in the SW quarter, Soudanian savanna dominated by woodland in the northern half and a transition zone between the two. As such it is therefore an ideal country to visit if you want to see a wide range of birds in a relatively small area. For the atlas the authors have divided the country into 93 30-minute squares and all species are mapped on this grid, with many of the specific distribution records arising from a large amount of fieldwork carried out by themselves over a total of 22 months in the 2000s, although records from others are incorporated as well. The 750-odd species accounts are comprehensive with notes on Distribution, Ecology, Status, Conservation and Breeding and there is a detailed 144-page introduction covering physical characteristics, vegetation, biogeography and conservation along with a comprehensive history of ornithological work in the country. Those who know of the authors' similar previous books (on Malawi and Zambia) will know what to expect and they will not be disappointed. The detail and comprehensiveness are impressive; indeed the book makes Ghana one of the best known countries for birds in all of Africa. It is certainly a birding milestone for West Africa."
– Peter Lack, BTO book reviews

Reviews (1)

West Africa at its best
By Keith 4 Feb 2016 Written for Paperback

Being about the same size as the UK, Ghana is one of the most accessible countries in West Africa and (apart from a few inter-ethnic scuffles and land disputes in the far north) it is a relatively calm and safe destination. In a survey five years ago only 5% of travelling birders had visited Ghana, but with the arrival of an excellent field guide Birds of Ghana, by Nik Borrow and Ron Demey (Helm, 2010) and competitively-priced birding tours, Ghana has become the fastest-growing bird tourism destination in West Africa – despite the fact that none of the species present are endemic. However the attraction has to be all but four of the Upper Guinea endemics that are found from here and further west, plus 179 Guineo-Congolian forest species.

Despite being a great birding destination, Ghana is not immune to the threats that occur in much of Africa. In the last 100 years six species of birds have ceased to occur in the country, and several others are now seriously threatened. In fact forty-nine species are considered to be of global or regional conservation concern, and on a recent visit I personally witnessed the way that some natural habitats are being decimated at an alarming rate.

Collectors of country avifaunas will probably already possess The Birds of Ghana: An Annotated Checklist by L.G. Grimes (BOU, 1987). Much has been discovered in the 27 years that have passed, and in addition the authors question some past records and assumptions about status. They are in a good position to do so having camped for several days at a time in almost 100 locations around the country – covering all of the districts and every habitat type. It is no wonder therefore that they were able to include a gazetteer of more than 860 localities.

Anyone who has used the Dowsetts’ other publications covering Malawi and Zambia will know what to expect, as they combine their own original research with the records of local and visiting ornithologists. They are nothing if not thorough and as an ornithological duo they achieve more in just a few years than some bird clubs manage to do over several generations!

An initial 116-page introductory section includes chapters which review the vegetation and major bird habitats, biogeography, migration, conservation challenges and the history of ornithological exploration in Ghana.

The main part of the book describes the status of 750 species, including around 100 species that spend our winter in the country and a further 50 or so that pass through on passage or as vagrants. The main attraction will be the maps which clearly display the distribution of each species (except rarer vagrants) by half-degree squares. While the maps in Borrow and Demey give a more colourful indication on where species are likely to be found these new maps are based on actual record locations – albeit placed centrally within a square.

The text complements the maps very well, summarising succinctly, what is known of ecology, status, movements, breeding seasons, taxonomy and conservation for each species. There are twenty-one pages of colour photos illustrating habitats and some typical species.

The authors searched extensively to be sure that they reviewed all of the published records – and other data from private notebooks. Wherever possible they worked with Llewellyn Grimes to check back on the details of original sightings in his checklist, and as a result they chose to consider a number of records as not proven. The outcome is a bibliography of around 600 references. Ringing recoveries affecting Ghana are analysed and maps of recoveries have been included – emphasizing Ghana’s position as a key location for many European migrants.

One might think that with three major atlases under their belts the authors would be looking to enjoy some time off, but they now have neighbouring Togo in their sights, and so before too long yet another African country will put under a much needed spotlight.

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