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This book is not just about Tasmania's birds. It draws on knowledge gained through the author's extensive field work, her interest in bird song and her passion for the continuing survival of birds and their habitats wherever they occur.
The book's title, The Feathered Tribes of Van Diemen's Land is taken from a report written in 1832 by James Bischoff. Further quotations from the report included in the book reveal the attitudes of the British settlers to the avifauna they encountered: the land birds were regarded as 'all of them curious and beautiful', the bronzewings 'delicious to eat', the quail 'afforded the sportsman capital shooting' and, a common misconception of the early settlers, that Tasmania was 'entirely without singing birds'.
What makes The Feathered Tribes of Van Diemen's Land much more than a field guide – although it can be used as such because it includes photographs of over 70 of the common bird species likely to be seen in the backyard, bush or on the farm – are its descriptions of different vegetation communities and why some habitats are richer in bird species than others; and where different bird species feed and their importance to ecological integrity and the continuing health of the environment. It includes hints on how to find and identify birds by their calls, describes the function of bird song and the role of sex in the spring dawn chorus, the practical and aesthetic importance of feathers and other intriguing aspects of birds' lives seldom included in field guides.
Other topics include the impact of introduced species on the native avifauna; some of the hazards experienced by birds such as window strikes, cats, poisons, and fire and how they can be avoided or eliminated; and a section on good ecological practices that outlines the importance of retaining large old trees, coarse woody debris and patches of native bush. It concludes with a plea for the retention, restoration and proper management of bird habitats whether in city, town, country or on the coast.
Sarah Lloyd has had a lifelong interest in birds and has lived in a eucalypt forest in northern Tasmania for the past thirty years where she has observed and recorded bird movements as well as undertaking a year long study of the dawn chorus. She has also monitored birds on numerous properties across the island state gaining insights into their extensive vocal repertoires and regional variations in their calls – their 'dialects'. In 2008 Sarah initiated A Sound Idea, a project to monitor acoustically Tasmania's terrestrial birds assisted by over ninety volunteers using small digital sound recorders. Participants mostly recorded in their backyards or local bush resulting in species lists from over 100 locations that had not been surveyed previously for birds.
"Whether it's about birds in the bush, on the coast or in the paddock, this book offers us something new and interesting. Every section is clearly written, easy to understand and woven with historical insights, numerous tips and messages of conservation."
– From the foreword by Dr. Sally Bryant
"[...] what might be required of a bird book other than an appropriate size to carry and good photos for quick identification? Well, Sarah Lloyd’s latest publication The Feathered Tribes Of Van Diemen's Land answers this question. This is not simply an identification book on Tasmanian birds, but also a tribute to their beauty and a guide to understanding them.
Sarah's wonderful photographs not only make for great identification of the bird in question, but also take bird photography into the realm of art. Many of the photos in this book are so stunning in their capture of the subjects as to make the book a pure aesthetic pleasure beyond mere identification. One can only wonder how many photos it took to select these images. For birds do not pose like models, but must be captured in the moment. Sarah has done some wonderful capturing, presumably over a lot of moments.
And Sarah's love for her subjects is similarly demonstrated in her descriptions of their habits and habitats – including fascinating things about their feathers, food, roosting sites, and how and why and in what order they sing in the dawn chorus.
Additionally and most importantly, Sarah provides sobering information relating to the variety of threats to birds. A lot has been packed into this book to make it much more than the usual identification reference. It functions fine for identifying birds, but its particular value is that it also passes on Sarah's knowledge and advice about how and why we need to look after them with good ecological practices and common sense. There are lessons and information here for us all."
– Jim Nelson, Disjunct Naturalists (website of the Central North Field Naturalists)
"[...] Are you the type of person who enjoys birds but feel you lack the skills to identify them? Sarah has this covered by describing how to identify birds with what clues or features to look for. While Sarah is an expert at identifying birds by their calls, often without seeing them, she encourages and inspires people that it is a skill which can be acquired with time and practice. The best way she states is to sit quietly and 'connect song to the singer'.
Sarah is an authority on the vocalisation (songs and calls) of birds and provides an informative narrative on how birds sing and use vocalisations to attract mates (such as with the dawn chorus), defend territories or to raise alarm. Many may be familiar with the classic characteristic call of native hens defending their territory. As with human language, birds can have differing dialects which vary from one region to another.
This book, whilst not written as such, does provide a useful field guide for identifying bird species from the excellent photographs of many bird species which may be encountered. The book is broken into sections to cover different types of habitats and lists the species of birds most likely to be encountered, such as garden birds, bush birds, birds on farms and birds of sea and shore.
Worldwide bird species are declining with the greatest threat through loss of habitat from clearing and conversion for agriculture, urban development or other human activities. Sarah identifies other threats such as the impact of introduced species, predation, fire and climate change. The final chapter provides good ecological practices and conservation measures to mitigate loss of birds from the landscape, such as the importance of trees with hollows, protection of patches of remnant vegetation and the value of coarse woody debris on the ground.
Many 'Gardens for Wildlife' members have made the observation that since growing native plant species in their garden there has been a greater number and variety of native birds attracted to their garden. These members love to see native birds in their garden and get a great deal of enjoyment from doing so. This book will provide those keen to learn more about native birds and how to protect them so to, as the final line of the book states, 'help keep the common birds common' and encourage others to appreciate the beauty and importance of birds in the landscape."
– Gardens for Wildlife, website of the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment, Government of Tasmania