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Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Product Review: CATCHING THE BUG by Mark Constantine and Nick Hopper


Mark and Nick at Birdfair 2012 - the authors of this fabulous new Sound Approach production


Catching The Bug - A Sound Approach Guide to the birds of Poole Harbour

Mark Constantine, Nick Hopper & The Sound Approach

Mark Constantine has been a friend of mine for at least 30 years and was one of the first to congratulate me on the publication of my Rare Birds in Britain tome in 1991. Over the years, we have had countless conversations and arguments over Rare Birds and it has always been very enjoyable to converse with him. He is one of the gentlemen of British birding and always strived to get himself on the birding publication trail. This he eventually achieved in the late noughties, with the first in a collection of titles under the 'Sound Approach' banner. These were high quality publications and in August 2012, the fourth and latest in the series was released - Catching the Bug.

Matt kindly weighed me down with this production at the Rutland Bird Fair on August 17th and it has taken me this long to finally get through reading the book, such is its infectiousness. It is an outstanding contribution and I cannot really do it justice in this short review.

In essence, it is generally a review of the birds and people of Poole Harbour as seen through the eyes of two keen birders - Mark and Nick. Mark first moved to Poole in 1973 after he and his partner Mo finally tired of London living and it was here that he soon found solace and solitude within the Dorset countryside. Being much of a social entrepreneur like myself, Mark was keen to ignite a keen birding framework and soon organised regular get-togethers in the local pub. Its membership soon increased - and this book is really a culmination of those early twitching days and the current day. Nick Hopper served his birding apprenticeship much later, at about the same time as that other Dorset genius James Lidster, and was soon cajoled by Mark into the glory of it all.

Catching the Bug runs to 27 chapters, basically logging Mark's Poole Harbour connections chronologically, from those regular Tuesday night pub singalongs to taping Common Cuckoos in May 2010. It is a pilgrimage of real despair and beauty and full of entertaining connotations and embroidery. The book runs to just under 300 pages and follows in exactly the same format as its three predecessors. Like those to, it concentrates somewhat on sound recordings, being accompanied by 2 CD's featuring 203 recordings of primarily British birds. I found it to be a rivetting read and very aesthetic and gentle on my ageing eye.

Although throughout the production it is full of intriguing and interesting anectodes, for me it has four stand-out features. Firstly, Killian Mullarney's input is traditionally first-rate, with some classic artwork and educational photographic material. In fact, some of the artwork is ground-breaking. And then three brilliant chapters - 4, 6 and 16. Poole Harbour is perhaps one of the strongholds of Dartford Warbler in England and clearly one of Mark and Nick's favourites and with dartfordiensis being quite different from undata, both ask whether the English Dartford should be a separate species. Killian's plate on page 46 is sumptuous and a true delight and for the first time, highlighting the differences in mantle colour between the two forms. I love artwork in this style and the very educational comments that accompany them. It surprised me too, the differences in vocalisations between the two forms, both exemplified on CD1.

Even better was Chapter 6 and its appraisal of Cormorant identification. This time Killian devotes two whole pages in explaining the differences between Atlantic Great (carbo) and Continental Great (sinensis) Cormorants and it is truly inspirational and rewarding. I wasted no time at all in getting Carmel to laminate copies of these two pages so that I could use them in the field - that man is more than genius. Again, I was intrigued by the differences in sound recordings of the two forms.

And then we reach 16 and its portrayal of Siberian Chiffchaff, based on the study of numerous wintering individuals in Poole Harbour and the culmination of field and sound recording work by Arnoud van den Berg and Sergey Gashkov in the dense boreal forests of the Tomsk region in Russia. The contact zone between tristis and abietinus was considered by Marova in 2009 to be no more than 40 miles wide and further studies have fortified that view. The accompanying CD2 reveal much about the vocalisations of tristis and I found this one chapter alone to be worth its weight in gold - a cracking shot from Arnoud too of a Dutch bird - reproduced in actual 'bird size'.

I could go on and on about this book as it is truly outstanding. I just loved it. The authors need to be congratulated for this exceptional contribution to the library.

At just £29.99 it is a steal - available directly from The Sound Approach website at www.//soundapproach.co.uk/