The Swedish ornithologist Lars Svensson (1941) and the Israel born ornithologist Hadoram Shirihal (1962) have written the best ever Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds.
This handbook is sure to be the bird book publishing handbook if 2018. Eighteen years in making after extensive research, exhaustive travel two volumes on passerines are finally here. Two more books on non-passerine birds follow in due course.
This spectacular handbook is the most complete and comprehensive photographic guide to the passerines of the Western Paleaecric. it contains the most up-to-date information available on bird identification covering all aspects of plumage, moult, ageing and sexing, with sections on voice and other identification criteria as well as detailed taxonomic notes.
Identification and taxonomy
Focusing on identification and taxonomy, the handbook aims to be the most complete and profusely illustrated photographic guide to Western Palearctic birds. It has a ‘birdwatcher-friendly’ approach as well as being useful for museum workers and other professionals. It includes the whole of Iran and Arabia but correspondingly shrinks coverage in the Sahara by following the southern borders of Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Any species recorded at least ten times in the region by the end of 2016 is afforded full treatment, those with fewer records being listed in an Appendix.
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The passerines are divided into two volumes, with the first covering larks, hirundines, pipits and wagtails, bulbuls, accentors, robins, chats, wheatears, thrushes, prinias and cisticolas, and warblers. The second is covering flycatchers, reedlings, tits, nuthatches, orioles and sunbirds, shrikes, corvids, finches and buntings, along with extreme vagrants.
Time for a new handbook of BWP
The two ornithologists decided it was time for a handbook entirely illustrated with photographs. Camera standards had developed significantly in the 90s, and through the internet more and more brilliant bird photographs were shared. All species are portrayed within a large region with all plumages and geographical variation covered in photographs with brief summaries of the various subspecies that were deemed distinct enough to be upheld.
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Many subspecies in most contemporary handbooks and checklists are extremely subtle or even impossible to separate from neighboring subspecies, and the authors set off to independently check the validity of all subspecies in museum collections. Applying the so-called ‘75% rule’ (meaning that at least 3/4 of all individuals should be possible to distinguish based on morphology) they ended up discarding c. 15% of all subspecies as synonyms compared to other handbooks and major checklists.
Exceptional text and photographs
The exceptional text is backed up by a remarkable collection of more than 5,000 photographs, featuring a comprehensive range of plumages that illustrate every race and morph of each species in the region. The authors attempt to achieve what they call a ‘sensible balance’ between maintaining the status quo and adopting every new taxonomic development.
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The reader will quickly find that some of the taxa recently split by IOC (such as Stejneger’s Stonechat, Eastern Yellow Wagtail and Gran Canaria Blue Chaffinch) do not feature here as full species. Surprisingly in this context the authors split Western and Eastern Subalpine Warblers.
Swedish Ornithologist has Co-written Influential Handbook of Western Palearctic Birding
Most handbooks of BWP (Birds of the Western Palearctic) were made some 20-30 years ago when it was still possible to squeeze information into one project – on distribution, population estimates, atlas, ecology, seasonal biology, behavior, voice, and so on, as well as identification and variation (but with generally only very basic illustrations and paintings, so an updated modern handbook of these issues was indeed needed. This stunning handbook will be the definitive reference for the region for years to come – no birder’s shelf will be complete without it.
“Few books have generated such a buzz before being published … this is one of the most important and potentially influential books of this decade. Its high standards shine through every page … A top-quality publication,” wrote Yoav Perlman in Dutch Birding
Lars Gunnar Georg Svensson (1941)
is a Swedish ornithologist who received an honorary degree from the Uppsala University in 2004. He specializes in the identification of passerine birds. In 2008 he published a paper on the poorly known large-billed reed-warbler (Acrocephalus orinus) which “dramatically changed ornithological perception of the Large-billed Reed Warbler”.
Hadoram Shirihai (1962)
grew up in Jerusalem where he became fascinated with birds when he was 13 and spent much time documenting shorebird behavior, raptor breeding biology and participating in bird migration surveys. In the 1980s and 1990s, he lived in Eilat on Israel’s Red Sea coast, where he founded the International Birdwatching Center, becoming its first director.
Feature image (on top): Hadoram photographing a large group of audouins gulls in the strait of Gibraltar
Swedish Ornithologist has Co-written Handbook of Western Palearctic Birding, written by Tor Kjolberg