Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic
The popularity of rare birds is as great now as it has ever been. The most important recent work covering British rarities appeared in 2007, when Russell Slack summarised and analysed records of rare passerines in the first volume of the big-selling Rare Birds: Where and When. With this new book, Marcel Haas broadens the geographic scope to the Western Palearctic but simplifies the formula, with a different take on describing the region’s rarest vagrants.
The author has previously co-written a number of papers in Dutch Birding examining, and occasionally removing, species from the regional list. Extremely Rare Birds is a natural progression of this work, documenting all those species which have occurred in Europe, North Africa and the Middle East on fewer than 10 occasions. It doesn’t provide a statistical and narrative analysis, but rather presents for the record a comprehensive listing of the 155 species involved, with full details of the occurrences of each given alongside a summary of distribution and a potted account of its history in the region.
Almost all of the species are illustrated with photos – some inevitably only as museum specimens – and a number of the images are published here for the first time. Particularly ‘gripping’ are the likes of Swallow-tailed Kite in the Azores, Iceland’s trio of Empidonax flycatchers and Black-throated Blue Warblers there and on the Azores, while rather more tragic are the weak, dead or stuffed Striped and African Crakes, or the specimen Crested and Parakeet Auklets that didn’t make it back to the Pacific from Iceland and Sweden respectively.
In one or two places I found the presentation of records slightly confusing. The period covered is stated in the introduction as 1800-2008 but, for example, the panels detailing records for Yellow-throated and Philadelphia Vireos give only two and three records respectively, whereas accepted records published elsewhere for the Azores indicate the totals should be at least one higher in both instances. These records are actually mentioned in the background narrative, so perhaps the discrepancy is because they were accepted after the manuscript was submitted.
Nitpicking aside, there is much of interest in this book. I hadn’t appreciated that the sole accepted WP record of Relict Gull related to a flock of 14 (!) birds on the Russian border with Kazakhstan, or that the region’s first Yellow-browed Bunting was trapped as long ago as autumn 1827 inland in France. And it’s good to get another look at the La Palma waterthrush, originally published in 1992 as a Northern, then accepted as the sole WP Louisiana, but still controversial to this day for some.
Every rarity enthusiast should have a copy of this title for reference and it is no surprise that it has been flying off the shelves in the Birdwatch Bookshop since it was published. Highly recommended.
• Extremely Rare Birds in the Western Palearctic by Marcel Haas (Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, 2012).
• 244 pages, more than 300 colour photos.
• ISBN 9788496553835. Hbk, approx £24.50. Birdwatch Bookshop from £22.99.
Available from Birdwatch Bookshop