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Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Pterodroma Petrels

By: Richard Bonser
Posted on: 16 Oct 2013Expires on: 31 Dec 2050

Whether it’s a distant view from a headland, or skirting that chum line on an offshore pelagic, Pterodroma petrels are undoubtedly a pinnacle of any seabirding experience – nobody reading this will have forgotten their first encounter. The nine species of the genus in the North Atlantic – Atlantic, Bermuda, Black-capped, Fea’s (including Cape Verde and Desertas), Great-winged, Kermadec , Soft-plumaged, Trindade and Zino’s – form the sole focus of this book and double-DVD set. Underpinning both media of publication are a clever mix of extensive personal experience and meticulous research on previously published information.

The book starts off with an introduction to the topography of Pterodroma petrels, taking the reader through the distinctive jizz, size, flight action and plumage. This is then followed by extensive, well-structured species accounts which discuss identification features (including extensive details of confusion species where needed), range within the Atlantic and punctuated liberally with superb photographs sourced from active seabirders across the world.

Both the authors have an enviable reputation in identifying North Atlantic seabirds, and this is obvious throughout the text. Their detailed work on ‘white-faced’, ‘intermediate’ and ‘black-faced’ Black-capped Petrels, and suggestions of differing moult timings and occurrence of breeding and wintering ranges makes this publication add value to what is already out there. Additionally, the authors’ primary research into previous Kermadec Petrel records within the region is both an interesting read and a prime example of how amateur ornithologists can apply scientific rigour.

There are also eleven ‘insets’ that cover either specific identification conundrums (including the 2009 Varanger petrel and the ‘snowy-winged’ petrel off Madeira), conservation stories (‘Saving the Bermuda Petrel’ is a mouth-watering, nostalgic read as indeed is Frank Zino’s take on his eponymous petrel from Madeira), or potential hotspots for Pterodromas in The North Atlantic, which includes details of Bermuda, Black-capped, Fea’s, Trindade and Zino’s Petrel records from The Azores. The material within the DVD adds a moving content to what is set in print and is of remarkably good quality given how difficult it is to observe seabirds in heavy seas, let alone film them. It is the level of detail that you find within the species group accounts in the book, including the Fea’s Petrel complex, that is worth the purchase price on its own.

If I had to pinpoint any areas for improvement, then it’d be a slightly jumpy layout where not all the information on a species is within the individual species’ account section. Martin Elliott’s typically outstanding drawings do not deserve to sit at the back of the book, and perhaps would be better placed either within species accounts or bridging two species when detailing identification issues between them. This, however, is nitpicking and does not detract from a fantastic publication, slotting in nicely on my bookshelf next to the authors’ previous Multimedia Identification Guide to North Atlantic Seabirds: Storm-petrels and Bulwer’s Petrel, primed for that dose of salt spray and adrenalin in the next seabird season.
Richard Bonser

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