At first glance this might appear to be simply a book about the birds of Poole Harbour in Dorset, but (as with anything that involves Mark Constantine) it is somewhat bigger and more complex! If you are familiar with other books that he has produced you'll know that his approach is "different". Yes, you will learn a lot about the harbour and what birds can see there, but be prepared for Mark to go off on a tangent at any moment!
To a degree the book does chart the history of the world's largest natural Harbours over the last 10,000 years since the last Ice Age, but it is really about the discussions of a bunch of Dorset birders in various pubs over twenty years. It explores their excitement and frustrations, and many of us will recognize the debates. It may be about Poole Harbour, but it could be based on many of the major coastal regions of Britain. The issues that these birders have debated over many drinks are brought to life here across 27 chapters.
For example, can the Dartford Warbler be described as Britain's first endemic bird (based on its presence here just after the last Ice Age and our race dartfordiensis being very restricted in range)? What are the vocal differences of the carbo and sinensis races of Cormorant? How does the call of a female Dartford Warbler differ from that of the male? And do female Nightjars ever churr? Also what are the absolutely perfect conditions for visible migration? And where should you watch from in which conditions? Should we be searching for Cabot's Tern amongst our Sandwich Terns? Plus there are conservation issues to debate - such as "what's caused the decline of our farmland birds?"
The book also takes a close look at several other enigmatic species and discusses them in detail - such as Woodlark, Hobby and Common Chiffchaff. In fact on the CDs there are 13 recordings of the tristis race of the latter - which most people refer to as Siberian Chiffchaff. You can compare these against the brevirostris and caucasicus races. Throughout there are great photos, plus some really attractive plates by Killian Mullarney.
Mark Constantine is obsessed about sounds and 203 high quality stereo recordings are included with this book. They help to give a feel for a year's birding in Poole Harbour - the calls of passing waders, and the flight calls of various small passerines, or the beautiful dawn chorus of a Dorset woodland. But the real value is that many of these sounds have never been published before. All of the tracks on the CDs have accompanying sonograms. I particularly liked the recordings of call notes given by birds as they pass over on migration. Where else can you get all of these together in one place? The answer is "nowhere".
Many of us watch a local patch and probably never ask ourselves enough searching questions about the birds that we see. By taking the questions asked by birders in Dorset this book finds most of the answers and asks a whole load of new questions on top. It is a bit quirky, and certainly a lot easier to understand if you happen to be part of a similar gang that goes to the pub to debate the rights and wrongs of birding! Once again The Sound Approach team have come up with a great book, and probably their best so far.