This guide uses an integrated photographic approach to profile the extraordinary range of birds found in the Western Palearctic region. With its comprehensive coverage, easy-to-use layout and visual impact, it should appeal to bird enthusiasts of all ages and levels of experience. The book opens with an introduction that offers a portrait of birds and their habitats. Covering evolution, anatomy and behaviour, it also describes how birds have adapted to different environments - from wetlands and rocky coasts to woodland and urban gardens. The 320 species most commonly seen in Britain and Europe have full-page coverage, comprising of a large photograph of each bird in its most frequently observed plumage with supporting images showing the most important plumage variations: adult/juvenile; male/female; and winter/summer. Additional illustrations reveal the characteristic appearance of each bird in flight, while "in situ" views portray a range of behaviours and habits. Similar-looking species and subspecies are also pictured, for comparison. In each species profile, key features are highlighted by annotation around each picture and further details of voice, nesting, feeding, migration, habitat, nomenclature, physical statistics, social grouping, behaviour, lifespan and conservation status are presented in jargon-free text. Distribution is shown in colour-coded maps. In addition to the main species, over 200 less common and peripheral birds are also illustrated and described, while a further 276 very rare and introduced species are concisely profiled.
I began watching birds as a child and made my first written notes - recording a jay in Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield - before my 12th birthday. It became serious after about the age of 15, with more than 2000 recorded visits to my 'local patch', Chasewater, in the first few years. South Staffordshire was my local area, including Chasewater, Cannock Chase and Blithfield Reservoir, but I watched birds farther afield especially in Essex and widely in the highlands of Scotland. I still rate as my best 'find' a Cory's shearwater at Chasewater in Staffordshire - as far from the sea as you can get - one calm, sunny day at the beginning of October, although the same location brought rarer birds, too, especially a least sandpiper.
I spent six years as a student/postgrad in Swansea, getting to know coastal birds much better, and beginning to travel in search of rarities - also visiting the Isles of Scilly in autumn. Following this I spent two years in mid Wales working for the RSPB before moving to the RSPB HQ in Sandy, Bedfordshire, at the beginning of 1978.
I still looked up Staffordshire as 'home' and still kept up my visits to Chasewater and my friendships there, with birdwatching colleagues who taught me a huge amount - and we travelled more in search of rare birds from time to time.
I also began to travel abroad more, leading RSPB wildlife holidays and then others for other organisations, visiting Spain, Greece, Egypt, Israel, Zimbabwe and East Africa, as well as Texas, the Seychelles and Iceland on RSPB related business; personal trips later added several winter visits to the Netherlands, Ireland, more visits to Spain, Portugal, Greece and Israel,the Canaries and Madeira, a return to Zimbabwe and various other countries from Cuba and Tobago to the USA, India and Australia. Seeing so many species abroad is exciting in itself but also adds a new perspective to those seen at home.
Gulls have always been a particular fascination, with early interests in UK yellow-legged gulls from the beginning of the 1970s (before they were really recognised as such), glaucous and Iceland gulls and Mediterranean gulls, plus ring-billed gulls from March 1973. They remain so: seeing scores of Mediterranean gulls is remarkable, now, considering how rare they once were, as well as tens/dozens of yellow-legged gulls, but searching the local roosts in Hampshire is more likely to be for Caspian gulls than glaucous or Iceland. However, I also wrote identification papers on common and arctic terns and many notes and papers in the journal 'British Birds' on subjects as varied as seabirds inland in the 1987 "hurricane", a review of the reaction of birds to rain, "herring" gulls in the West Midlands and Israel and sparrowhawk displays.
I changed my RSPB job to become editor of the youth membership magazine, 'Bird Life', commissioning artwork from the likes of the then unknown Ian Lewington, and then editor of the adult magazine, 'Birds'. This led to many more contacts with well known writers, photographers and artists as well as various personalities in and on the fringe of the conservation world. Interviews in 'Birds' ranged from Julian Pettifer and Richard Fitter (who 'invented' the field guide concept in the UK just as much as Peterson did in the USA) to David Attenborough.
At the same time I became a member of the Editorial Board of 'British Birds' and a member of the British Birds Rarities Committee, becoming Chairman for several years (and therefore also attending meetings of the BOU Records Committee in that capacity). I had already cut my teeth on record assessment and report writing in both the West Midlands and Gower.
Books came along with an Usborne guide to birds and the "prestigious" rewrite of the famous Observer's Book of Birds for Frederick Warne; then various others for an assortment of publishers, plus many articles for monthly partworks and encyclopedias. I wrote a monograph on the common tern and a behaviour guide to seabirds, and texts to accompany paintings by Terance James Bond and Trevor Boyer. The various books for Mitchell Beazley in collaboration with Peter Hayman - Mitchell Beazley pocket guides, guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Bird etc - were a highlight because of the meticulous and remarkable work by Peter Hayman (still strangely underrated but full of amazing information and brilliant paintings based on Peter's detailed researches). Bigger sellers came from Dorling Kindersley, especially the RSPB-branded photographic field guides - a revised version for 2011 promises much improvement.
I'm still working in a freelance capacity for the RSPB at times, but have now officially retired: work for DK, Reader's Digest and other publishers, plus painting and drawing, keeps me going, but I welcome more. Now living on the fringe of the New Forest, I see more birds than I have done for some years despite missing out on, for example, quick dashes to Norfolk.