Too many places, too little time - and, more importantly, not enough money! That is the challenge that faces all of us when we think of the many countries we could travel to in order to watch birds. Recently I looked closely at the brochure of a well-known birding tour operator and catalogued all of the trips I would really like to take over the next 20 years. The list covered forty places and the cost was nearly £170,000 at today's prices. So at 35p per location this book offers you the best alternative - and you (and your bank manager) can take pride in your low-carbon option.
Take a group of birdwatchers and their choices for the 100 top locations will be different, and Dominic Couzens recognises that his decisions will create debate. This book is divided into geographical regions, and then within those each site is described over three pages with about 1000 words of text and some impressive photographs plus a small map.
Most of us simply don't have the time, money, dedication or good health to travel the globe, so rather than discuss the long haul destinations I thought I'd discuss the short haul suggestions so you can get a feel for what is recommended. Most of these can be reached on relatively cheap flights from the UK.
In the UK we have so much choice, but who could argue with the choice of North Norfolk? The Outer Hebrides are another choice (but I think I'd have gone for the Shetland Isles!). France does well with three top sites. Rather like North Norfolk, nobody can argue that the Carmargue is anything other than fantastic. Similarly the and Lac du Der-Chantecoq and its neighbouring forests are a splendid place to see wintering Common Cranes and White-tailed Eagles. In the Pyrenees the French area of Organbidexka Col Libre is selected. Actually just the Pyrenees themselves might have been just as good although a bit vague. I think the Waddensee in the Netherlands is another good choice. Spain gets just two sites - the Coto Donana and Extremadura. I think I'd have tried to include part of Catalonia (such as the Ebro Delta), as it is the only region in Europe where bird racers see more than 200 species in 24 hours! Other good choices are the Po Delta in Italy, Falsterbo in Sweden (for migration), Oulu in Finland and Bialowieza Forest in Poland (both for owls). For those who like winter wildfowl the Varanger Peninsula in Norway is another good choice. The Danube Delta is included for the two countries it straddles - Romania and the Ukraine. Finally there are a few that I find surprising. Lake Myvatn in Iceland didn't excite me when I visited, and I wonder if Matsalu Bay in Estonia and the High Tatras National Park in Slovakia are good enough given that we can only have 100 in the world. Others may feel differently.
So Europe has 17 sites. Asia (including the Middle East) accounts for 19, Africa has 17, Australasia has 9, Antarctica has just one (South Georgia), South America has 13, Central America and the Caribbean have 7 and finally North America accounts for 17.
The debate will go on, but my overall feeling is that the choices made are sensible. Within Asia I think I would have found a way to include the Royal Chitwan National Park in Nepal and maybe Khao Yai or Doi Inthanon in Thailand, plus the Tibetan Plateau. In Africa I'd have included Mount Kupe in Cameroon. As a fan of the Middle East I think it deserves its own category - and I'd have added Yemen and Socotra. In North America I think I'd have included part of Alaska and no doubt the Canadians would have nominated more than just Churchill and Niagara Falls to represent them.
So the book has succeeded - not only does it inform and delight, but it makes you think about the choices. About five years ago I had an idle plan to write a book like this. I am now kicking myself that I never developed the idea - but had I done so I would have been proud to have produced something as attractive as this.