on 6 August 2009
Following on from their impressive Birds of Malawi (Turaco Press 2006) this is another fine work from the formidable Dowsetts that advances our knowledge of the African avifauna. It is in fact the sixth account of the birds of Zambia in about 70 years but goes far beyond its predecessors in describing and mapping the distribution of over 750 species. The work on the distribution maps started in the early 1970s when the late Dylan Aspinwall was a major driving force behind Zambian ornithology. An Atlas project was started in 1975 and records were included up to 2007. Over time these records have been added by a succession of ornithologists, many of whom have been posted to the country for professional reasons - not least the Dowsetts. The result is a very extensive assessment of status and distribution which benefits from being very up to date, particularly through an upsurge in local activity in the late 1990s.
Accounts are given for all known species on the Zambian list and colour maps are provided for all 626 known breeders and around 100 migrants. Vagrants are included but do not benefit from a map. Each account covers distribution, ecology, status, breeding dates, and taxonomy. But the maps are the real prize, with 303
squares covering 30 x 30 minutes each (about 53 km x 55 km).
Zambia is a large country and is three times the size of the UK, although at 750,000 sq km it is still only a third of the size of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Despite a reasonable road network much of it is remote and difficult to visit. Many of the 19 national parks are quite isolated, and in total they cover 8.5% of the country and around 95% of the bird species.
The species overlap between Zambia and other neighbouring countries (particularly Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo) is considerable, but by comparison it is a relatively safe destination. Of particular interest are 64 species that are confined to the Zambezian region of endemism - 57 of which occur in Zambia itself with its woodlands, dry forests and flooded dambos. Sixteen pages of colour photographs illustrate the habitats of some of the country's key species including its only endemic, the near-threatened Chaplin's Barbet, and also Africa's most localised parrot, the vulnerable Black-cheeked Lovebird.
An extensive introduction describes all of the main habitat types and climatic considerations. There is also a lot of information on the pioneers of Zambian ornithology, including those who have achieved so much in the last decade. As might be expected from the authors, this book is authoritative and clear, providing concise information in a way that allows it to be quickly interpreted. A gazetteer of around 800 sites is included together with references from over 900 sources.
To date relatively few bird tour companies have given much prominence to Zambia - perhaps because of the lack of endemics. Those choosing to organise their own visits have been looking for detailed distributional data. Now they have it in a book that is a great example of comprehensive but efficient coverage.