I've flicked through and read more county bird reports than I can shake a tripod at. Some are rather dire, uninspiring, publications where even the most exciting of species are rendered flat and uninteresting and some are a curate's egg, good in parts but generally not really what they could be. Then, of course, there are those county bird reports that stand head and shoulders above the others.
I'm certainly not criticising those that spend vast amounts of time gathering records, adjudicating upon them, collating everything together and whipping it into a readable format. I know from my decade's tenure as the Inner London Recorder just how much effort goes into the putting together of a county report, even at an individual level. The collective workload is gargantuan and has traditionally been a bit of a thankless task that requires significant focus and plenty of incursions into free time. Furthermore it's wholly unpaid and woe betide to the poor species account writer who gets a date wrong.
County bird reports (regardless of quality) even in this whizzy, new-fangled, digital age still have a vital role to play. They are the record that we refer to, the place where lucky observers can lodge accounts of county firsts for posterity, where researchers into future county avifaunas will delve with interest and the natural home for papers we may wish to publish relating to our county's birds. Most (though of course not all) birders I know still welcome the thud on the doormat that signifies the arrival of the latest edition.
And so to the Shetland Bird Report for 2008. This is one of those reports I mentioned earlier that stands head and shoulders above many (unsurprising perhaps given the status of the isles in British ornithological lore). Published by the Shetland Bird Club, this slim little volume (128 pages) is a joy.
The format will be, for the most part, familiar to anyone who's invested in a bird report: the contents include a list of contributors, credits and contact details; an editorial which reports on the Breeding Bird and Wetlands Bird Surveys for 2008; a guide for record submission; a list of rarity decisions (including reports no longer considered acceptable) and unsupported records. Many county bird reports would do well to follow this 'list of decisions and unsupported records' format in the interest of openness.
There then follows the Shetland ringing report for 2008 (which covers selected species) and a good thorough seasonal summary.
We are then into the main systematic list that forms the bulk of this publication. Two nice touches instantly struck me about this list: firstly the species name is highlighted in blue and the photographs are embedded within the text. The former makes it just that bit easier to read and the latter allows the reader to look at the bird(s) he or she is currently reading about. These may seem minor points but it's little things like this that set the quality bird reports apart from the less pleasing. The list is illustrated with an impressive 111 good-quality photographs which will no doubt remind the avid Shetland birder, and visiting twitcher, of some amazing days in the field.
Amongst those species depicted are American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, King Eider, White-billed Diver, Great White Egret, Black Stork, Red-footed Falcon, American Golden Plover, Iceland, Glaucous and Ivory Gulls, Short-toed Lark, Tawny and Red-throated Pipits, Thrush Nightingale, Siberian Stonechat, Lanceolated, Aquatic, Paddyfield, Eastern Olivaceous, Syke's, Booted and Hume's Warblers, Rose-coloured Starling, Arctic Redpoll, Two-barred Crossbill and Rustic Bunting. Mouth-watering stuff.
The report concludes with the small list of escapes, a code for birders on Shetland and details relating to the Shetland Bird Club, plus a membership form.
Even for the birder who's yet to visit this ornithological hot-spot this report will be of interest — how could it fail to be! It's nicely produced and contains the 2008 story of some very desirable species indeed.
Shetland Bird Report 2008 Published 2009 by The Shetland Bird Club.
Softback. 128 pages.
RRP, £10. ISSN 1364 4149
Available from Russ Haywood, Shetland Bird Club, Lamnaberg, Wester Quarff, Shetland ZE2 9EZ. Tel: (01950) 477419.
The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides Ltd accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.