The Bird Book For Shetland

by Alastair Hamilton -

Discover Shetland’s Birds: A Photographic Guide to Shetland’s Breeding, Wintering and Migrant Birds, by Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason

Shetland is, by any standard, a great place to watch birds. Almost 1,700 miles of coastline offer a range of habitats for everything from cliff-nesting gannets to a wide range of waders. Inland, there’s meadow, moorland, some woodland and many gardens, providing just what’s needed to attract a good variety of species.

Bird life changes through the seasons; for example, in winter, there are large numbers of ducks (especially Eider, Long-tailed Duck and Goldeneye) and, in summer, Shetland is much the most important UK breeding site for the Red-necked Phalarope. During the spring and autumn migration periods, the variety of birds that pass through Shetland attracts many birdwatchers from outside the islands and keeps local observers very busy. Every year, there are always some real rarities that make landfall in Shetland after being blown here from all over Europe and North America. Indeed, as I was writing this, I heard that no fewer than seven bee-eaters had been spotted at Veensgarth, in the central mainland.

Every year, there are always some real rarities...

Despite such a rich and varied species list, Shetland has lacked its own illustrated bird guide – until now. Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason have filled the gap with an absolutely superb book. In over 200 pages, they describe and illustrate 180 species.

...an absolutely superb book...

The text is clear and concise, but manages to convey lots of information; every bird is fully described, but there’s also lots of interesting detail reflecting research into migration and breeding. There’s a generous sprinkling of interesting anecdotes, too, such as the story of the ill-conceived attempt to rid China of tree sparrows (which eat grain) in the 1950s. Removing the sparrows increased the numbers of crop-eating insects, so the project was entirely self-defeating and the sparrow was eventually rehabilitated.

There’s a generous sprinkling of interesting anecdotes...

There are more than 400 illustrations in the book, more than three-quarters of them by Rebecca Nason, with contributions by several other well-known Shetland bird photographers. All of the photography is excellent and the generous format allows it to be properly displayed; this isn’t a pocket book.. There is also a very helpful guide to bird identification, a site-by-site outline of what may be seen where and a comprehensive checklist that includes every species that has been recorded in Shetland up to early 2015. For the relatively inexpert observer like me, it helps to sort the probable from the unlikely and the (almost) impossible.

This book is a delight; it looks beautiful and it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, too. Paul and Rebecca deserve great credit for producing it.

Discover Shetland’s Birds: A Photographic Guide to Shetland’s Breeding, Wintering and Migrant Birds, by Paul Harvey and Rebecca Nason, published by Shetland Heritage Publications at £19.99 (paperback) or £24.99 (hardback).

This book is a delight...

Posted in: Heritage