Birds of South-east Scotland 2007-13

As a young birder, I often find myself wondering what I should expect, what I shouldn’t expect (of course, the answer is to expect the unexpected but we can have educated guesses), what might have once been, where I should go for a spot of birding… Where better to find such information than a local bird atlas? Fortunately for me, my home county of Lothian, alongside the Scottish Borders, are now covered by such a publication: Birds in South-east Scotland 2007-13.

This is an exciting part of Scotland to have covered by its own atlas, as it is the forefront of many species’ northward expansion into the country. The exciting nature of birdwatching in this part of Scotland is clear to see in this text that covers the range expansion of many typically more southern species into the farmland, woodland and moorland of Lothian and Borders: nightjar, nuthatch, little ringed plover and more are all welcome additions to the avifauna of the area. The atlas also notes that this addition of species has been nearly equalled by the loss of breeding species, particularly waders, woodland and farmland birds.

Going against the guidance and judging this book by its cover gives you the sense that this is a very professional amalgamation of huge amounts of data with a very clear layout and high production quality; and you wouldn’t be wrong. Compiling so much information into one book is no mean feat but this book had an experienced team behind it, ensuring it reached a high standard.

Opening the book, you are greeted by a familiar layout (seen in the highly regarded Birds of Scotland Vols. 1 & 2) with the introduction being followed by extensive description of factors affecting the distribution of birds in south-east Scotland. This covers the physical geography, weather and each habitat found across the two counties, and a critical analysis of the techniques used to gather data for the atlas itself.

The introduction points out that the atlas perhaps lacks in-depth analysis of what the maps mean for the species but the earlier chapters cover all I’d expect, with evaluation of the changes to species’ distributions laid out in its own section and other pieces of analysis mentioned throughout the text. Presenting the raw data so clearly and making it easily accessible in this text should facilitate others to carry out their own studies.

Beyond this come the species accounts that, as would be expected, form the bulk of the text. These are excellently laid out with the information clear to see: text and images on the left and maps, charts and tables on the right. The accounts clearly lay out all that one would expect from a comprehensive text with a standard format that is easy to get used to, and allows the reader to quickly find particular snippets of information that they may be searching for. Maps are easily interpretable with sufficient analysis of these to allow the reader an insight into the population trends of each species. Maps cover (where appropriate) breeding and wintering distribution as well as the change across two winter atlases and three breeding atlases. Charts also often show the changes in altitude across the year.

The text, as already stated, is clearly laid out in a standard format, with a general overview of the species’ status, its breeding grounds, the changes in its status between the seasons and over time and, in some places, speculation about future possibilities.

The main species accounts are then followed by a round-up of all the other oddities, whether these be rare migrants, wanderers or occasional exotics that all add to the diversity of species recorded in south-east Scotland. For those looking for full-on statistical data, this can all be found towards the back of the book where more extensive WeBS data, rookeries and other pieces of interesting information can be found.

This is an excellent publication that sets a high standard for other atlases to follow. Its publication will hopefully see it used to inform future decisions and policy in terms of how we manage our corner of Scotland with wildlife in mind. The declines and opportunities identified by the data collected and its interpretation by the authors will hopefully be addressed. The book itself is a great achievement that will be of great use to anybody that has an interest in the populations of birds in south-east Scotland. The production quality combined with the clarity of accounts makes this book well worth the £40. The Birds of South-east Scotland 2007-13 is a fitting tribute to the late Ray Murray, whose dedication to and enthusiasm for the bird life of this part of Scotland is echoed in the pages of this atlas.

You can purchase the atlas on the Scottish Ornithologists' Club website


Gus Routledge
12 March 2019

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