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Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East

Dick Forsman 2016. Christopher Helm, London & New York, 544 pp. (numerous colour photographs, few line drawings). Hardcover. Prijs: € 46,50.


I will begin with the bottom line: every keen birder must have this book. If you bought its classic predecessor The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East (T&AD Poyser 1999), then you should get this one too. If you are new to birding but want to master the identification of the kings of the sky, this book has no substitute. It is one of those epic books that will find its place on shelves in so many libraries.

Forsman's first raptor book from 1999 was groundbreaking back then in its clarity, quality of images, and informative text. This new book takes it one step higher and is a deserved upgrade. As Forsman writes in the introduction, in almost all cases identification is possible based on the colour plates and the corresponding caption text. Therefore the emphasis in this book on top-quality images in apparent. Indeed, all images are of superior quality, and demonstrate exactly what the author had intended to demonstrate. Digital photography has developed considerably since the 1990's, and this development makes the book very attractive. Forsman is a talented photographer, and most images are his own. He did collect an impressive back-up from several leading WP photographers, and even rare species such as Pallas's Fish Eagle are magnificently portrayed here.
This is a 'no-messing-around' book. It is focused on identification, and provides very little 'holistic' information. The book begins with a short introduction that zooms in very quickly on the matters of flight identification. Then there are two invited review chapters that at least to my taste don't quite fit with the flow of the book. The first chapter about hotspots for watching raptor migration by Hawkwatching guru Keith Bildstein and Anna Sandor is essential and gives very clear information, but could have benefited from an orientation map. The second mini review is by Ian Newton, who needs no introduction. It gives an important overview about ecology of raptor migration, but I felt it is somewhat detached from the main theme of this book - identification. However it is of course very well written and is worth reading in any context.

The main text body of the book includes 66 species accounts, and 17 additional sections dealing with complicated similar species, hybrids etc. These additional accounts are in my eyes the most prominent advantage of this book. Forsman did not detour around complicated identification issues, such as hybrid Greater x Lesser Spotted Eagles, 'Gibraltar Buzzard' or eastern variants of Black Kite. This book deals head-on with these toughest issues, and offers clear pointers to crack them open. Forsman's personal qualities, in detail and clarity, are evident here. The additional 23 species added to this book are extremely important additions. Some are rare vagrants to the region, such as Scissor-tailed Kite or Hooded Vulture. However some additions address species that occur regularly in the Middle East, such as Crested Honey-buzzard, that are not covered with sufficient detail in general regional bird guides or in the previous raptor book. Here both honey-buzzard species and their hybrids are dealt with in great detail. Personally, I am very happy to see the 'Asian' Black-winged Kites (vociferus) included in this book. This taxon is colonizing the Middle East quickly and certainly is a potential vagrant to central Europe, having already been recorded in Cyprus and European Turkey. In most species subspecies accounts are elaborated, and it was especially interesting to read about Steppe Merlins, Taiga Peregrines and Atlas Long-legged Buzzard.

The main text for each species is generally concise and well structured - packed with useful information but not too long. I would be happy to see references from the main text to specific images demonstrating identification features. I would also appreciate more detail in distribution, as understanding 'where and when' species are possible is crucial for identification of tricky species.

But all in all, I think that this book has achieved its goal, and elevates significantly above all other field guides and above the 1999 book. It brings current raptor identification knowledge to a rather complex position. Several open questions remain, such as which subspecies of Shikra occurs in the Middle East, or what proportion of claimed Crested Honey-buzzards in migration hotspots like Batumi and Israel are pure and not hybrids? In this respect, this book makes raptor identification more complex now, with the multitude of information presented here serving as food for thought. But it certainly delivers this influx of information in a clear and concise structure.
It is a rather pricey book, but to my opinion its value is great. It is one of these books that will not be outdated for many years to come, perhaps until Forsman publishes a third edition in another 17 years?

Yoav Perlman



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