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PETER SPIERENBURG 2005 Birds in Bhutan - status and distribution.

DB 28 (2) 2006
Oriental Bird Club (OBC), PO Box 324, Bedford
MK42 0WG, UK; e-mail,
website 383 pp. Hardback. ISBN
0-9529545-1-6. GBP 45.00 (Europe).

Bhutan has long been one of the most politically isolated
countries. Only since a few years, the small
Himalayan kingdom has cautiously opened up to the
rest of the world. This has resulted, amongst other
things, in an increase of birding visitors, especially by
organized birding trips by some of the world's major
traveling companies. As a result, the information about
the status and distribution of birds has increased dramatically
in recent times. This book covers all 645 species
recorded in Bhutan up to 2004 with 950 maps and
graphics backing up the species accounts, providing a
detailed overview of the geographical, altitudinal and
seasonal distribution. With altitudes ranging from 150
to almost 8000 m, the avifauna is remarkably rich for
such a small country (in size comparable with
Switzerland). This is also influenced by the fact that
Bhutan has been spared from large scale agricultural or
industrial developments, leaving most of the country's
biodiversity intact. While most of Asia's bird habitats
(forests) are being and have been decimated, Bhutan is
the exception to the rule because of its lack of deforestation
and the government's commitment to preserve
wildlife; 60% is now forested and, by law, will remain
forested. Bhutan has the highest percentage of ecological
preserves in the world; over 26% of the area is
designated for environmental conservation. Birds can
be found from the glacial alpine regions of the north to
the tropics and grasslands of the south.
The book offers exactly what the title promises: for
every species, an overview of records in time and place
is presented, with maps and clear graphics illustrating
the altitudinal distribution of every species throughout
the year. The use of two supporting colours in the maps
and graphics make them easy to 'read'. Throughout the
text, small black-and-white drawings by different artists
enliven the text (colour illustrations of most bird species
recorded in Bhutan can be found in the field guide
Birds of Bhutan (Inskipp et al 1999)). Of course, the
distribution maps are influenced by the fact that most
birding groups tend to follow the same itinerary and
visit Bhutan in the same time of the year (April-May
being favourite) but the author succeeds well to compose
a complete picture, even if data are limited.
The attractiveness of Bhutan as a birding destination
is the combination of a rich Himalayan avifauna and
unspoiled natural scenery. The target species for which
the country is best known is Black-necked Crane Grus
wintering in the temperate Phobjikha valley
highland marshes but several of the other 644 species
dealt with in the book are equally rare or just as hard to
find worldwide, such as Rufous-necked Hornbill
Aceros nipalensis that occurs in the lush tropical rain
forests of the south. Other species rare elsewhere are
White-bellied Heron Ardea insignis and Beautiful
Nuthatch Sitta formosa. The species sequence and
taxonomy follow OBC's An annotated checklist of the
birds of the Oriental region (Inskipp et al 1996). This
sequence will be unfamiliar to most readers, with, eg,
Yellow-rumped Honey-guide Indicator xanthonotus
and woodpeckers Picidae following directly after the
Anatidae and button-quails Turnix, raptors being
placed after gulls Laridae, and these being followed by
grebes Podicipedidae, cormorants Phalacrocoracidae
and herons Ardeidae, and the crows Corvidae being
almost up front within the songbirds - without the
index, I would still be browsing to find some of the
species I wanted to check...
Apart from the species accounts, separate chapters
describe the methodology used to collect and assess
observations, the history of bird study in Bhutan (starting
with the first collecting expedition in 1837-38),
habitats, migration and seasonality, threats and conservation,
a glossary of local geographical names, an
update to 2004 (including two new species for Bhutan
received too late to be included in the main text), an
overview of birding sites in Bhutan and an extensive
list of references, including several unpublished trip
This is the first book published by the OBC since the
club's checklist in 1996. Funding has come from the
Bertram Smythies Memorial Fund. It is a remarkable
achievement for a single author (Peter Spierenburg
from Katwijk, the Netherlands), who lived in Bhutan for
more than five years while developing the plan to produce
this book. Some readers probably would have
preferred to see a selection of photographs from the
main birding habitats, birding hotspots and - especially
- some of the 'key species'. This, however, would
probably have raised the price even higher. This high
price apart, I can only just recommend this book to any
birder with a special interest in the Oriental or Himalayan
region. ENNO B EBELS



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