Catching the Bug

A précis of the concerns, puzzles and conundrums set by the natural world to a group of obsessive birders who have been meeting in a pub in Poole over the last 20 years.
£29.95

The latest Sound Approach title, Catching The Bug by Mark Constantine and Nick Hopper
is available now!
Head to our reviews section to have a read and see what everyone has to say about this
ground breaking new title.

Read how tens of thousands of birds secretly migrate through the area, and teach yourself
the fascinating range of chirps, cheeps and chacks for helping you discover similar migrant
corridors near your home.
Learn the flight calls of these migrant songbirds from original stereo recordings, illustrated
and explained using annotated sonograms.

Explore the idea of the Dartford Warbler being Britain’s first endemic species, along with
the differences between Atlantic and Continental Great Cormorants, and the role sound
has in Common Cuckoo conservation.
Listen to the sounds of waders as they come and go with the tide, while enjoying the author’s
stories of bird racing, year listing and being stopped by the police for possession of a super
ray gun.

As with all our books two free CDs are included, packed with high quality digital recordings
really bringing Catching the Bug to life.

Samples:

Dartford Warbler Image Small
Dartford Warbler
Calls of a male
 

Reviews

IBIS JOURNAL

‘What is this book?’ I asked myself, but I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. It could be perceived as a glorified diary of over 20 years of dedicated birding. Equally, it could be seen as an educational tool to help improve birding by ear and inspire people to appreciate the wildlife of their local area. However, if your local area happens to be one of the most picturesque and biodiverse parts of England, it isn’t surprising that the latest in the Sound Approach series offers much more than the title suggests. Like previous publications, it is arranged in a landscape A4 hardback format, with 2 CDs stored inside the front cover. These contain 98 self-recorded tracks of bird songs, calls and soundscapes, which accompany a wonderful array of high-quality images, annotated sonograms and maps. The 27 chapters cover a diversity of topics, ranging from the ancient history of Poole Harbour, through detailed studies of the area’s Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata, wintering Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and breeding Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus, to visible migration, wetland bird surveys, and bird races. Throughout are high-quality plates provided by Killian Mullarney. While each chapter stands alone and could be read over a coffee, the underlying theme of the book is a thorough appreciation of the harbour’s natural history, with a focus on the conservation of the area’s birds in the face of climate change and human disturbance. Although some may see the guide as slightly selfindulgent (containing photographs of weddings and beers at the pub, for example), this just adds to the picture that the book paints: a community of passionate and skilled field naturalists that the reader can relate to. In this sense, the guide is as much a story as a learning tool. However, learning bird sounds is much easier if they can be put into context. For me, one of the greatest achievements of this book is to provide a guide in which the reader can contextualize the songs and calls on the accompanying CDs. There is also humour throughout, though perhaps not all of this will have universal appeal. One minor improvement might be to have the calls available to download in MP3 format, so they can be listened to on a portable device. With the excellent Sound Approach and The Birds of Poole Harbour websites (the latter launched to coincide with the release of this book), I wouldn’t be surprised if recordings were available online soon. Poole Harbour is a special place for me. Growing up, I spent every sunny day of the summer holidays I could there. This book brings back happy memories of searching for Dartford Warblers and Nightjars, Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia and Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. While part of me wants to keep it under wraps, I am sure this excellent book will inspire people to go down and appreciate what has to be one of the best yearround birding sites in Britain.

Ross Crates

WILEY ONLINE LIBRARY

Constantine, M., Hopper, N. & The Sound Approach. Catching the Bug: A Sound Approach Guide to the Birds of Poole Harbour. 2 accompanying CDs, 290 pages, numerous colour photographs, maps, paintings, drawings and sonograms. Poole: The Sound Approach, 2012. Hardback, £29.95, ISBN 978-90-810933-0-9. Websites: http://www.soundapproach.co.uk, http://www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk.

‘What is this book?’ I asked myself, but I couldn't come up with a definitive answer. It could be perceived as a glorified diary of over 20 years of dedicated birding. Equally, it could be seen as an educational tool to help improve birding by ear and inspire people to appreciate the wildlife of their local area. However, if your local area happens to be one of the most picturesque and biodiverse parts of England, it isn't surprising that the latest in the Sound Approach series offers much more than the title suggests.

Like previous publications, it is arranged in a landscape A4 hardback format, with 2 CDs stored inside the front cover. These contain 98 self-recorded tracks of bird songs, calls and soundscapes, which accompany a wonderful array of high-quality images, annotated sonograms and maps. The 27 chapters cover a diversity of topics, ranging from the ancient history of Poole Harbour, through detailed studies of the area's Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata, wintering Chiffchaffs Phylloscopus collybita and breeding Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus, to visible migration, wetland bird surveys, and bird races. Throughout are high-quality plates provided by Killian Mullarney. While each chapter stands alone and could be read over a coffee, the underlying theme of the book is a thorough appreciation of the harbour's natural history, with a focus on the conservation of the area's birds in the face of climate change and human disturbance.

Although some may see the guide as slightly self-indulgent (containing photographs of weddings and beers at the pub, for example), this just adds to the picture that the book paints: a community of passionate and skilled field naturalists that the reader can relate to. In this sense, the guide is as much a story as a learning tool. However, learning bird sounds is much easier if they can be put into context. For me, one of the greatest achievements of this book is to provide a guide in which the reader can contextualize the songs and calls on the accompanying CDs. There is also humour throughout, though perhaps not all of this will have universal appeal.

One minor improvement might be to have the calls available to download in MP3 format, so they can be listened to on a portable device. With the excellent Sound Approach and The Birds of Poole Harbour websites (the latter launched to coincide with the release of this book), I wouldn't be surprised if recordings were available online soon.

Poole Harbour is a special place for me. Growing up, I spent every sunny day of the summer holidays I could there. This book brings back happy memories of searching for Dartford Warblers and Nightjars, Spoonbills Platalea leucorodia and Little Egrets Egretta garzetta. While part of me wants to keep it under wraps, I am sure this excellent book will inspire people to go down and appreciate what has to be one of the best year-round birding sites in Britain.

Ross Crates

WEST COUNTRY MAGAZINE

West Country Magazine
Stephen Smith sings the praises of a group of birders from Poole after reading their latest book about their ground-breaking work based on sound recordings

In 2000, Mark Constantine, founder of Lush Cosmetics, founded The Sound Approach with Arnoud van den Berg and Magnus Robb and set out to record every species of bird in the Western Palearctic, a region composed of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. The Sound Approach has been recording ever since, amassing over 55,000 recordings. In 2006, Mark founded an independent publishing company that produces books committed to his vision of popularising birdsong, of turning bird watchers into bird listeners. His latest books are a précis of the concerns, puzzles and conundrums set by the natural world to a group of amateur birders meeting over 20 years in a pub in Poole, his home patch.

As the name suggests, the group has taken a wholly new approach to bird study based on sound recording aided by modern technology, with the aim of seeing what can be discovered by using sound rather than visual observation as the primary method. The group has now published four books, all of which include CDs of bird recordings and a wealth of sonograms, many of which are annotated with multi-coloured captions. The first book, simply entitled The Sound Approach to Birding established the unusual format and the light-hearted, anecdotal style which has become the hallmark of the series. The latest publication Catching the Bug, written jointly by Mark Constantine and fellow Dorset birder, Nick Hopper, deals with the birds of Poole Harbour.

The wetland birds of the harbour are listened to rather than looked at, and the scope of the bookextends to land-based birds typical of the heaths such as the Dartford warbler. The book is beautifully illustrated with photographs, many of them by Nick, and with colour plates by Killian Mullarney.

A large amount of the content is devoted to the findings of The Sound Approach. There is a lot of local history and prehistory going back as far as the Ice Ages. The book contains some original ideas on the specific status of the Dartford warbler and the races of cormorant, and considers their implications for conservation. Finally, and I suspect most interestingly for many of us, it contains some of the tales of the tribe– the birders of Poole. There is much about the different approaches taken by different people to the craft, whether their focus is listing, international travel, surveys, conservation, ringing, patch watching, photography, writing, sound recording, visual identification or taxonomy. There are brief written sketches of the personalities, and much of it deals with the group which has met at various pubs in Poole since 1988.

The ‘pub group’ is a very disparate group of extraordinary people, all with expertise in their own fields. There have been real achievements, such as the different systematic surveys of the huge and complex area of the harbour, and the editing of the Dorset Bird Report by different people. Members have made real contributions to ornithology and conservation elsewhere in Britain and in distant parts of the world, and of course there has been the setting-up of The Sound Approach. The pub meetings have given us something special: opportunities to learn from one another in ways that completely disprove the widely-held assumption that birders are socially inept people obsessed with a children’s hobby. We owe a huge amount to Mark for starting the pub meetings so long ago, and for sharing his wide-ranging network of contacts, so that some of the most highly-regarded observers in the world have become our mentors and friends.

Mark modestly says that much of what he has included about the tales of the tribe is subjective, but in fact I couldn’t find anything that didn’t ring true. This book is something that we needed; something that brings together all that we have been blessed with over a long period. In many ways it provides the mythology, the much needed affirmation of our shared culture and tradition. In the end, tradition becomes a celebration of life.

LEE G R EVANS 400 CLUB

Lee G R Evans 400 Club
Product Review: CATCHING THE BUG by Mark Constantine and Nick Hopper
 
Mark Constantine has been a friend of mine for at least 30 years and was one of the first to congratulate me on the publication of my Rare Birds in Britain tome in 1991. Over the years, we have had countless conversations and arguments over Rare Birds and it has always been very enjoyable to converse with him. He is one of the gentlemen of British birding and always strived to get himself on the birding publication trail. This he eventually achieved in the late noughties, with the first in a collection of titles under the ‘Sound Approach’ banner. These were high quality publications and in August 2012, the fourth and latest in the series was released – Catching the Bug.

Matt kindly weighed me down with this production at the Rutland Bird Fair on August 17th and it has taken me this long to finally get through reading the book, such is its infectiousness. It is an outstanding contribution and I cannot really do it justice in this short review.

In essence, it is generally a review of the birds and people of Poole Harbour as seen through the eyes of two keen birders – Mark and Nick. Mark first moved to Poole in 1973 after he and his partner Mo finally tired of London living and it was here that he soon found solace and solitude within the Dorset countryside. Being much of a social entrepreneur like myself, Mark was keen to ignite a keen birding framework and soon organised regular get-togethers in the local pub. Its membership soon increased – and this book is really a culmination of those early twitching days and the current day. Nick Hopper served his birding apprenticeship much later, at about the same time as that other Dorset genius James Lidster, and was soon cajoled by Mark into the glory of it all.

Catching the Bug runs to 27 chapters, basically logging Mark’s Poole Harbour connections chronologically, from those regular Tuesday night pub singalongs to taping Common Cuckoos in May 2010. It is a pilgrimage of real despair and beauty and full of entertaining connotations and embroidery. The book runs to just under 300 pages and follows in exactly the same format as its three predecessors. Like those to, it concentrates somewhat on sound recordings, being accompanied by 2 CD’s featuring 203 recordings of primarily British birds. I found it to be a rivetting read and very aesthetic and gentle on my ageing eye.

Although throughout the production it is full of intriguing and interesting anectodes, for me it has four stand-out features. Firstly, Killian Mullarney’s input is traditionally first-rate, with some classic artwork and educational photographic material. In fact, some of the artwork is ground-breaking. And then three brilliant chapters – 4, 6 and 16. Poole Harbour is perhaps one of the strongholds of Dartford Warbler in England and clearly one of Mark and Nick’s favourites and with dartfordiensis being quite different from undata, both ask whether the English Dartford should be a separate species. Killian’s plate on page 46 is sumptuous and a true delight and for the first time, highlighting the differences in mantle colour between the two forms. I love artwork in this style and the very educational comments that accompany them. It surprised me too, the differences in vocalisations between the two forms, both exemplified on CD1.

Even better was Chapter 6 and its appraisal of Cormorant identification. This time Killian devotes two whole pages in explaining the differences between Atlantic Great (carbo) and Continental Great (sinensis) Cormorants and it is truly inspirational and rewarding. I wasted no time at all in getting Carmel to laminate copies of these two pages so that I could use them in the field – that man is more than genius. Again, I was intrigued by the differences in sound recordings of the two forms.

And then we reach 16 and its portrayal of Siberian Chiffchaff, based on the study of numerous wintering individuals in Poole Harbour and the culmination of field and sound recording work by Arnoud van den Berg and Sergey Gashkov in the dense boreal forests of the Tomsk region in Russia. The contact zone between tristis and abietinus was considered by Marova in 2009 to be no more than 40 miles wide and further studies have fortified that view. The accompanying CD2 reveal much about the vocalisations of tristis and I found this one chapter alone to be worth its weight in gold – a cracking shot from Arnoud too of a Dutch bird – reproduced in actual ‘bird size’.

I could go on and on about this book as it is truly outstanding. I just loved it. The authors need to be congratulated for this exceptional contribution to the library.

At just £29.99 it is a steal – available directly from The Sound Approach

Lee G R Evans

29 August, 2012

This review also appears on Fatbirder

SUNDAY EXPRESS

Sunday Express
Sounds Delicious Enough To Eat
 
DELICIOUS is a word you would not normally use to describe a book.

Pick up the latest serving from those creative souls at birdwatching’s most innovative publishing house, however, and your taste buds will explode. It’s good enough to eat.

Without wishing to overegg the food analogy, Mark Constantine and the Sound Approach team have produced a book so delectable in concept, so mouth-watering in production, and, ultimately, a text so wholesome it must have a calorific value. Without a doubt, it will hailed as one of the star turns at this weekend’s British Birdwatching Fair.

Six years ago, when the team made their publishing debut with the eponymous Sound Approach to Birding, there was universal praise for the way they had opened a new frontier to identification, emphasising the importance of listening to birds as much as watching them. It deservedly won the Sunday Express’s Best Bird Book of the Year award.

Today, and now with a small catalogue of books to their credit, the Sound Approach people have reached new levels of excellence with the latest offering: Catching the Bug – A Sound Approach guide to the Birds of Poole Harbour.

The title tells only half the story. Rather than a parochial text about the birds of a small patch of deepest Dorset, “the Bug” is a smorgasbord of ground-breaking avian research and insightful advice, crafted through the words of Mark Constantine, the spokesman of a band of enthusiastic birders who meet regularly to chew the ornithological fat.

Subject matter is all encompassing. Poole Harbour may only cover a few square miles of coastal England but its birds and birding characters provide eclectic fare.

There are accounts about the Dartford warbler, a species that thrives on heathland that skirts the harbour, and its potential candidacy for full species recognition, as well as insightful texts on the finer points of cormorant and Sandwich tern identification.

Mark’s adroitness with the pen is matched by his vision to give the readers a full sensory feast. Glossy photographs of the highest quality and the sublime paintings of Killian Mullarney, arguably the world’s finest bird artist, make each page a delight.

Mark acts as the voice for the characters that come to share a pint and a tale in Poole’s best known hostelries, and you can feel the warmth of the friendship as the book meanders on a pub crawl of fascinating birding anecdotes and sage advice that any birdwatcher, novice or veteran, will find enthralling and useful.

Mark is one of birdwatching most unassuming characters, a highly successful businessman with a passionate desire to protect and preserve nature and with a strong philanthropic credo that sees things get done.

Nutured by the late, great Peter Grant, every body’s favourite birding guru, Mark has developed a strong interest in bird calls and songs over the past few decades and which eventually saw him create the Sound Approach.

The two audio CDs that accompany the book, each enriched with the varied notes of Poole Harbour’s birds, are worth the cover price alone. Sit back, listen, read and have your birding senses nourished.

Start Winter

Sunday Express, August 19 2012

BIRDING FRONTIERS

Review by Martin Garner

The fourth in the series of books by the Sound Approach joins my line of ergonomically challenged books with brightly coloured spines.  From the outset I confess I am a fan of the Sound Approach and if part of the goal has been to popularise bird sound, recording, sonograms and such like, then its growing adherents includes me.  Out of the four this is a particularly thick book – 287 numbered pages – with only that tour de force which is the Petrels Book being slightly larger.  It is a good third bigger than the original, red spined ‘The Sound Approach to Birding’.

From the outset I found this to be an eclectic read.  The overall aim to chronicle the changing habitats, birds and birding in Poole Harbour set in the narrative of the conversations over 20 years of a group of friends meeting in a local pub. Chock full of history, colourful maps, and wonderful photos, excellent illustrations and of course pioneering sonogram analysis. It embraces a very wide spectrum of bird and birding related content.

I confess to finding it at times most enlightening and in other places a frustrating read. Chapter titles (some rather bizarre) often not fully connected to the ensuing chapter content (some kind of abstract might have helped) didn’t help me to engage.  Thankfully every so often my attention would be grasped by a fascinating insight such as the discovery of White-tailed Eagle remains during a televised Time Team exploration, or similarly the number of Puffins killed formally where now they are extremely rare.  I think some chapters could have benefitted from some tougher editing to making them pithier and more clearly focused.

Punctuated among the less easy-to-read chapters are some real gems.  Chapter four ‘If that’s a Bibby’s Warbler I’ll eat my Hat’, taught me much about Dartford Warblers than I’ve known before and how young darfordiensis can have underparts colours as on a Chestnut-eared Bunting, compared to apparently greyer underparts of the southerly breeding nominate undata (though the accompanying photo of a juvenile undata in Portugal seems not to fully endorse this).  The attempt to document differences in calls between dartfordiensis and undata are (uncharacteristically) unconvincing, at least to my ears. Maybe I am missing something?

The same cannot be said for the comparison of Cabot’s and European Sandwich Terns.  The differences in calls seems quite distinctive and further confirming that they should best be treated as good species and adding another identification feature for vagrants on either side of the pond. The Sound Approach at its best!

Similarly the Cormorants chapter containing super illustrations by Killian Mullarney of the two key taxa, keeps both the ID and ‘at-risk’ status of Atlantic ‘carbo’ to the fore. Though it seems one time too many that I have read the name ‘Richard Benyon MP’, a man charged with government ministerial role but taking diametrically opposed actions seemingly driven by personal hunting/shooting/fishing interests.

Chapter 14 is my favourite and kind of what I expected/hoped that, more of the book to be filled with. It deals in some depth with Visible Migration on the south Dorset coast.

Hold on!

Writing this review on October 30th I thought I would just check the Trektelen site for visible migration records from south Dorset.

Flip! Nick Hopper and friends have been out this morning. Have a read of some of the birds they have seen:

Bee-eater 1

Mediterranean Gull 3

Swallow 9 (at end October!)

Brambling 53

Goldfinch 565

Siskin 151

Bullfinch 25

Hawfinch 4

Ring Ouzel 4 (grounded)

Kind of sells it doesn’t it? They are out there doing it. And Chapter 14 tells you how and why. It’s the inspiring stuff on distinguishing calls, sonograms, and variation in common bird calls that will certainly have me reading chapters and sections like this over and over.

Chapter 16 ‘Drab’, is similarly engaging though the initial, personal  ‘putdown’ of another observer detracts from an otherwise good argument. The chapter deals with the identification and calls of the Siberian Chiffchaff. It certainly takes the debate further and for those keen to have the latest word on the subject this chapter is a must read.

 

2 CD’s accompany the book, filled with top quality recordings. However I have found myself very reluctant to take one of the two CDS off the sleeve and put it into the computer.  It’s something I rarely do these days, as it’s all there on t’internet.  My personal preference would be for a web-space linked to the book so that as I browed the books content I could just click onto the sounds itemised in the chapters and listen to them on my phone/tablet/laptop.

The book ends with a summary which indicates a presumed hope for the book.  It says,

“Catching the Bug is our snapshot of birding the harbour… We figured that if we have been successful and infected you with that same bug then there will always be someone to look after the birds of Pool harbour, whatever the weather”.

 
Well,  I did see the incredibly confiding Lapland Bunting on the day of the Little Swift dip back in the 1980’s, and once saw a summering Red-rumped Swallow at Corfe Mullen but apart from that I don’t have a massive interest in the birds of Poole Harbour and its environs – certainly not enough to buy a £30 book.  Thankfully, the book is a lot more than an insular view of a local birding patch.  As I’ve just listened to the (little known) calls of Jack Snipe, enjoyed the ‘jammy ringers tape’ by Mark and Magnus, spent far too much time on the migration chapters and just occasionally I admit had my attention grabbed by historical details in the harbour.  This is a book which has somehow, almost in an unplanned way, managed to contain something that could interest most birders, including those who’ve never been to Poole Harbour or even intend to go. Some chapters are a bit of a must have. And did Horace Alexander really see a Siberian Thrush there in January 1961?

You will have to read the book to find out…

BIRDING WORLD

Birding World
Most readers of this journal will already have caught the bug. But if any of the unconverted are exposed to this latest opus from the Sound Approach team, they will surely become infected. Although it is modestly subtitled ‘a guide to the birds of Poole Harbour’, it is, in effect, a guide to better birding on anyone’s local patch. The ‘concerns, puzzles and conundrums’ preoccupying the group of amateur birders meeting over twenty years in a pub in Poole are relevant to any birder, anywhere, and make endlessly fascinating and inspiring reading. ls our Dartford Warbler an English endemic? Should we be searching through Sandwich Tern flocks for Cabot’s Tern? Are there three species of Great Cormorant in Britain? Just what is causing the decline of our farmland birds? And, of course, the authors’ reminiscenses of bird-racing, year-listing, dipping and scoring ring bells with us all.
All this is conveyed in the same beautifully produced landscape format as the previous works from the Sound Approach team, with exquisite illustrations by Killian Mullarney, well-chosen location photographs, and what has become the Sound Approach’s trademark secret weapon – two audio CDs with 203 recordings of bird songs and calls on 91 tracks, illustrated and explained using annotated sonograms. These are not only invaluable for learning the flight calls of migrant songbirds when identlfiying migrant corridors near your own house, but also revelatory in featuring such original recordings as female Nightjar churring, Firecrest singing like Goldcrest, the difference between reedbed and forest Cuckoos, and the range of Chiffchaff taxa vocalisations. Do not be fooled by the parochial approach, the rogues gallery of Poole birders on the endpaper, or such personal touches as Ian and Margaret’s wedding photograph. This is a book for all birders.

Bryan Bland, Birding World 25(10), November 2012

BIRDGUIDES

Birdguides
The Sound Approach to birding (2006) — with its fresh approach to bird calls and its practical introduction to sonograms — forever changed the time I spend in the field; I have since become something of a bird vocalisation junkie. But where did The Sound Approach start, and what is it that drives the authors of this monumental series of books? Catching the Bug starts with things at the beginning — the very beginning. The ancient history of Poole Harbour, to be precise. The text flows on to a chapter on wildfowling in the area; then seamlessly onto “Keep-Away Island”; and onwards to the next chapter, a discussion on the subspecific identification of Dartford Warbler. The tone of the book is set: a highly readable and highly varied trip through Poole Harbour and all that makes it what it is for the authors.
For many birders considering buying this book, the audio-identification component provides one of the biggest draws. This book may not be as packed with revolutionary taxonomy and ground-breaking discoveries as some of the previous titles, but it certainly still packs a solid sonogram-fuelled punch. In addition to the Dartford Warbler discussion, Siberian Chiffchaff, Cabot’s and Sandwich Tern, Cuckoo, and even Cormorant get The Sound Approach treatment. Sound recordings are — unsurprisingly — of the highest quality, and Killian Mullarney’s plates and sketches are equally as gorgeous. Gems, like the recording of the Nightingale with church bells, the churring Nightjar, and the singing Woodlarks, are a joy to listen to.

The text provides a very personal account of birding around Poole Harbour; but at the same time, everything written in the text has a distinctly universal feel about it. The finches and thrushes migrating over Poole Harbour could be passing over any visible-migration watchpoint; the attempts to catch up with a local-patch bogey bird are probably familiar to most patch-workers (though, alas, not all of us can have Aquatic Warbler as our local-patch bogey bird); and the tales from the ‘birder’s pub’ likely reflect on all similar gatherings across the country. Despite — or perhaps because of — the everyday nature of some of the topics, the book proved hard to put down; in fact, I read it in just two sittings.

I’ve heard grumbles that the size and shape of The Sound Approach books — effectively A4 landscape — make them hard to hold; I’ve never found this a problem. The shape and size, in my opinion, work perfectly to showcase the content of the books to the highest standard. The foam buttons on the inside cover, used in previous books to hold the CDs in place, have been replaced with much sturdier plastic studs. The paper is glossy, the book is well bound, the attention to detail is second to none. It is, in many ways, something of a luxury product; a publication to indulge in. Is there anything wrong with this book at all? Well, I noticed a couple of commas had been mistakenly formatted in bold — yes, this book really is so close to perfection that a few punctuation formatting errors are the worst of its sins.

I suspect the authors would be satisfied if this book made you want to visit Poole Harbour, but I imagine they’d be even happier if it inspired the reader to get out in the field and discover the same joys in their own local area. Anyone who owns any of the other The Sound Approach books will undoubtedly have this one on their bookshelf — or open on their desk — already; for those who haven’t yet caught The Sound Approach bug, there’s no better place to start than with this book.

Stephen Menzie
Wednesday 14th November 2012

BRITISH BIRDS

British Birds
I do like The Sound Approach books. They take quite basic, albeit often cutting-edge, questions that ‘normal’ birders ask, and answer them, substantially by the study of bird sounds. As a concept, it is a stroke of genius. Books such as The Sound Approach to Birding(Constantine & The Sound Approach, 2006) and Petrels Night and Day (Robb, Mullarney & The Sound Approach, 2008) have broken new ground in redefining the relationship between birders and the birds they watch, providing a popular language for addressing bird observation through the medium of sound.
Catching the Bug is a retrospective of over 25 years of birding Poole Harbour, Dorset, and its surroundings, and is as much about the birders concerned as the birds themselves. It captures the excitement and frustrations of patch-watching, but its appeal and value goes beyond the boundaries of Poole. The format follows the established Sound Approach style – high quality, hardback ergonomic disasters with a bookshelf-disrupting landscape format, containing (in this case) 27 more or less self-contained chapters and two CDs. Most of the sound files on the CDs have accompanying sonograms in the relevant parts of the text, allowing the reader to see the detail that birds hear. Some of the chapters carry on where The Sound Approach to Birdingleft off and address generally important issues. Chief among these is the lengthy Chapter 14: ‘A flock of birds forever in flight’. Recording the visible migration of landbirds (‘vis mig’) is the new seawatching and carries even more problematic standards for recording and reproducibility, requiring as it does the rapid identification of fly-by birds, often primarily by their voice, and often at night. Addressing these    insecurities about accuracy and reproducibility, the chapter leads the reader through the common calls of the birds most likely to feature in vis-mig studies, demonstrating the usefulness of recording kit and sonograms, and is recommended reading.
 
The wader calls in Chapter 17 fullfil a similar function. Sandwiched between them is another recurring problem – identification of Siberian Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita tristis – and, in typical Sound Approach fashion, Chapter 16 describes a visit to Tomsk where the variation in Siberian Chiffchaff vocalisations from the core of the taxon’s range were recorded. Other chapters take the reader on evocative trips to hear European Nightjars Caprimulgus europaeus, Woodlarks Lullula arboreaand Hobbies Falco subbuteoon breeding territory, with the top-quality sound recordings and sonograms we have come to expect. There are musings on global warming, the changing status of what used to be southern European breeding birds in England, the accuracy of WeBS counts, a bird race and even a wedding. Single-subject chapters tackle such issues as the status of ‘Continental’ Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis and ‘British’ Dartford Warblers Sylvia undata dartfordiensis. This latter is an example of how The Sound Approach books work. Starting with a justifiable and quite perceptive question – ‘Why aren’t English Dartford Warblers an endemic?’ – the chapter reaches an answer through the medium of superb artwork, sound recordings and photographs: ‘Because there are lots of them in France too.’ So much to the good, but how that stretches to 14 pages, I have no idea.

Catching the Bug does seem self-indulgent at times. That may be its strength – apparently everything that occurred to the authors is in here – but a more in-depth analysis of fewer subjects would have made a more satisfying book. I personally could live without all the ‘boys’ club’ stuff, and several chapters left me wondering what the point was. The informal writing style is a characteristic of The Sound Approach books, and is to be      welcomed. However, the mildly mocking criticism of another ornithologist for disagreeing with the authors over the criteria for identification of Siberian Chiffchaffs was quite jarring, especially when The Sound Approach to identification (‘if the bird itself is telling us it’s a tristis then that’s good enough for me’) ignores the many real complications and unknowns surrounding the problem.

With the resources to publish privately, The Sound Approach team are apparently limited only by their imagination. Catching the Bug represents self-publishing at its very best: glorious in its extravagance, educational, inspirational, entertaining, robustly untroubled by concepts of self-effacement or doubt. Some chapters are superficial, and the whole ‘birding tribe’ aspect a bit vain, but few readers will fail to find something they didn’t know. As a whole the book successfully captures the highs and lows of intensive bird study at a single site.
Martin Collinson