I love books and I really like to travel, so I started looking in to some of the offerings on the book market with collections of places which I should consider putting on my birding/visiting bucket list. Now, given that this particular list is already rather long, and my knowledge of Europe is rather modest, to say the least, I decided to order Dominic Couzens’ Top Birding Sites of Europe, published in 2011.
As soon as I unpacked the book (delivered by the Amazonian Santa), the images drew me in and I ended up just flipping through to see what next was going to jump out at me; it was only after I had been through most of the book before I really started to look at the text and where the photos were set. The vast majority of the photos are of birds, but a nice spread of landscape photos helped to “set the scene” and whet my appetite even more. I could say that I would have liked more landscape photos as for me birding in foreign lands is so much more than just the birds there. But when I take a step back, I would have to admit that the wide array of gorgeous bird photos was what drew me in to the book in the first place, and I am not sure if I would have wanted to sacrifice many of these for landscapes.
The contents of the book consist of 30 location descriptions – selected to represent some of the best birding in Europe; to show its diversity, and highlight sites spread right across the continent. Each location description starts with a general info box, including where it is on a map of Europe, typical habitats, key species and the best time of year for a birding visit – all useful for a quick dive in and out of a site. In addition, Dominic Couzens has also included a “site rank” where he gives a personal ranking to each site covered in the book. Now, this is bound to be controversial as people will always have their own ways of assessing good, better and best, but I kinda like that he included his own preference list and really liked how he approached this in his introduction:
... for a bit of fun and deliberate provocation, I have also included a ranking of the sites from 1 to 30. Please feel free to write infuriated communications in response.
The text itself for the various birding sites is written rather nicely – it made for pleasant weekend reading and certainly drew me in. Besides the expected descriptions of great birds and habitats to whet one’s appetite, Dominic Couzens has peppered the descriptions with wonderful little titbits of information and factoids that enrich the wow-wanna-be-there factor of the sites.
Of all the wonderful birding sites covered in Top Birding Sites of Europe – including the likes of the Danube Delta, Svalbard/Spitzbergen, Extremadura, the Biebrza marshes and many others – I would have to say that the one that most stood out to me was that of the Pripyat River in Belarus:
Wilderness is an overused term for most places, but not here. For more than 250km of its journey between the hills of northern Ukraine and the Dnieper, the Pripyat winds unmolested, creating a truly vast network of bogs, mires, flooded medows, riverine woodland and forest, much of which is rarely, if ever, visited by people.
Doesn’t that just get your birder-juices running?
So, at the end of the day I got exactly what I wanted from this book – some great stories, and a head filled with wondrous journeys. Thank you Dominic.
Published by New Holland Publishers
192 pages hardcover (26.4 x 22.6 x 2 cm)
Price: around £20 or €29 on Amazon
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