Front cover - 19k Garden Bird Songs and Calls
by Geoff Sample
pub. HarperCollins Publishers, 2000
Audio CD and Hardback, 32 pages, 12.99
ISBN 0 00 220214 X

To be perfectly honest your Webmaster does not pretend to be a bird fancier or expert, so it was with a degree of uncertainty that the review of this book was approached. However, the task proved more rewarding than it first appeared; the book being a slim hardback with an accompanying audio CD. It is the latter which is really the heart of the publication as far as this reviewer is concerned.

In the book's opening Introduction Geoff Sample displays his obvious love of wild birds - 'Birds are among the most accomplished musicians in the world' - and provides a good insight into the sounds they make. We learn, for example, that some birds seem to indulge in variations of their songs for fun, that some sing while on the move, and that smaller birds produce higher pitched sounds. Now this may be old hat to keen ornithologists reading this, but if you're new to the birding scene it will be of interest.

Sample also has lots of tips and ideas on how to train yourself to identify the birds around you from their songs and calls, suggesting that you start by concentrating on the species of birds that frequent your garden, or try to identify specific songs and their originating species. The author also advocates building your knowledge step by step, becoming familiar with the commonest sounds and progressing from there.

He also says that identifying 'bird calls' is harder than 'songs', not least because some species produce similar sounds. Hopefully, though, you'll eventually be able to dispense with that pair of binoculars and identify the species around you from their avian voices and vocabulary. One surprise is that the author gives no hints and tips about the technicalities of trying to record bird song for yourself.

The audio CD contains 99 tracks covering 40 of the most common and vocal garden birds. Some of the tracks have been edited to remove unwanted noise and, in some instances, to reduce the time between 'calls'.

Listening to the CD is, in fact, a pleasure, and although broken into typical audio tracks the contents run together so fluidly that it almost sounds like a radio programme, with a narrator (Mr Sample perhaps?) guiding us through the sounds, pointing out particular things to listen for, and often making comparisons between the songs and calls made by different species. For example, the 'rapid fire explosive rattle' alarm call of the Song Thrush, 'fluted' voice of the Blackbird, and the 'shrill screams' of Swifts soaring through the air. Really very interesting and informative.

So who will this book and CD package best suit? Well, it's probably not going to interest experienced birdwatchers who will already be on the trail of species other than those common ones which inhabit our gardens, although they might appreciate the analytical aspect of the sound tracks. It certainly will be of benefit for anyone starting out in birding, and could be particularly useful in schools where teachers want to widen the interest of children in wildlife and the natural world.

Copyright © 2000