This journal, published at least three times a year, is offered as a regular update to subscribers of the Birds of the Western Palearctic ( BWP ). Each issue gives new information on the chosen species, some with new plates and distribution maps, and it contains updates on anything from three to seven species already covered in BWP , plus smaller sections on new species not covered in the original volumes. Each number consists of some 60 pages - the updates for existing BWP species extending to ten or 20 pages of text, while those for new species extend to two or three pages only.
The first issue covers the shag, greater flamingo, lesser flamingo, pink-footed goose, whooper swan and lesser kestrel, and has short sections on the shy albatross and Cape petrel, birds new to the Western Palearctic list since the original series was published. All the main entries, except the brief one on the lesser flamingo, include new distribution maps. These are a great improvement on the originals, wintering areas being indicated in bright green rather than grey.
The account of the shag includes new colour plates, as do the accounts of new species. Again, the plates are a great improvement on the originals, showing the clear yellow base to the lower mandible in the breeding adult. Other issues include updates on, for example, Cory's shearwater, the golden eagle, all three palearctic pelicans and Audouin's gull, with new short profiles on a series of shearwater, booby and gannet species not covered in the original.
What is offered in the text of these updates varies from species to species, but it often includes new information on behaviour, breeding patterns, food, and data on size and weight of individuals.
One really useful feature is the summary preceding each update, which provides a neat precis of what is to follow. Thus, all but the most serious ornithologist can assimilate the essence of what is new by reading the summaries and scrutinising the new distribution maps and plates.
How are the bird species chosen for update? It is, I think, hard to tell, since the magnitude of change varies from one presentation to another. Thus in some cases I could detect no serious change in information in the distribution maps and only very minor print changes in known behaviour of movements. Of other cases, there was some really significant change.
As an amateur ornithologist/enthusiastic birder with access to the original BWP, did I find them useful? Yes, they made interesting reading and should do so for many like me. They will not necessarily update your original series of volumes in its entirety, but they do provide a fascinating focus.
Thus, I was on the Atlantic coast of Spain in early April and found my newly acquired information on the underwing plumage of immature Audouin's gull invaluable in distinguishing these immatures from the more numerous, local, immature L. cachinnaus, the yellow-legged gull.
What I have not attempted here is a comparison between this BWP update journal and either the concise edition of BWP (itself including some 90 new species accounts) or the BWP on CD-Rom. That would be an altogether trickier task.
Norman Maclean is professor of genetics, University of Southampton.
BWP Update: The Journal of the Birds of the Western Palearctic: three times a year
Editor - Malcolm Ogilvie
ISBN - ISSN 1363 0601
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £45.00 (individuals); £80.00 (institutions)
Pages - -