Sunday, November 4, 2007

Birds of the Middle East by David Cottridge et al

The writer, P D James, describes in her autobiographical fragment, Time to Be in Earnest, a day with her friends exploring the natural world:

“One of the delights of being with [friends] Tom and Mary [Norman] is their knowledge of natural history. There isn’t a bird, butterfly, flower or tree which they can’t name.”

If you’ve also admired in others and longed for that skill of being able to name birds that you see in the Middle East, the revised and republished, Birds of the Middle East, may assist you to be well on your way with this aspiration.

Trivial Pursuit players confronted by questions about birds in the Middle East will be well prepared by a study of this volume. For example, Can you name five birds that are mentioned in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures? Or what about this trivial pursuit question: Birds are mentioned five times in the Koran. What specific bird is mentioned in the Islamic scriptures? [Answers below]

This reference book has a focus on birds in the United Arab Emirates with Simon Aspinall giving an introduction to birds and bird watchers in this country. This small book will be useful for keeping in your pocket or the glove box of the car if you are a resident in the UAE or one of the increasing number of tourists to this burgeoning country, many of whom come primarily for bird watching.

More information about birds and bird watchers in the UAE is posted on the Experiencing the Emirates site.

The book has a series of color tabs according to the bird group (larks, swallows etc) so you can find the page and photograph quickly when you are out and about with your binoculars and camera.

Each of the 252 species described has a colour photograph (supplied by David Cottridge), the taxonomical name and commonly used names (I hope the next edition supplies the Arabic and Hebrew names). Readers aren’t deluged with too much information. This small book comes with a glossary, an index, suggestions for further reading and addresses and web links for those wanting to take their study further.

They say that when we reach forty years of age we should be learning one new skill or taking up one new hobby each year to prepare for a full and rich retirement. Perhaps bird watching or birding (note the difference between these two pursuits and how they also differ from ornithology) might be one of those interests. Reading Birds of the Middle East might give you the impetus to get this feathery hobby up in flight. Don’t wait until you are forty to buy this book. It is a gift that a young girl or boy might easily read and treasure.

David Cottridge (not listed as author but photographer), A Photographic Guide to Birds of the Middle East (London: New Holland Publishers, 2001 & 2006).

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 56.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Birds of the Middle East; David Cottridge.

Answers: The birds that are mentioned in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures include the eagle, sparrow, dove (turtle dove), raven, stork, ostrich and hen.

The Koran mentions the hoopoe (related to the hornbill). Birds of the Middle East has photos and information on all of these birds but the references in the ancient texts illustrate how birds have for centuries been a big part of the Middle Eastern environment.