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The Birds of Holme Bird Observatory 1962–2020

By Steve Newman and Sophie Barker; illustrated by Dave Nurney

Privately published, 2021

Pbk, 218pp; many colour illustrations

ISBN 978-1-9196-0340-7; £15.00

For birders familiar with the north Norfolk coast, Holme needs little introduction; for everybody else, there is perhaps no better introduction than this book. 

The bulk of the book comprises species accounts that detail the abundance and frequency of the birds recorded at Holme Bird Observatory over its almost 60-year existence. The figures speak for themselves when it comes to Holme’s rich ornithological history: 17,500 Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus spiralling down onto the coastal marsh, 15 Rough-legged Buzzards Buteo lagopus migrating overhead within 15 minutes, a raft of 510 Greater Scaup Aythya marila riding the waves offshore, and 16,000 Redwings Turdus iliacus counted in just two days. The reserve has also played host to some excellent rarities: firsts for Norfolk include Rose-breasted Grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus, Collared Flycatcher Ficedula albicollis and the first record of Rüppell’s Warbler Curruca ruppeli from the British mainland, to name a few.

There is more here than just figures and rarities. Descriptions of the people who had a hand in the founding of the observatory, references to breeding birds, details of ringing operations, and a selection of photographs all help to bring the observatory’s workings to life. There is a good mix of text, tables and graphs throughout, which make it easy to see how peak counts have changed over time. The book showcases many pieces of artwork by Dave Nurney, with most of the entries being accompanied by his illustrations. 

Holme, and places like it, are ‘Britain in miniature’ in many respects, with the changing fortunes of local birdlife reflecting trends on a much wider scale. Data for many species at Holme goes back to the 1960s and changes since then are particularly apparent when examining Holme’s raptor figures: sightings of Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus and Red Kites Milvus milvus have increased dramatically since the 1970s. At the other extreme, the decline in Turtle Doves Streptopelia turtur is all too clear: a peak count of 600+ on one day in the 1970s compares with a maximum count of five birds in 2011–20. 

It’s unlikely you’ll read this book cover to cover in one sitting; there is a lot of data included here and I found it best to take it in bit by bit. The obvious audience for The Birds of Holme Bird Observatory is people who go birding, or intend to go birding in north Norfolk, and it will be invaluable for anyone with a specific interest in the history of old records from the site. More broadly, the title will also appeal to those fascinated by bird migration, and involved with other bird observatories and migration hotspots across Britain. The magic of migration at Holme shines throughout the book and it’s likely to spur many readers into making a trip to north Norfolk to visit Holme for themselves. 

Luke Wilkinson

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