Lessons in presentation, plight of birds

Fascinating birds <br> <b> Mark Varesuvo </b> <br> <i> New Holland
Fascinating birds
Mark Varesuvo
New Holland
For anyone with little or no interest in birds, Markus Varesvuo's Fascinating Birds could be a turning point.

The collection of photographs, mostly taken in his native Finland, is breathtaking, from the golden eagle on the cover to the little hawfinches at the end.

Brief text for each item makes it clear why Varesvuo chose it and is informative without making the book too stolid: it is a coffee-table volume, after all.

Most of the 100 birds will be unfamiliar to New Zealanders but there is an Arctic tern and a group of bar-tailed godwits, photographs taken before they left Europe to come here for the summer.

Other familiar birds are European imports to this country: goldfinches, mute swans and a mallard drake.

What makes this book special is not only the outstanding photographs but the top-line printing on high-gloss paper and the solid cover, all of which underscore its quality.

In contrast, the initial appeal of Keith Woodley's Shorebirds of New Zealand suffers from a slightly dreary cover. A flock of godwits at dawn and a group of pied stilts should draw the eye but they look flat, not helped by the solid black band in which the title and author are dropped.

And why a soft cover on a $50 book?

Inside, some of the photographs are too small to fully appreciate and others look rather dull, a great pity in something as wide-ranging and important as Shorebirds of New Zealand.

Woodley, who manages the Miranda Shorebird Centre on the Firth of Thames, is particularly interested in the shorebird migration flyway, the route birds such as godwits use to and from Siberia.

The book is packed with information on the birds that live on, or visit, our shores.

What is sobering is the extent to which many of our shore birds are in decline, as habitats are altered by humans, birds are killed by predators and ignorance of their plight seems almost universal.

Even with reservations about the presentation, Woodley's is a significant addition to the line-up of New Zealand ornithological books.

• Gillian Vine is a Dunedin writer.