Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stavrakas and Skareas: Birds of Attika!

Birds of Attika

Autumn 2015, Wild Greece Editions, Athens 

This is a big win for Modern Greek literature. Its a multi-purpose, richly illustrated account of the avifauna of Attika, the region around Athens. Written my friends Lefteris Stavrakas - a renowned amateur birder here in Athens and friend Spyros Skareas an agricultural scientist and avid birder and bee-keeper. Both of them lead birding tours 'round Athens and Greece, so they know the birding audience really well. Both are keen conservationists who give a lot of their time volunteering to save places. So, this book is crafted from the heart. It is real and rare. Especially for Modern Greek letters.

Now most of my audience perhaps doesn't know that natural history in modern Greece is really lagging behind many other countries in Europe. So this kind of book can really do good and can really change paradigms about how the public "sees" places. I find great scientific, tourism and educational interest in this book.

Scientific Interest
"Birds of Attika" (Τα Πουλιά της Αττικής) is a guide with a lot of careful scientifically-checked material that has never been published before. The most important aspect is the annotated checklist showcasing 309 species. There is lots to learn from this list. For me one of the best things in the book is the list!

Tourism - Outdoor Recreation
The book describes "where to find birds" in Attika for the first time (it is one of the few such tools in Greece - other include work on Crete, Lesvos, Northern Greece). There is no other such account published anywhere for Attika - and in fact, Attica always had a lot of bad press about its nature. Clear maps and directions are provided and they prove that these top sites are really worth visiting. Attika is split up into five areal units. The best sites are described in detail within each areal unit. Some sites such as the Erythres plain and the Assopos Gorge will surprise even the avid Athenian birder.

The book can really help environmental education in Athens and Attika. Teachers, educators, scientists, academics etc will now be able to lead their students for birding forays.  Also its a great idea to teach teachers and educators to use birds in engaging in students and learning. The book also gives a lot of information on other wildlife, plants, wildflowers etc. that enrich wider natural history learning.

Generally the book is wonderfully illustrated - amazing photographs of birds will enthuse new-commers to the sport. Paschalis Dougalis has also lent his real-to-life bird paintings.

Finally, if I may say a few things that I didn't like in the book. First the graphics art is a little "old fashioned", for example, postage stamp-sized pics for landscapes. Some landscapes are truly beautiful, they need more space. The photography is superb, but it would be nice to say where the bird photos are from; some are not from Attika- its OK but maybe they should say so (i.e. the incongruous photo of a flock of Red-breasted Geese is a little of a shock). A first edition of a book like this could not be without tiny errors, I even found one in the checklist. These tiny issues do not diminish the quality of the book. The book is already a very large and substantial undertaking (236 pages) so it is understandable that the photos must be small. Also I agree with the book's relatively compact field-guide size. You need to take it along for directions....

I highly recommend the book as a gift to anyone. Even a non-Greek reader will gain a lot from it. Its also a really eccentric topic for the Greek audience, anybody giving it to an Athenian will be remembered with deep gratitude. The book is a big win for modern Greek literature.  And I do hope it is published in English ASAP.

Best of luck to the book - I hope it is widely distributed. 

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