When one sees the name of Klaus Malling Olsen as the author of a book one immediately has high expectations, and one looks for quality of the highest order. This book does not disappoint.
For many years ornithological works containing only photographs were not viewed as favourably as those featuring drawings and illustrations. This viewpoint has changed dramatically in recent years, no doubt due to the advent of digital photography, improved equipment and the sheer number of people taking pictures around the world. Everyone has a camera, if only as part of a smart phone, and the quality of images from those devices increases exponentially with each new release. Birders with expensive telephoto lenses and high end camera bodies can often achieve astounding results. The dedicated amateur can now achieve the same results as the seasoned professional.
The book begins with all the customary sections and even these headings are supported by excellent photographs. The only non-photographic illustration in the book is the two pages on topography, and pleasingly it is geared specifically to gulls, highlighting characters such as "new moon," mirror" and "window" - terms used almost exclusively when referring to larid plumage. Examine this section and you will have taken a major step towards describing and identifying gulls.
All of the gulls of the world have detailed coverage with a pleasing array of images to support each species and range maps to accompany the text showing breeding and post breeding areas, with arrows to indicate dispersal. Sub adult plumages, always a source of consternation for many, are illustrated in their various stages.
The assignment of species status is quite liberal. The IOC World Bird Names, Version 8.1 and Clements 6th edition (updated 2012) both regard Mew Gull (Larus canus) as a single species, with Kamchatka Gull and Common Gull considered sub species. Olsen assigns full species status to all three forms.
Of course, in the ever fluctuating world of taxonomy, these decisions may be subjected to review and revision at any time.
Similarly Thayer's Gull, long considered a valid species, although always controversial, was recently reassigned as a subspecies of Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides). Again Olsen considers them as unique species.
It is a testament to the long reach of Klaus Malling Olsen, that one of the rarest gulls in the world, Saunders's Gull, with an estimated population of less than 15,000 is supported by a fabulous array of images, mainly by John and Jemi Holmes, those dedicated gull watchers in Hong Kong, where a good many of the birds spend the winter. We are treated to a selection of sterling images of adult and juvenile birds, perched and in flight. It is remarkable that this level of coverage, (and superlative coverage at that), is available for a bird so rare. And these are images of real birds, not an artist's impression of what they look like.
This book has already become my go-to reference for gulls, nudging out, or probably more correctly complementing Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America, by that same Klaus Malling Olsen. One can never get enough of a good thing!
Gulls of the World: A Photographic Guide, Klaus Malling Olsen
Hardcover, $45.00, 488 pages
Publication date: 11 April 2018