How to twitch in the Southern Ocean

Review: Lynn Mair

Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa (second edition), by Peter Ryan (Struik Nature)

The first edition of Peter Ryan’s Guide to Seabirds of Southern Africa was published in 2017, and I immediately acquired my copy.  I have used it extensively since then as I work on an expedition ship exploring the Southern Ocean, the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. 

I took this slender, easy-to-carry book as a reference guide, which was invaluable as I could take it up on deck when we were looking for wildlife and, in my case, birds. 

It was easy to show interested passengers clear photos for identification and straightforward text explaining the details to prevent species confusion.  All the birds we regularly see on these voyages are depicted in this book, which makes it so much easier than paging through other huge tomes describing sea birds of the world. 

This new edition is even better as almost all species now have a full page description with more enlarged photographs showing the key identification points, and it’s only a few pages thicker.

To start with, the inside front cover has an excellent, simple but straightforward map of the Southern Ocean south of Africa showing the geography  of the sub-Antarctic islands in relation to each other, southern Africa and Antarctica.  

The expanded introduction covers changes to the taxonomy with some species being split off, others added and some omitted. Nine new species have been recorded in the region since the last edition.  A section on the origins of seabirds is included plus their moult and night-time feeding habits, more on conservation as well as a note about flying fish.

In the penguin section, the eastern rockhopper with its exuberant head plumes has been given full species status as a split from the southern rockhopper.  There are several changes to the albatrosses as more is learnt about their taxonomy.  The Tristan albatross now has two full pages.

Some of the smaller groups and subspecies have been have been put in a different order and the petrels, prions and shearwaters now have a three- page introduction; prions being placed before gadfly petrels which have been rearranged. 

There is a two-page introduction to skuas and Jaegers with hybridisation between species and their messy taxonomy.

The finale is a few pages dedicated to flying fish and flying squid, with some seriously great photographs. Who knew that some squid could fly?  This compact book is essential for anyone interested in seabirds.

One thought on “How to twitch in the Southern Ocean

  1. David Bristow

    So you worked on an expedition ship in the Southern Ocean. Oh lucky you! It’s not a big market but it is a growing one. I got to the Anti-arctic on a former Russian spy boat, the ‘Akademik Boris Petrov’, in 2000 and could have used this.


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