This book has an impressive pedigree. It's published by Helm, co-written by Ernest Garcia (co-author of the two Spanish volumes in the “Where to Watch birds in ….” series) and Eduardo de Juana (whose 'Guía de las Aves de Espaňa' was, until now, an indispensable source for population figures and accurate maps) and has dust jacket illustrations by Juan M Varela Simó. Hence, even before opening the book expectations are high.
The book covers Andorra, Gibraltar, Portugal and Spain (including the Balearic Islands, but not the Azores, Canaries and Madeira). The first fifty odd pages are devoted to a series of short essays on the history of ornithology in Iberia, geography and climate, habitats and an overview of the area's birdlife (the latter two sections are illustrated by a series of handsome colour photographs). These accounts are concise yet informative, detailed yet readable. Eleven useful tables highlight such aspects as endemic and near-endemic species, increasing and declining species, regular raptorial migrants, etc. Personally I'd have liked to see more on migration across the Strait of Gibraltar, but that reflects my own interests rather than any want in the book. Sixteen of the sixty-four colour photographs show habitats and the rest birds. Of the sixteen habitat photos one is given no location (but is probably Spain), another is from Gibraltar, two from Portugal and the rest Spain. Surprisingly there isn't one of the Corto Donana arguably Iberia's most iconic birding location. Not surprisingly the bird photos are of a generally high standard and illustrate those species closely associated with Iberia. It's a personal choice, but I'd have preferred more illustrations of habitats than birds (with which most readers will be very familiar). It's a pity, though, that more space couldn't have been found for further artwork by Juan M Varela Simó either here in colour or in monochrome vignettes.
The bulk, all 1.9 kilos of it, of the book's 688 pages is devoted to species accounts. These vary in length according to status of the species discussed. The rarest birds have between a few lines and half a page of text. Rarities that are (or approach being) annual generally have almost a page of text including a graph showing monthly distribution of records and a map showing the total of records for each autonomous regions (Spain) or north/south (Portugal). Unfortunately Spanish regions vary enormously in size so make an uneven filter which may obscure precise distribution. The region of La Rioja, for example, is smaller than many provinces whilst that of Andalucia comprises of eight provinces as large as or larger than La Roja. These Andaluican provinces stretch from Spain's Atlantic coast, the length of its southern Mediterranean littoral to a wedge of its east coast. A map based on provinces would have been more precise, but would have doubtless involved far more work and presented problems of its own. I also suspect that some species are less infrequent than the details given suggest as far too many 'foreign' birdwatchers fail to report their sightings. In this context Appendix 5 of the book should prove useful as it gives the website of the Spanish Portuguese and Gibraltarian rarities committees (although not, surprisingly, Ricard Gutiérrez's very useful www.rarebirdspain.net).
Naturally, birds that are found more regularly are given proportionately more space. Where needed they have excellent monochrome distribution maps; one each for birds that are exclusively summer or winter visitors and sedentary birds, but two for species whose ranges alter significantly between summer and winter. The maps are further refined by distinguishing between 'core' and 'low density' populations. Understandably species with a very small and patchy distribution (e.g. Baillon's Crake) aren't mapped, but the absence of a map for Collared Dove must surely be an error. Although coloured maps would have been more satisfying, the monochrome work well (and have doubtless helped to keep the costs down). The texts for these species varies from one to three, four or even five pages reflecting the complexities posed by different birds. Thanks to a small typeface – a necessary evil - these accounts pack in pretty everything you could hope for – status, detailed population figures, matters of conservation concern (where relevant), phenology, etc.
There's no disguising that, at £60 (less online) this isn't a cheap book, but, all things considered, it remains excellent value given the number of volumes you'd otherwise need to buy (if you could) to find the same depth of information. The expectations raised by glancing at the cover are not just fulfilled, they're handsomely exceeded. If you can't afford it now, then start saving immediately, drop heavy hints to loved ones for Christmas, birthdays, etc. – if you're interested in Iberian ornithology it's not a book you can afford to be without.