A Double Delight On Namibia's Birdlife (allAfrica.com)

The Journey Continues’ by Pompie Burger is published by Venture Publications and costs N$500.

‘Birds to watch in Namibia: Red, Rare and Endemic Species’ by Rob Simmons, Chris Brown and Jessica Kemper is published by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism: Namibia Nature Foundation and costs N$350.

THE publication of these two books has made 2015 an exceptional year for ornithology in Namibia.

Although both these publications have Namibia’s feathered wildlife as their subject, they are very different kinds of books, but each still excellent in its own field.

Orthopaedic surgeon and avid photographer Pompie Burger’s ‘Birds of Namibia’ – his second title on this topic – is a feast of first-class photographs on, well, birds of course.

Together with his striking photography, Burger offers the reader his impressions and thoughts on ten birdwatching hotspots in Namibia, as well as a chapter on a favourite birding haunt of his in Botswana and on a visit to Antarctica. He also turns his and the reader’s attention to topics like aspects of bird anatomy, such as eyes, feet, and beaks, birds’ nest-building skills (or lack of skills in some instances), and to a couple of bird families, like babblers, rollers, bee-eaters, cuckoos, raptors, sunbirds, and swifts and swallows.

On the way, Burger touches on the unsurprisingly cuckolding habits of cuckoos, vultures’ flat-footedness on land and soaring skills in the air, something called urohydrosis (the release of excrement on to the legs to cool body temperature), the bathing habits of the wonderful sunbirds, and much more.

Written in a comfortable and conversational style that is marked by a healthy and self-deprecating sense of humour, Burger’s book is not only a pleasure to read but also a treat for the eyes. This is, quite simply, a beautiful book.

It is also a hundred percent Namibian – written, edited (by Amy Schoeman), published and printed locally. Which just shows that yes, Namibians can.

‘Birds to watch in Namibia’ is a bird of quite a different feather, but equally impressive and enlightening as Burger’s book.

Simmons, Brown and Kemper have authored the first Red Data book on the birds of Namibia, giving a comprehensive account of the conservation status of bird species which are under pressure, threatened, or endangered in our country, together with Namibia’s endemic birds and rare species in the country.

As the culmination of more than 30 years of work by the authors and others – here credit must also be given to the contributions of dedicated birdwatchers, or ‘citizen scientists’ – this authoritative book is bound to now be the standard reference work on the conservation status of Namibian bird species.

Out of the 687 bird species recorded in Namibia, 71 are regarded as threatened or near threatened. One of these species (the Egyptian vulture) is classified as nationally extinct as a breeding species, nine species are recorded as critically endangered, 25 as endangered, 13 as vulnerable, and 23 as near-threatened.

Each of these species, together with 16 endemic and near-endemic species in Namibia, and 108 rare species, of which most occur in small numbers on the country’s northern and southern borders, is featured in this book. For each species, an account is given of its distribution, numbers and conservation status in Namibia, with further information on the ecology (such as behaviour, breeding habits and diet) of threatened species, threats faced by each, and actions that could – and should – be taken to address these threats.

These species under threat include Namibia’s national bird, the African fish eagle, of which a surprisingly low number of only about 550 individuals are found within the country, all of the six vulture species that occur in Namibia (especially threatened by poisoning), the blue crane, with a local population estimate of only about 35 birds, several eagle and stork species, and a number of marine birds, such as the African penguin, of which the population size has declined by about 50% over the last three generations.

In most cases, the causes of pressure on species are all too familiar: human activity, such as poisoning, habitat degradation, competition for fish resources, and climate change.

‘Birds to Watch in Namibia’ is a landmark publication in the study and conservation of Namibia’s rich birdlife. It is an important piece of work that makes for fascinating, but often also worrying, reading.

One cannot help but hope for a time when the impact of humans on our birdlife will follow the example of these authors and people like Pompie Burger: to study and admire, instead of exploit, destroy, or just live blindly past something that could be gradually disappearing because of what our species is doing to this planet.