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     Jan Willem den Besten
     Published by: Moonpeak Publishers and Mosaic Books

Ranging from 600 to over 4,000 m., the old Kingdom (now District) of Kangra has a remarkable range of scenery and habitats and an already impressive list of 555 bird species. Perpetual snow crowns the granite loftiness of the Dhauladhar Range in the north and sub-tropical forests coat the ridges of the Shivaliks. Since 1974, the great Pong Wetland in the Beas Valley, including a reservoir of 400 sq. km., has added remarkably to the already rich avifauna and hosts up to 150,000 waterbirds, including 20 per cent of the world’s Bar-headed Geese in winter. A young Dutchman, Jan Willem den Besten, came to Macleod Ganj in 1996 and since then has studied and documented the birds throughout the district. This work is now brought together in this delightful and informative book of 176 pages, fully illustrated with over 500 of his own photographs. As such it is a worthy update of the work of Hugh Whistler, over 80 years ago. After an enthusiastic message from the Dalai Lama and a foreword by Dr. Asad Rahmani, there are 30 introductory pages describing the district and its habitats and, most usefully, various birding sites within 65 km. of Macleod Ganj. The birds are then dealt with mainly in groups of closely related species. One characteristic species is covered in some detail but all are illustrated with photographs laid out in different but attractive ways. Each section also includes a small piece relating a local folk tale or superstition, which is a unique feature that can only add to our interest in birding. The photographs are rather small in many cases and therefore perhaps difficult to use for identification purposes but they have an immediate impact. Some, such as the flight shots of birds of prey, a particular interest of Jan’s, who has studied the east-west migration of eagles along the Dhauladhar, are well worth close attention. At the end of the book is a complete bird list giving an indication of status and, in order to compare abundance, the combined totals of birds seen by Jan near Dharamsala 1997-2003 and at Pong Wetland 2001-03. Only the most assiduous of birders could produce such fascinating detail. Among the more interesting species are some added to the Himachal Pradesh State list by Jan himself, including Greater White-fronted Goose, Pied Harrier, Sociable Lapwing, Eurasian Oystercatcher, Ruddy Turnstone Mew and the Slender-billed Gull. New rarities are now an annual occurrence and will draw birders from all over India and indeed the world. Birders and the local people of Kangra will find much of interest in this book. It is neither too detailed nor too dry to put off the newcomer or the casual visitor and will, I am sure, encourage the many visitors to Dharamsala to spread their wings a little. It is commendable (and farsighted) of the Department of Tourism of Himachal Pradesh to support this unique venture and it is hoped that they will now consider sponsoring a larger format edition to do full justice to the photographs and the imaginative design. Anyone interested in birds should buy this book as a fine example of how to present a small area and its birds to a wide audience. Reviewed By Bill Harvey