After several years of planning, the updated Arabic version of the field guide to the Birds of the Middle East has been launched today at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai. A panel chaired by Peter Hellyer, a member of the Emirates Bird Records Committee discussed the importance of the Arabic language field guide. The book was introduced by co-author, Richard Porter, who stressed the importance of encouraging children to develop an interest in birds and birding, and how he hoped this book would help achieve that. Whilst Richard told tales about the way in which children in Yemen had scrambled to get copies of leaflets about their country's birds, Emirati birder Ahmed Al Ali explained how it was difficult for young Emiratis to get excited about birds without anything available in Arabic. Oscar Campbell, chairman of the Emirates Bird Records Committee and himself a teacher, told the capacity audience about the success of the Al Wathba Reserve in Abu Dhabi in attracting many visitors, many of them children, to its regular opening days.
Peter Hellyer, like Oscar and Ahmed a member of the Emirates Bird Records Committee, talked about how Arabic language books, like The Birds of the Middle East, were essential tools to promote interest and knowledge among children and adults alike. The region is rich in birdlife, including threatened species such as Sociable Lapwing, local specialities such as Crab Plover and Hypocolius, and is a hugely important crossing point for migrating birds between Asia and Africa. All of the panel hoped that this updated field guide would encourage a fascination for birds and their conservation across the region.
Of the many questions from the audience, one of the most challenging came from a young girl who asked the panel to explain how it was that they first became fascinated by birds and birding. Appropriately, panel members all paid tribute to the work of Richard's co-author, the late Simon Aspinall, who died in 2011. "In the UAE, we are still benefiting from his legacy," Peter noted.
The hour-long session concluded with a book-signing session and, judging by the long queue waiting for Richard to sign their books, the audience were well satisfied with the event!
Following the launch event on social media (whilst out birding on Wanstead Flats, London!), OSME Chairman Rob Sheldon paid tribute to all involved in the production of the field guide and to all those helping with the book launch. Huge thanks go to Abdulrahman Al-Sirhan Alenezi who lead on the translation of the text, as well as Ibrahim Khader, Sharif Jbour (BirdLife International), Nabegh Ghazal Asswad and Akram Darwish for overseeing the editing process. Jim Martin and Josephine Blaquie (Bloomsbury Publishing) guided the production process, and OSME co-treasurer, Chris Hughes masterfully kept the project within budget.
The field guide is published by BirdLife International, the RSPB and OSME under the banner of Bloomsbury’s ‘Helm Field Guides’, and has received significant funding from Avifauna, British Birds, and The Hima Fund, as well as numerous donations from OSME members and supporters.
Details on how to order copies of the updated field guide will be available shortly.