This book was printed in 1979 by Book Club Associates with text by Alan Mitchell and 58 illustrations by Terence Lambert, it is a sequel to the 1976 book ‘Lambert’s Birds of Garden and Woodland’. Terence Lambert is, unlike previous artists whose books I have reviewed, still alive and well – he is a very successful artist with over forty publications under his belt. Alan Mitchell worked with Lambert on the previous book, and despite having a career with, and being an expert on trees his knowledge of birds is clearly extensive, he is sadly no longer with us.
The book starts with a fascinating introduction that explains in a few pages what makes up the ‘shore’, what makes coastline special to wildlife and how the sometimes complex, sometimes abrupt meeting of land and sea is important to birds. This is well and intelligently written with a clear knowledge of ecosystems and biology; Mitchell manages to explain in fairly simple terms what is frankly rather in-depth stuff concerning the varied interactions between organisms and geology on the shore.
The rest of the book is split into four sections showcasing Lambert’s artwork, these consist of: ‘Gulls, Terns, Skuas’, ‘Cliff-breeding birds’, ‘Ducks and Geese’ and ‘Birds of Estuaries’. Each species of bird has its own two-page spread, one page being a full-colour painting and the other being text, which by the way contains much interesting information and witty observations, as well as useful notes on plumage and calls.
Lambert’s paintings are all very well composed and almost all have a plain white background so that the birds are particularly striking and the colours contrast well. What I love is that every bird is shown flying or sitting in a very natural position; this is not a formal identification guide where the birds are in set poses, sometimes there are several birds, sometimes one, sometimes facing away or with the wings covering part of the face. Lambert’s use of extra details is very good; he gives a strong hint at what habitat the bird is in by including some grass or stones or sand or water, then with some of the flying birds he has them alone against the sky.
The level of detail in each painting is remarkable; they are almost photographic in quality and the textures of the feathers and beak are smooth and strong – not hidden under visible brushstrokes. I must also mention those paintings where pebbles or shells are incorporated; for the realism of these inanimate objects is exceptional, I do believe that Lambert’s talents would have worked well with a science-fiction subject such as for a Wells or Wyndham book. Every feather is captured beautifully and the colours are spot-on, the artists love for the beauty of these birds really shows through and this is noticeable in certain birds that the artist clearly favours – such as the Pintail or the Terns.
I must now voice my only negative criticism of Lambert’s paintings; the birds are far too pristine, their plumage is neat and all in place with no aberrations or wear. I do applaud his decision to paint some of the birds out of summer-plumage, such as the Turnstone or Godwits because most people will only see them in winter. But the birds would have an added depth of realism and naturalness if they had feathers missing or patchy colours or ruffled, sticking-up feathers – like real birds do in the wild. I understand that this may just be his style, and it does work well on the gulls in particular because adult gulls do tend to have perfect plumage despite their messy habits, yet other artists that I like have the hyper-realism that Lambert does yet include that added wildness factor by incorporating imperfections.
But really that is a minor niggle overall, this book is fab with very readable and interesting text accompanying really beautiful illustrations of distinctive and striking birds; the coast is one of my favourite places to go birding and you really can taste the salt and hear the gulls just reading this book – I definitely recommend it.