The following critiques express the opinions of the individual evaluators regarding the strengths, weaknesses, and value of the books they review. As such, the appraisals are subjective assessments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or any official policy of the American Ornithologists' Union.
Joop Jukema, Theunis Piersma, Jan B. Hulscher, Erik J. Bunskoeke, Anita Koolhaas, and Arend Veenstra. 2001. Fryske Akademy, Leeuwarden- KNNV Uitgeverij, Utrecht, The Netherlands. 272 pp., 1 CD. ISBN 978-90-5011-147-8. Hardcover, €27.20.—Golden Plovers and Wilsternetters: A Century-old Fascination for Migratory Birds (“wilster” is a Dutch name for the Eurasian Golden Plover [Pluvialis apricaria]; “flappers” is translated as “netters”) is a fascinating book that documents the century-old Dutch craft of catching Eurasian Golden Plovers and other migratory birds. Written in Dutch with a good English summary, the book is richly illustrated with pictures detailing all aspects of the birds, the craft (check out the video clip on the CD), the cultural and historical context, and modern research. In the past, the birds were caught for food and provided a small supplementary income to the wilsterflappers; today, their expertise is used to catch birds for scientific research on the origin, migration, and ecology of Eurasian Golden Plovers and other migratory birds.
The book illustrates very well how the knowledge of the wilsterflappers leads to much better understanding of the ecology, migration, and presence of these birds. For example, the Pacific Golden Plover (P. fulva) is now a rare winter visitor to The Netherlands (22 accepted recent records: see www.dutchbirding.nl/comm/cdna/2005.html). However, this was not always the case. In talking with the wilsterflappers, it became clear that they recognized two different wilsters and, on the basis of their accounts, museum skins, and the available literature from that time, it has become clear that overwintering Pacific Golden Plovers were quite common, to the point that the wilsterflappers knew exactly when to expect them. Not only did they recognize them as a separate species, they also saw the changes; the birds stopped appearing around the 1930s and 1940s. The recent records are all of individual young birds spotted in early fall, whereas the old records, from much later in the season, referred to groups of up to tens of birds. These overwintering Pacific Golden Plovers from the past were fatter and heavier-feathered than the birds of recent records and appear to represent a population adapted to overwintering in temperate regions (this species normally overwinters in the tropics). This population is gone now, and only the wilsterflappers noticed their disappearance. The book documents several other cases—for example, the Slender- billed Curlew (Numenius tenuirostris)—where the knowledge of the wilsterflappers adds to our understanding of the presence, change, and disappearance of a species.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the use of traditional crafts and practices for modern research. The book documents, in detail, “both sides of the coin” and is, as such, a unique work that documents the old craft of netting wilsters, its cultural and historical context, and its contribution to our understanding of the golden plovers and other overwintering birds in The Netherlands.