Published by Virgin Books. Hardback, 378 pages. £12.99
The last few years have seen something of a change in bird book publishing. It seems publishers have finally realised that we don’t need any more identification books or family monographs, and have turned instead to bringing out books about birding. So we’ve had Simon Barnes’ How to be a Bad Birdwatcher
, Mark Cocker’s Birders: Tales of a Tribe
, Adrian Riley’s Arrivals and Rivals: a Birding Oddity
and Sean Dooley’s The Big Twitch
, amongst others.
Stand-up comedian Alex Horne’s contribution to this genre is different to all those in one big respect: he knew almost nothing about birds when he challenged his father, a lifelong birder, to a year listing contest. This very funny book is the story of that year’s birding, and, perhaps more importantly, Alex getting to know his father better.
It’s also about other birdwatchers, and how a newcomer sees us and our strange hobby. As someone who’s always been interested in birds, I often wonder what it must be like to get into birding relatively late in life. As Alex quickly realises, there is a huge
amount to learn, and even after his year of regular birding he admits that he’s “still rubbish at it.”
He also admits towards the end of the book that he never really felt ‘passionate’ about birds, in the way that his father obviously does, or that he does about football for instance. Or words. With his passion for and interest in words, there is not surprisingly a lot of discussion about bird names. Bullfinch, for instance, sounds ‘a tiny bit too close to bullshit for comfort’, while Golden Orioles and Honey Buzzards sound like breakfast cereals. Other themes running through the book include the ridiculousness of bird feeder names (my favourites being the Opus Garden Ballet Hummingbird Feeder, the Duncraft Super Cling-a-Wing, and the Meripac Bird Banqueting Hall) and his attempts to ‘tick’ Bill Oddie, which he finally managed at the Rutland Water Birdfair.
There are several amusing references to El Presidente, and even a couple of brief mentions of llamas, but you’ll have to read the book yourself for the context, and also to find out who won the year listing competition and how many species they saw.
My only minor criticism, and it is a very subjective one, is that there is a bit too much about football for my liking (as well as being Alex’s ‘big year’, 2006 was also a World Cup year apparently). But then I have no interest whatsoever in football, so to be honest just one mention would have been too much for me. But if you aren’t interested in football, please don’t be put off by that. If you have any interest at all in birds, or know a birdwatcher, or are simply interested in what makes people tick (in both the birding and non-birding senses of the word), read this book.