Grab your bins. Lev has landed
Today Book Jotter becomes the fourth stop on Lev Parikian’s great Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? Blog Tour. I have been itching to share my thoughts on this engaging memoir since the author first contacted me several weeks ago with the offer of a place on his tour. Here, at last, is my review.
Date of Publication: 17th May 2018
Genres: Memoir; Science & Nature
“People are good, on the whole; bird people especially so. It’s such a simple thing, to share pleasure in a slice of nature, yet so enriching, so life affirming.”
I fancied reading Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? from the moment it first popped up on my Twitter feed earlier this year. My curiosity was piqued by the words “lapsed birdwatcher” from the book’s subtitle. It describes me so well.
As the daughter of an enthusiastic YOC (Young Ornithologist’s Club) group leader – which was the children’s wing of the RSPB (sorry, couldn’t resist!) – I grew up with a set of binoculars practically clamped to my face. My mum devoted her every waking moment to identifying, counting and recording birds, and continues to photograph them daily at the age of 84. By my late teens I was regularly doing voluntary stints at bird reserves around the country, and by the early ’90s, I was a seasonal ranger at the Great Orme Country Park and Nature Reserve, where I monitored seabird colonies and took wildlife enthusiasts out on guided walks. By my mid twenties, however, I had set up a completely unrelated business with my partner and, until recently, found little time for anything other than work. So, you see, Lev’s book felt personal.
Before moving on, I should like to clarify one small but not insignificant detail. The word twitcher is often bandied about by people who do not fully understand the etiquette or terminology of the birding community. A twitcher is a person who hares manically about the land in a state of almost constant agitation, with the intention of eyeballing a rarity and ticking its name off a list (at which point, their enthusiasm tends to evaporate). A birdwatcher, on the other hand, is someone whose hobby it is to observe all birds in their natural surroundings (rare or otherwise). When the twitchers have packed up their long range scopes and moved on, the assiduous birders will remain, fondly observing their quarry as it goes about its everyday bird-business. Though these two distinct groups may sometimes meet, say, on a precipitous cliff ledge or in a damp ditch, they are fundamentally a different species. Lev is understandably keen you make this distinction because he is a ‘birder’ or ‘ornithologist’, if you wish to be pedantic. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean he hasn’t, when under extreme duress, come within a blue tit’s-tuft of twitching – though this has merely been the result of sheer desperation to complete his quest, you understand.
“They say birders are eccentric. I’m going to fit right in.”
London-dwelling Lev is many things: a published writer, successful conductor, devoted dad, self-described “hopeless birdwatcher” and an all round good egg. He enjoyed birdwatching as a boy but lost motivation during the dreaded adolescent years and didn’t fully regain his avian oomph until experiencing some sort of Damascene moment with a flock of Canada geese several decades later. He decided immediately he would set himself a task. His objective? Two hundred birds in 12 months. No twitching. No cheating.
I feel at times I have discovered a kindred spirit, though I suspect many of his readers will experience the same emotion for a variety of reasons. We’re similar in age; he, like me, was raised in a household of books; he loves making lists, uses Moleskine notebooks; is a fan of Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts; was, as a youth, apt to be creative in his reported sightings; and has forgotten a good deal of what he once knew about birds. I too have returned in my middle years to observing nature, but I understand completely when he describes someone as being “overly outdoorsy in a way I never will be.” Some pursuits require youth or fanaticism – ideally both.
His self depreciating humour, gentle wit and elegant writing style, interspersed with anecdotes from the hide, carry you along on a wave goodwill and jollity. You cannot help but be lifted by his enthusiasm. Whether seeking cranes in Slimbridge, hearing his first ever nightingale or getting to grips with variation in seasonal plumage, you want so much for him to succeed in his quest. Lev is an immensely likeable human being.
The book itself is an aesthetic delight. On the dust jacket and inside cover are row upon row of identical but gradually diminishing goldcrests, designed by Alan Harris. The same bird appears in black and white at various points in the text, acting as a sort of punctuation to the narrative. My hardback copy also has debossed bird footprints skittering from front to back. I will from now on take immense pleasure in catching sight of it on my ‘bird shelf’.
Does Lev reach his target? After all, Britain isn’t the Amazon rain forest where you can record 200 species in one morning. It’s going to be tight. But whatever the outcome you know he’ll make a few waggish remarks, pick up his binoculars and carry on watching the birds.
“Just as I thought. Definitely some kind of bird.”
Many thanks to Lev Parikian and Unbound for providing an advance review copy of this title.
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Categories: Science & Nature
A wonderful review of what must be a beautiful book. I can recommend The Poetry of Birds edited by Simon Armitage and Tim Dee if you haven’t had the pleasure. The Great Orme is an amazing spot- there are great views of the sea when the weather is kind. Lapsed ornithologists of the world unite.
Thank you very much, John. Yes, I enjoyed this book immensely. I have always enjoyed Simon Armitage’s poetry and other writing, so I’ll definitely follow up your recommendation. Well, Llandudno is my home town, so I’m probably biased, but I think the views from the GO are magnificent (on a good day, as you say). We may be lapsed ornithologists but I don’t think you ever completely lose interest. I don’t know about you but I never could help looking when a small flock of somethings flew over. “Hmm, I wonder what they were?” 🦉
What a beautiful review Paula, I really enjoyed your personal experience as well as your take on the book itself. Thank you!
I love nature and how small it makes me feel sometimes. I recently saw two kingfishers and I was so happy. It was my first time seeing them in their natural habitat and it only happened because I was super quiet and patient. Something I’m teaching myself to be and still struggle with at times! 🙂
Thank you for your lovely comments, Vera. Kingfishers are such wonderful little birds and not always easy to find these days. I agree, it’s a real treat to see one, but so difficult not to leap about with excitement! 🤣
Very enjoyable, but I don`t know that I spent EVERY moment birdwatching!
Heh, heh! I thought you’d have something to say about that.😏
Loved your review, Paula! You definitely are the perfect reader for this book! I love watching the birds while I read on my porch. Fascinating!
Thank you, Jennifer. Watching birds from the comfort of your own porch is definitely the most relaxing and enjoyable way to fritter away a few hours. What sort of birds do you see?
You’re welcome, Paula! I live in the southern US! We have Cardinals (state bird), chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, mourning doves, Robins, Finches- gold and red, Bluebirds, Bluejays, crows, woodpeckers, Carolina Wrens, Mockingbirds, hummingbirds…sometimes an owl or hawk!
How wonderful! Such an amazing variety of species in your own garden. Cardinals! Hummingbirds! Oh Jennifer, I would be in seventh heaven!
Paula, do you have those same birds where you are? We really are lucky!
I wish! I have seen hummingbirds and some of the others you mention when travelling abroad, but sadly not in the UK. The most common birds in my garden are blue tits, great tits, long-tailed tits, robins, blackbirds, wrens, chaffinch, greater-spotted woodpeckers and so on – although we’ve occasionally seen kingfishers because there is a stream running through my land. I’m so envious of your cardinals and mockingjays!
Great review 🙂 Oh, and now I must get and read this book! Not yet sure whether to thank you for that, Paula 😉
Thank you, OlaG. I hope you enjoy it or I’m going to be really shamefaced! 😟
Delightful post, Paula. My father was also a bird watcher, although not in the same league as yours. It’s not something I’ve inherited but I’ve enjoyed watching the goings-on in the heronry my partner and I spotted on one of our regular walks. I’m adding this one to my list.
Thank you, Susan. Ooh, a heronry – how wonderful! They’re such lanky, ungainly birds in flight but actually quite elegant when you watch them fishing. I’m sure you picked up a lot of information about birds from your father without realising. You just can’t help it when someone you’re close to is a keen birdwatcher!
I think you may be right! Whenever I watch herons in flight I’m reminded of the link between birds and dinosaurs. I do wish we were home to storks, though.
Storks are amazing. Years ago, when I visited the Alsace region of France, I spotted quite a few nesting on people’s roof tops. The houses were so tiny, it was comical to see these great leggy birds perched there with their immense nests. Like you say, they put me in mind of pterodactyls!
This sounds right up my street and you’re the second person on its tour that I follow, which suggests a good overlap with my tastes.
We have twitched exactly once. On holiday in Penzance, my husband noted on Twitter that there was an Iceland gull in the vicinity. So we rushed … all the way round to Newlyn Harbour and looked at the bird. Then we felt all bad and watched it and its interactions with the other gulls for quite a long time. So, maybe not twitchers after all!
Thanks, Liz. If you enjoy watching birds I’m sure you’ll really like this book. I think your scramble to see the Iceland gull was only a semi-twitch, if twitch it was at all, because you stayed around to watch the bird.True twitchers tick and take-off! 😉
Exactly, plus we walked for 20 minutes to get there, which isn’t much effort really, and had a pasty (him) and giant meringue (me) afterwards rather than rushing off to see the next thing!
Oh well, if a pasty and meringue were involved you definitely weren’t guilty of twitching. That was far too relaxing and enjoyable to count as a twitch!
Absolutely delightful review. It catches a thermal and soars.
How lovely. Thank you, Will!
Like Liz, two of the blogs I follow appear on this tour – that must bode well. Even more so now I’ve read your review, Paula. This book will be pure delight. I can’t wait! 😀
I know from your blog you enjoy watching birds, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy this book, Sandra.
Well thank you all for your comments and of course to Paula for reviewing the book so generously. And I hope those of you who are planning to buy it aren’t disappointed!
You’re very welcome, Lev. I thoroughly enjoyed your book. It deserves to be a big success!
Ah this is such a lovely review! I used to think I was alone in my recovering-from-lapsedness but it’s becoming rapidly clear that I’m anything but!
Thank you so much for your kind comment, Alice. No, you’re definitely not alone. I’m permanently lapsed! 😉
Ahahah fair enough. Life is busy!
Marvelous review!!! I really appreciate how you open the post with your own connection to the content and your own experiences. I will admit, I haven’t thought much about birdwatching myself. But now I’m intrigued… I had no idea there was so much to it! But, upon reflection, I’m not surprised.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a book tour for a memoir. How did the author find you? Will you be recommending this to many others?
That’s very kind of you, Jackie. Lev found me on Twitter and I’m so glad he did. Yes, it’s definitely one I’ll recommend to others.