Monday, May 2, 2011

book reviews

Well, I dropped the ball on weekend birding, even though there was a world of warblers and sparrows to be had. I was busy with other things and was so dismayed when I checked Ontbirds and saw the awesome birds I missed south of the airport and on the OFNC outing to Constance Bay. This weekend will be different!

So, quite some time ago, I had mentioned a pile of books that I took out of the library. And I'm a little late on this and they are not quite fresh in my mind, but I'm going to attempt to follow up!

So the first one was The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. Ok, I really liked this one. Mark has a nice sense of humour and the story moved along well. Basically it centres on three men who tried to become the 1998 Big Year Champion (most birds seen in the ABA region in a single year). In fact, they did so well, the winner's record (745!) has yet to be beat. The activity carried out by these three men could only be described as "extreme birding." Two of them are bigshots of some sort and the other, the underdog (I rooted for him!), was an average joe who had to work full-time while the others could dedicate all their days to the pursuit. This book's got just the right amount of humour, drama, lightheartedness, romantic hope (and let-down), and action. I think anyone could enjoy it, including non-birders, but we birders will definitely appreciate it the most. It was great to recognize the names of some places I know. I would certainly recommend it, and already have!

One of the things that struck me, not really about the book itself but about the whole concept of the Big Year is how incredibly wasteful it is. By the time I got to the end, the whole idea became absurd. These guys would jump on planes at last-minute notice if they happened to be on the wrong side of the continent and a rare bird was reported. This just makes no financial/environmental sense to me. Their lists at the end of the year are pretty much just trophies....not entirely meaningful.

So I was pretty inspired when I read this:
Starting in the summer of 2007, a family of three people; a husband, a wife, and a teenager (Ken Madsen, Wendy & Malkolm Boothroyd), attempted a Big Year without the use of any fossil fuels. They planned to bicycle over 10,000 miles to get over 400 species for the year, which is far from the record set by Komito. They started in their home province of the Yukon Territory, rode down the Pacific Coast, looping back around Arkansas to catch the Texas spring migration, then eastward to Florida. Their primary goal was to raise awareness that, in modern bird chasing, birders are helping to destroy the bird's habitat by our own use of fossil fuels. They dubbed this attempt a "Bird Year," rather than a Big Year, because of its obvious intent for the year to be for the goodwill of the birds, rather than glory for the counter. In the end, they covered more than 13,000 miles by bicycle and tallied 548 species, far more than their goal, raising more than $25,000 for bird conservation in the process. (From the Big Year entry on Wikipedia)
And remember, the movie of this book will be released later this year. I'm pretty excited...I really like Rashida Jones (Karen on The Office, Zooey in I Love You, Man) and Jim Parsons (Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory). Maybe I'll write a review for it too!

Immediately after that, I read A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All by Luke Dempsey. His writing style is completely different than Obmascik's. Still enjoyable, but I think it definitely comes in second of the two. This book tells the story of birders much like myself and the (mis)adventures they find themselves in. There were several lulls; however, these were interspersed with humour that sometimes made me laugh out loud.  Dempsey has a very hard-to-describe sense of humour: I think it must be British, or just cynical, and he loves his potty jokes.

One part of this book that stuck with me is the journey the birders took to Michigan to see Kirtland's Warblers. Apparently this extremely rare bird is threatened by Brown-Headed Cowbirds parasitizing their nests. To deal with this problem, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service traps and "removes" (read: kills) the cowbirds by snapping their wee little necks. Unless of course a peregrine gets in to the trap and kills them all for them. I can't imagine being a Park ranger who has to kill birds...but it's important to make sure that the Kirtland's aren't threatened. Kind of a dilemma, no?

Both off these books have intensified my "Vogellust." This is German for "bird desire." Actually, I completely made it up. So many birds I would love to see and places to go (Wanderlust) in both books. If anything, they gave me ideas for future destinations. The birding adventures continue!

Well, wouldn't you know? I just found a website that is reviews of bird books ONLY. 
The Birder's Library: Book Reviews for Birders, and more...

Well, that's what I've got for now. This is your captain, signing off...


❦ fitcetera said...

I just finished "A Supremely Bad Idea" and loved it. I guess I can relate to his sense of humour.
I have "The Big Year" sitting on the shelf waiting to be read but right now I'm reading "Life List" by Olivia Gentile which is a biography of sorts of Phoebe Snetsinger. So far, so good.

Thanks for the link! I'm going to check it out. I have about 20 or so bird related books on the shelves as it is. :D

btw, I was at Point Pelee yesterday and met 2 women, one from Welland the other from Napanee. I told the one from Napanee that she has to get over to Wolfe Island to do some birding and gave her your website addy. Hopefully she comes here for a visit.

deepdowndawn said...

Hey fit,
I'm sure you'll like the Big Year. I also have a huge list of bird books to read...just not enough time :) I figure I'll save them for winter when it's not so nice outside and less stuff to see.
It's too bad I'm not making it to Pelee this year...I'm very jealous of all the reports coming out of there!