Wednesday, 1 February 2023

A Tale of Two Books

This morning brought lovely news: Low Carbon Birding has won the British Birds & BTO 'Best Bird Book of the Year' prize for 2022. What a well-deserved accolade. To my mind, the book is unique. The ideals it promotes are gaining ever more traction in birders' discussions and - more to the point - actions, and its diverse collection of essays offers a thought-provoking taster for anyone interested in the topic. To have been personally involved in it was a privilege I treasure.

Low Carbon Birding is the second book I have contributed to; the first was Best Days with British Birds, published in 1989. Back then, a typescript was truly a typescript! In fact, my chapter was written almost 40 years ago, in late 1983. Reading it now, I do cringe a bit. Too wordy by far, a weakness that still afflicts me today. My essay is sandwiched between two illustrious names of the ornithological world - Ian Lewington and Guy Mountfort - and many of the other authors are equally well known.

At the time of publication, my favourite chapter was the tale of an epic twitch, from Scilly to Fair Isle in October 1980. I haven't read the whole book for many years now, but plan to rectify that soon. I can absolutely guarantee that I will end up with a new favourite chapter. Yes, the twitch account is a thrilling roller-coaster ride, and very relatable, but in my view belongs to another era. My circumstances back then would not have allowed such weapons-grade twitching anyway, but if they had, would that have been me? I was very surprised to read the following in my own chapter...

The sort of feeling that I enjoyed that morning comes far more often, and with far less-rare birds, on a well-loved and familiar local patch, than it does on infrequent visits to Cley or Dungeness or wherever...So, although I frequent the odd twitch and visit the various coastal hot-spots from time to time, I still find the most satisfaction is to be had locally, and would recommend the patch-flogging philosophy to anyone.

Following several years of dabbling, I had been birding intently for about two years when I wrote that. Twitching did get a stronger grip for a while from the mid-1980s, but it is heartening to know that in older age I seem to have got back to my roots. A nice place to be.


  1. I remember that chapter on the epic twitch as well Gav. Not least since it featured people we knew personally. The parts of that journey which stuck in the mind was first the position of the airport on Shetland used to get to Fair Isle! and how the Twitch (successful) was embellished by a chance collection of another Mega. The chapter concerning an American Redstart was another. Low Carbon Birding? I haven't read that one.

    1. Looking at BDWBB now, what strikes me is how long ago all those 'best days' are. One is from 1936! It is almost a history book!
      LCB is a different beast, but an equally diverse collection of experiences. Whatever one's take on the concept, LCB the book is well worth a read.

  2. Oh man respect! I'm going to dig out my copy now...