Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?
Thousands of books are published every year, a murmuration of words and paragraphs dressed up in their designer-cover plumage, clamouring for our attention in bookshops and on websites. We scan them as we enter a shop, trying to identify a sought after genre by the jizz of its cover, and we visit charity shops in search of an out of print, much loved story that we can't quite remember the name of. 'I think it was blue-ish brown, with a greenish streak on the spine', we say, hopefully, to the expert behind the counter.
And then one day there is new book that starts to be mentioned. It pops up on Twitter (appropriately, in this case), and there is a flurry of tweets about it, a conversation that threads through disparate conversations that you just can't ignore.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? is one such book.
Lev Parikian is a conductor of orchestras, a cricket fan, and a man who likes a challenge. He sets out on January 1st 2016 to see 200 species of birds in Britain in one year. This book is the story of that adventure, and I use the word adventure quite deliberately. It should really start with a capital A.
Lev sets himself two rules: No twitching, and no cheating. He lives in London and many (I haven't counted, but probably more than half) of his sightings are in parks and woods, on RSPB reserves and on beaches within a short train journey (plus or minus a cycle ride) of his home. Backyard birdwatching. With bells on.
I am deeply envious of his musical brain which he puts to work as he teaches himself to recognise birdsong. I can just about manage a Collared Dove and a Cuckoo.
The book is beautifully written, and annotated with entertaining and useful footnotes.
David Attenborough gets a rather scandalous mention, but most of the love in the book is not for celebrity naturalists, nor it is for the LBJs and endless gulls he tries to get to grips with; it's for his family, across generations. Some of these personal commentaries left me with a lump in my throat.
I have been left with a greater appreciation for the House Sparrows in my garden, sometimes fifty or sixty of them at once. We are also fortunate to sometimes see murmurations of Starlings from the back garden, swooping and wheeling in the way that only they can: I hadn't realised that this is actually an uncommon sight, and now feel rather privileged that it happens on my doorstep.
I am however, left with one question.
In a footnote, he says:
'Mute swans have a repertoire of hisses, snorts and clicks that quite strike terror into the human heart, petrified as we are that they will rise up and break our arm under the full protection of the Queen. And the sound of their wingbeats as they fly past in formation counts as one of the top five non-vocal nature sounds I've experienced.'
I would like to know what the other four are, please!
This is a thoroughly splendid book.
It's the sort of book you read more than once and you buy for friends because you can't bear to lend them yours but they absolutely have to read it immediately and you demand that they tell you what their favourite micro-story is and by the way perhaps it would be a good Christmas present too and no you definitely can't have my copy, I'm keeping it.
You can buy your own copy on amazon here.
It's available on Hive here. (And in stock, I just checked)
And if you prefer to use your local indue bookshop, you can go in, or call them, and they will order it for you – you'll have it in a couple of days.
This is the first book review I've done on the blog for several years, so that gives you some idea, I hope, of just how much I loved this book. You will too, I am sure of it.
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