Friday, 23 May 2008

Obsessive bird-watching

Most bird watchers I know keep lists.

Most keep life lists, a record of where and when they see new species of birds. Most keep country lists - my list is a country list because I'm recording all the bird species I see in Australia. Some keep State lists, or backyard lists, or year lists, or lists of birds they see on particular roads or patches of bush. There is a 700 Club in Australia - members have seen over 700 of the approximately 760 species in Australia. Without referring to their notes most bird watchers can tell you exactly where, and often when, they saw the birds. It's a fun thing to do actually and a challenge to add to the list(s).

But, some bird listers fall over into the obsessive category. They have almost dropped the fun bit, the enjoyment of seeing a new species in its natural environment, and get carried away by the pure number crunching. The book I have just read is an account of one such lister. In To See Every Bird on Earth Dan Keoppel has written about his father who has over 7000 birds on his list. That's an amazing number because they reckon there are only about 10 000 bird species in the whole world. To achieve that number Dan's father was obsessive to the detriment of job and family, has travelled all over the world at great expense. This book is a very well written account of landscape and relationships within the family. I was expecting a book about birds and birdwatching but I got much more. Simon Winchester, author of The Surgeon of Crawthorne and The Map that Changed the World, is quoted as saying

Marvelous. I loved just about everything about this book, from the wonderfully touching portrait of Dan Koeppel's father as a full-feathered uber-obsessive to the impeccably observed landscapes.

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