It took a couple of months for my husband to reveal his hobbies to me when first we met. He slapped Amateur Radio on the table pretty early on (I think he knew I would never really understand what it was all about. He was right.) He then drip fed his love of Opera – still I hung in there. But I think even he knew that Birdwatching might be a shove too far, so we were well into the relationship before I finally went on a birding outing. But it is only recently that I’ve noticed bird watching fiction books flying off the shelves.
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson was our Book Group read of the month just recently. It sounds as if it will be a field guide and almost looks like one, but in fact it is a charming story about winning the love of a woman in a bird watching competition. It is like Alexander McCall Smith but set in Kenya. The main character – Mr Malek – is an Indian gentleman with a comb-over. It is his absolute integrity that takes us for a wander through a quite sanitized Kenya. It’s all rather darling.
H is for Hawk, on the other hand, although about birds – well, hawks in particular, is a true story about the author (Helen Macdonald) and her need to train a wild hawk to assuage the pain she felt on the death of her beloved father. It is not sweet and cute; it is hard and true and very revealing. It is on the extremities of bird watching; I can’t see Helen ever joining a Sunday walking birding group for a bit of twitching.
Other recent reads with birds as a theme include Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield where crows and the superstitions around them play an important role in the structure and ominousness of this novel set in Victorian times. The Birdwatcher by William McInnes is a poignant read about twitchers and secrets and changing your life. And Snapper by Brian Kimberling is a romp of a read with a beautiful cover: “Snapper is a book about birdwatching, a woman who won’t stay true, and a pick-up truck that won’t start”. Finally, before you get too cosy, you must read the brilliant, chilling novella by Daphne du Maurier The Birds – later made into a horror film by Alfred Hitchcock.
Turned out I would grow to love birding: the pre-dawn start with the sounds and smells of the bush at Ndumo Game Reserve slowly coming to life. I loved the coffee pit stop, the walking, the camaraderie. On my first major outing, everyone wanted to find one particular bird: a Pel’s Fishing Owl. What chance did I have? I knew nothing about birds and had yet to be gifted my own binoculars. Hours into the walk, I felt the call of nature and snuck furtively away from the group into bushy scrubland and managed – inadvertently, to flush out the Pel’s Fishing Owl – which flew in a graceful arc over the Pongola River for all to see.
I recommend birding men as potential partners. They are observant, patient, good listeners who love nature, plus they know when to shut up. And when you flush out the bird of the day (for all the wrong reasons), they remain proud of you – and buy you your own binoculars!