Here are my top nine bird books which are still in print, therefore I couldn’t include my first edition Audubon which I keep in a super-strongbox in a super-secret hiding place, along with my first folio of Shakespeare and the first ever copy of Razzle. Why nine? Why not ten? Well I simply ran out of time. Pathetic.
The Bird Collectors by Barbara & Richard Mearns
Watching, listening to and photographing birds is great fun, but slaughtering hundreds of thousands of them is even better. As little as fifty years ago, the only way to become a great birder was to have been born into the aristocracy, get sent to a far corner of the Empire, own a massive gun and drag a bunch of malnourished servants into an unexplored area on the Horn of Africa in search of new and exotic things to shoot and then stuff full of sand. Even today, field guides could not exist without authors and illustrators having access to the great museum collections of bird specimens. In fact, a large part of ornithology is still dependent on these collections. And this is a brilliant book all about it.
You know things are bad when you’d rather spend a night at home reading sonagrams of birdsong recordings in the Sound Approach, than go out with a few friends for an evening of donkey punching and a quick game of tramp skittles. Important and revelatory (do I even know what that means?), I challenge anyone to read/listen to this book and not come out the other side a better person. Nothing has ever been written about birdsong as good as this, and I should know because this is the only book about birdsong I’ve ever read, so I’m certainly in a position to make such a sweeping statement. Two CDs of amazing quality recordings, beautiful and innovative presentation, stunning images and unique prose. I’d rather get hepatitis than give up my copy of this book.
Credited as being written by both Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey, Cocker was actually the sole author of Birds Britannica, which is a vast anthology of anecdotes and folklore defining Britons’ relationships with birds. A naughty rumour was doing the rounds prior to publication that some contributors had told Cocker a few porky pies, such as the story that a Leach’s Storm-petrel with thirteen functioning anuses was once found moribund in a field in Lincolnshire. Or the tale of Dr.Richard Duggan who, whilst researching Fulmars in a colony on Shetland, discovered that their vomit tasted just like that south-west sauce you get in Subway. A modern classic.
The BTO Migration Atlas
The undisputed heavyweight of bird books. Literally. Seven book dealers have been killed by copies falling off shelves. Weighing in at 2.5 tonnes, the BTO Migration Atlas is the product and celebration of decades of men standing around mist nets holding pliers and a copy of Svensson. Marvel at the movements of Arctic Terns ringed at the nest in Anglesey and then recovered on the Moon; be astounded at just how shit and sedentary Dunnocks are; gaze in awe at your rapid bicep growth and tricep toning as you open the book up and then collapse with exhaustion after only fifteen seconds. Far from just a dry textbook, this is an addictive browser.
The Collins Bird Guide
When the sirens start up and the bombs are about to drop, the only things worth saving are your copy of Collins and your DVD of Iron Maiden: Live After Death. It’s incomparable, and difficult to know how it will ever be equaled, never mind bettered. Obviously I’m talking about Live After Death, though Collins is pretty good as well. If you only have £15.00 and your terminally ill son could be saved by an operation costing just £15.00, then if you don’t own Collins I’m afraid that if you have any sense it’s “Goodnight Vienna” for little Timmy.
The Crossley ID Guide (to Eastern birds)
This is the ultimate WOW! factor book. Photoshopped montages of over 100,000 images nearly all taken by Richard Crossley, the result is a book of beautifully constructed plates that knocked my balls off when I opened it up; I then showed it to my wife and it blew her tits off. You should have seen the mess in the kitchen. I hope she doesn’t read this. And for you protectionist Brits who can’t get your heads around American birds, well have no fear – Richard Crossley is now preparing a British edition. Expect something very special.
Birders: Tales of a Tribe by Mark Cocker / Beguiled by Birds by Ian Wallace / Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman
When it comes to books attempting to explain the motivation behind birding, I couldn’t choose just one, so I chose three. Top nine? My arse! Well this is my blogpost, therefore it’s fucking rules. Birders is incisive and almost scandalous in its allegations of birdy fraud and twitchy naughtiness; Beguiled by Birds blends an authoritative history of modern birding into the autobiography of a birding God; but Kingbird Highway is the undisputed winner when it comes to expressing an infectious passion for birding being a way of life. Buy all three. You won’t be disappointed.
Not a book (like I said, my rules), but even better, a magic silver disc that you put into your computer that allows you to access 100 years of British Birds. Browse through classic BB papers such as Cannibal Turnstone corpse fuckers and The effects of prolonged exposure to Celine Dion on reproductivity within a Sand Martin colony. And I’m actually only half joking with those titles. Trust me when I say that BBi is the best seventy-five quid you’ll ever spend.
The Meinertzhagen Mystery by Brian Garfield
Col.Richard Meinertzhagen is without a doubt birding’s most intriguing and fascinating personality. Ian Fleming is even rumoured to have based part of James Bond’s character on the psychotic Colonel, though probably not the murdering a spouse bit, which Brian Garfield implies Meinertzhagen may actually have done. Unfortunately Garfield reveals that much of the Meinertzhagen legend is a total lie. The story of him having had the opportunity to kill Hitler during a private meeting and regretting not doing so for the rest of his life? Utter bollocks. Garfield proves Meinertzhagen never even met Hitler. Disturbed, dangerous and probably highly flammable, Meinertzhagen remains the black heart of birding; the Ozzy Osbourne of ornithology. And long may his fictitious legend live on.
So what do you reckon? Good choices? Terrible choices? You just don’t care? Any recommendations? Anyone out there? Hello? Where am I? Why am I not wearing any clothes? Why am I tied up on the top of a table? Who are you? No, no, please don’t hit me…
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