Read of the Week

Featherings: True Stories in Search of Birds

Edited by Vernon RL Head


Review: Karen Watkins

This awesome collection of birding stories is written by birding enthusiasts, from hard-core ornithologists to twitchers – obsessive list-keeping birders who go in search of rare birds found by other people.

Among the contributors are marketer for BirdLife South Africa, Mel Tripp; WWF CEO Morne du Plessis; author of all things bird-related, Dr Rob Little; CapeTalk presenter and bird lover, John Maytham; director of the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, specialising in seabirds, Peter Ryan; and bird guide and author of 10 books, Peter Steyn.

Their tales, some whimsical, some disturbing, others unbelievable, are sure to inspire others to become citizen scientists and to get out into nature.

The writing styles may differ but not their passion for the topic. Birds with strange names and even stranger appearances or behaviour flutter from the pages.

These include Shoebills with their comical clog-like bill; the energetic Tawny-flanked Prinia; vigilant Helmeted Hornbills; Hooded Pittas and the Inaccessible Island Rail.

In Sandgrouse – special denizens of deserts, BirdLife South Africa’s CEO Mark D Anderson describes how the parent bird takes water into its feathers in the Kalahari Desert and delivers it to its young. He arrived at a pan at 8.30am, two hours before sunrise and within one hour over

20 000 Sandgrouse had arrived.

Some writers are scientists, including Mark Brown who measures and rings the most powerful raptor in Africa, African Crowned Eagles.

A story that I liked the most was Congo Peacock Journey by Callan Cohen. He runs a bird tour company and tells a story of going in search of the large, secretive, strange, exotic bird in a forest wilderness. It’s a long but magnificent story. Does he find it? But that’s what twitching is all about. It requires patience, sometimes borders on obsession and involves flying across the world.

But not all stories are bird focused. Editor Vernon RL Head asks where to take a girlfriend on a first date in Bells in the Reeds. John Maytham hops from pythons and the reasons why he enjoys birding ,to language evolution in A thing with feathers.

There is humour and anguish, adventure and whimsy as these gifted birders share each wonderful tale.

All royalties will be donated to the FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology to support ongoing ornithological research.