This is a fascinating and entertaining collection of essays about birdwatching in southern Africa, edited by Harvey Tyson.
Essays are contributed by a range of well-known South Africans including wine experts, runners and naturalists, all of whom share a passion. Birds.
The essays are engrossing, even for those of us who don't know the birds of southern Africa (and I know only a few, having not spent enough time birdwatching when I lived in Malawi, even on my holidays to Zimbabwe and Botswana). Between them the essays offer a wealth of information on the birds of the region and amusing insights into the lives and interests of that strange species of human known as a birdwatcher (or birder, or sometimes, in extreme circumstances, twitcher).
Here is a story of running exhaustingly up sand dunes in the Namib Desert in pursuit of the incredibly elusive Dune Lark only to have it eventually perch on a nearby branch and sing it song loudly and clearly for ten minutes. Stories of leading difficult groups on birdwatching holidays (making me thankful of the easy going groups that come along on the birdwatching walks I lead for Edinburgh City Council). A fascinating essay on the role of birds in San (bushmen) cave paintings.Musings on the joys of birdwatching in South African gardens.
The essay that spoke to me the most was Just for a Lark, Harvey Tyson's own contribution. His account of getting lost in the Kalahari Desert took me right back to the time when I travelled in the back of a huge truck across the Kalahari to get to the amazing Okavango Delta. My memories of the Kalahari are of endless sand punctuated with ostriches, but this essay reveals how much moer there is to the area.
'The grass was a highsilver carpet. Bushes with their moonlit shadows, crowded in above my head, but failed to blot out the brilliant universe above. The primeval Kalahari was displaying its ancient, restless, nocturnal charms. Moments such as these are as precious as they are indescribable.'
This is particularly poignant reading in light of the fact that, for more than a decade, Botswana has been giving licences to international companies to carry out
fracking in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. This, despite the concerns of environmentalists, who are concerned that the rich wildlife of the area will suffer as a result and those of communities who could lose access to scarce water.
Africa is changing, developing from a human perspective, but with what effects on its rich birdlife? This book will help readers to become aware of the wealth of birds on the continent, a wealth that can hopefully continue to flourish into the future.
This is the last (for now) in my series of reviews of books about birders. You can read the rest by following the links below:
Pelican Blood by Cris Freddi.
Birders by Mark Cocker.
A Guide to the Birds of East Africa (a novel) by Nicholas Drayson.
A Bird in the Bush by Stephen Moss.
As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages, where you can find out more.