Literary Places and Classic Titles – travel the world from your armchair
Memoir of being a birder in the British Isles (visiting the seabird cities)
4th June 2020
The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds by Stephen Rutt, a memoir of being a birder in the British Isles.
Unless the publisher had flagged this book, I perhaps would never have picked it up. Despite knowing little to nothing about birds, I still found this is a thoughtful and gentle rumination on birds and the wider world in which we co-exist.
There is quite a sense the author is on a mission that doubles as a balm for his soul, an escape from his London work life. He first travels to Shetland in search of the skuas and storm petrels. His writing is reflective, looking back on the Braer oil disaster of 1993 and the effect that had on bird- and wildlife. The delight of this book is that you pick up facts and historical insights that you never knew you would ever need to know. It’s a charming way to learn. Apparently 40% of the world’s skua populations breeds on Shetland.
From Shetland it is then off to the various Farne Island where he is in search of puffins and guillemots (who, by the way, lay pear-shaped eggs – ornithologist Tim Birkhead discovered that their shape enables them to adhere to rocky surfaces and that the egg is also a good shape for minimising bacterial infection. Who knew!). He also sought out the terns who fly a round trip every year of 20,000 miles.
Then it’s off to Newcastle and environs to admire the kittiwakes who live relatively harmoniously around the Tyne Bridge and the Sage Concert Hall. From there he once again sets off on his travels
He cannot, of course explore the world of seabirds without remarking on the effects of plastic pollution. Blue Planet II has certainly raised awareness of the terrible issues but that is really only the start. We have, he believes, been on a downward spiral since the 1950s when plastic came into its own. It’s a sobering (again!) observation and I do wonder how much it will take for humans to really act. The effects of plastic on the Laysan Albatross for example, are devastating, 100% plastic pollution in the colonies, leaving young chicks poisoned and malformed.
This memoir of being a birder is a charming introduction to a passion that is palpable. You can feel the saltwater spray, and as a reader I felt carried along by the author’s enthusiasm and by his genuine sharing of self and his drives. I would have found it really helpful to have pictures of the birds alongside the text, so that I could marry an image with the descriptions – on my next outing to one of the areas, I too would like to feel more informed. Definitely one for people who want to learn more about birds in a non-didactic way.
We are currently running a giveaway with 3 copies of this book. CLICK HERE (closes 13 June 2020
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