Saturday, March 14, 2015

Big Twitch: One Man, One Continent, a Race Against Time by Sean Dooley: A review

I am a devoted birder so I am always up for a good book about birding. Here's one about an Australian "big year." 


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Big Twitch: One Man, One Continent, a Race Against Time: A True Story about BirdwatchingBig Twitch: One Man, One Continent, a Race Against Time: A True Story about Birdwatching by Sean Dooley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The record for a "Big Year" in Australia was 633 birds.  That was before Sean Dooley decided to spend his year breaking it.  Not only did he want to break it, he wanted to annihilate it.  He set himself the goal of seeing and identifying 700 birds from January 1 to December 31, 2002.

It helped that he didn't have much of a personal life at the time - no family, no significant other, no one to slow him down.  No 9:00 to 5:00 job either.  He was a comedy writer in real life, but that wasn't requiring much of his time and effort just then.  He was able to single-mindedly devote himself to his obsession.

This book tells how he did it, with all the ups and downs along the way.  He had a lot of help from friends and from other birders who became interested in his quest.  But he also ran into a few snarly and unhelpful people along the way who thought that being a twitcher was just too weird.  (Twitcher is a British and an Australian term for bird watchers who obsessively list birds that they see.)

In the end, Dooley had the last laugh as he did indeed reach his goal.  In fact, he plowed right past it to 703 species.

This book is one bird chase after another and gets very repetitive after awhile.  Only a true twitcher would read every single word with relish.  I was hampered in my reading because so many of the species that he talked about were unfamiliar to me.  Still, it was an interesting read.  I don't think I'll ever be a twitcher.  I'm a simple backyard birder, but I understand the compulsion that drives people for whom birds become the total focus of their lives.       


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