31 Dec 2009
Life List written by Olivia Gentile is about the life of Phoebe Snetsinger, one of the foremost listers of all times. She saw over 8000 species of bird in her lifetime. (Certainly beats my 439!) Its a fascinating account of her obsession with reaching the figure of 8000 birds. She didn't really start listing until she was fifty,when she was told that she had terminal cancer, even though her interest in birds was piqued by a Blackburnian Warbler in her mid thirties. She lived another eighteen years.
I found the first eighty pages of the book quite slow going as it mainly details her early life and family ties. It then picks up to the point where you are willing her on to get to 8000 species. Fortunately for her she inherited a large amount of money from her father which enabled her to travel on tours all over the world. She comes across as a woman that did not have a great amount of time for her family. She was totally single minded and did not suffer fools gladly. In those 18 years of obsession she virtually abandoned her husband, missed her mother's funeral and her daughter's wedding. Most shocking of all she was birding in New Guinea and only just survived being gang raped and it was ultimately on a birding trip to Madagascar that she died in a crash when her driver fell asleep on the road.
The book is a great read but even though one has a grudging admiration for Phoebe Snetsinger I would not have liked her to be my mother.
I found the "Big Year" by Mark Obmasick a thoroughly entertaining account of the competition between three birders in the United States to beat the Big Year record in 1998. Every year there is a competition in the States to see as many bird species as they can within the year. It follows three twitchers of varying backgrounds to compile their list. Two of whom are pretty well off and the third an ordinary overweight white collar worker having to borrow from his father to enable him to fly all over the USA to connect with the various species.
It is a humourous account of the three birders who are at first unaware that they are all striving for the same goal. I found it on a par with the Big Twitch by Sean Dooley and I would recommend it to anyone interested in birding and along with "Life List" for anyone who is interested in the obsession of listing.
The third book that I read was "Birding from the Hip" by Anthony McGeehan published by the "Sound Approach"
It is a collection of his articles that he wrote for Birdwatch Magazine and a number of extra articles all accompanied by some wonderful bird photography and I have to say I loved it.
Here is a link to a review by Charlie Moores from 10,000 Birds which says it far more eloquently than I can. Review is HERE