Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?
By Lev Parikian
A lapsed and hopeless birdwatcher’s attempt to see 200 birds in a year
Publication date: June 2018Buy
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As a 12-year-old, I was an avid birdwatcher. I was also a fraud, a liar and a cheat. Those lists of birds seen, ticked off like Don Juan’s conquests? A tissue of lies. One hundred and thirty species? More like 60. Dotterel, firecrest, smew? Give me a break.
So when I revived my dormant mania early this year, I decided to right my childhood wrongs, even though they were born of good intentions. I would go birdwatching again. I would keep track of the birds I saw. I would not lie. To spice things up, and to guard against enthusiasm fatigue, I set myself a target. Six hundred and one bird species have been recorded in Britain. I would aim to see 200 of them in a year. A doddle, surely?
Not so fast, man-cub.
Half of the 601 are described as ‘rare’. One, the great auk, is extinct. That leaves 300. My friend Andrew is a proper and active birder. In his best year he clocked up 206. I’m neither proper nor active. What chance do I have? Slim to none. But I like a challenge.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? is the story of that challenge. But it’s not just about birds. It’s about family, music, nostalgia; hearing the stories of strangers; the nature of obsession and obsession with nature. It’s about finding adventure in life when you twig it’s shorter than you thought; losing and regaining contact with the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world; the humiliation of being a professional musician who doesn’t recognise the song of a blue tit. It’s about the first time my parents heard me say ‘fuck’.
It’s a book for anyone who has ever seen a small brown bird and wondered what it was, or tried to make sense of a world in which we can ask ‘What's that bird?’ and ‘What's for lunch?’ and get the same answer. It’s also a long overdue thank you letter to my parents.