Sunday book review – A Sky Full of Birds by Matt Merritt

9781846044793_1This is a book about bird gatherings from seabird colonies to winter roosts. Having spent a frustrating evening recently looking for a Pied Wagtail roost that wasn’t there I enjoyed hearing of Matt Merritt’s successes.

A huge flock of birds is a sight to be seen – and sometimes a sound to be heard and a smell to be sniffed too. This is the tale of UK avian wildlife spectacles.  I’ve visited many of the places that are in the book and Merritt’s writing took me back to them and to what I saw or didn’t see there.

But actually it was the personal tales that sprinkle the book that endeared it to me.  I can well imagine dropping my shopping under similar circumstances in a supermarket car park, feeling the same and choosing the same solution as did Matt Merritt. But I have never dreamed of birds in the way that Merritt tells us he does. Now I think of it, it seems odd that I don’t remember any similar dreams. I certainly haven’t dreamed of a half dozen Mediterranean passerines being joined in a garden by an Arctic mammal either.

As well as being about the birds, this book is about the places where the author sees them and about what goes on in his head while looking through his binoculars.  It’s a comforting, pleasant read.

A Sky Full of Birds: in search of murders, murmurations and Britain’s great bird gatherings by Matt Merritt is published by Rider.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.  Updated paperback edition now out.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson.

I have a few hardback copies of  A Message from Martha left to sell at paperback prices – but not many.

 

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6 Comments

  1. murray marr says:

    Winter flocks. Great times to be out and about and to be jotting things down:

    Nov. 14 Boys slide on the Ice! Flocks of hen-chaffinches are seen.
    [GW, 1786]

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  2. Jonathan Wallace says:

    Pied Wagtails seem to have a strong predilection for motorway service stations! Many a winter's journey has been lit up by encountering large numbers of these charming birds when stopping for fuel and a loo break.

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    • Mark says:

      Jonathan - yes indeed, and racecourses. The Pied Wagtail is the 'last race' bird which is almost always flying over and perching on the stand roof as the gloom gathers. Telford services on the M54 were just packed with Pied Wags on my way back from Wales a couple of weeks ago.

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    • murray marr says:

      At some service stations Rooks are also a delight when doing their ‘feathered ape’ antics cooperating and retrieving discarded food from the litter bins. http://www.cell.com/fulltext/S0960-9822(05)00080-1 [3rd para down]

      Wagtails are equally enterprising. At least that was back in the 70’s on a small Sussex farm. Back then, small winter parties would grace the glistening furrows, their excited ‘twizzicks’ clearly audible above the sound of the hissing plough, the biting wind and the steady chugging of the Fordson tractor.

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  3. Lyn Ebbs says:

    A foggy December evening in Woodstock, the town centre trees decorated with lights and one of them full of pied wagtails like fluffy baubles, hunkered down amongst the branches.

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    • Mark says:

      Lyn - very nice. I remember driving through Cadiz one November early evening and the orange trees by the road were full to bursting with White Wags.

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