Sunday book review – A history of birdwatching in 100 objects by David Callahan

9781408186183This is a book worth reading.  Before you do read it, play the game yourself. What would be your 100 objects that capture the history of birdwatching?

That’s what I did, and I found it difficult to come up with a list and so I am grateful to the effort that David Callahan went to, to provide his list.  No such list can be definitive – but this one is a good attempt. I reckon my list overlapped with David’s to the tune of about 30 objects.  How much overlap will you find?

I thought that this list was a bit heavy on technology that provides better views of birds, and a bit light on knowledge – what profits the birder if he (or she) has a clearer view of a bird when he (or she) doesn’t have a clue what to look for?

There were some delightful choices on this list – the policeman’s notebook (number 23), the public telephone box (number 46) and the Rainham RSPB visitor centre (number 95).

The objects are arranged in historical order with the first 13 before 1800, the next 28 before 1900, another 47 in the 1900s and 12 more recently.  Is that distribution right?  Who cares – it’s fun!

Nine of the 100 are from 1885 to 1891 – they make fascinating reading.  What other objects do you think might nestle alongside the bird ring, the telephoto lens and the RSPB membership card?  I think you’ll be surprised.

I’d suggest that the ‘nature reserve’ might be a contender for this list – how much of your birdwatching depends on those sites protected by NGOs or others?  But when was the first nature reserve?   The first National Park was Yellowstone in 1872 but just as ‘nature reserve’ is a broad category, so is National Park.  Our English National Parks seem particularly poor in many aspects of their expected wildlife – Hen Harriers for example.

This book is nicely produced and attractive to hold and read.  I think you’ll find it stimulating – I did.

A history of birdwatching in 100 objects by David Callahan (edited by Dominic Mitchell) is published by Bloomsbury and can be purchased from them – as can A Message from Martha by Mark Avery.



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