Bird Fair books – review – The Art of Mindful Birdwatching by Claire Thompson

If, like me, you’ve heard quite a lot about mindfulness but don’t really know what it is, and if, like me, you are interested in birds, then this might well be the book for you. I found it interesting and read it all the way through.

This book is a bit like most management courses I’ve attended – reassuringly sensible once you get through some of the jargon.  I felt that I had been a fairly mindful birdwatcher for decades although there are areas for improvement and some areas where I’m never going to get any better after all this time.

So what is mindfulness? I’m still not completely sure but it’s certainly to do with being aware, being in the moment, experiencing life without judging and putting yourself in the place of others so that you empathise with them.  Watching birds is a good route to mindfulness says the author, and I agree.

Some of the most mindful birders I know watch birds in their gardens – and they really know their birds, although they would be stumped if presented with a Curlew Sand in a flock of Dunlin in September.  The most mindful birdwatcher I know is an FRS and a Professor of Zoology, and many other behavioural ecologists, ecologists and evolutionary biologists wouldn’t be far behind.  They look at birds in detail, and think deeply about what’s going on in a bird’s world.  And the least mindful birders are some twitchers  – unmindful to the point of mindlessness, I’d say. But most of us are a mixture.

After about 25 pages I was thinking, ‘Yes, I get it. It makes quite a lot of sense. But what more is there to say?’ and then after 50 pages I was thinking ‘Hmmm, this is interesting, I wonder what comes next’  and that approach carried me through to the end of the book with quite a lot of enjoyment.

There were a couple of irritations for me though. First, I sometimes felt as though I was being told what to do and what to think,  and that never works with me!  I felt less encouraged and more instructed in places.  Second, the author has a great love for adjectives; few nouns remain unaccompanied by adjectives (good adjectives, bad adjectives, appropriate adjectives and in a few places, slightly strange choices of adjectives) – these were a bit distracting.

But I enjoyed this book. I did get a better grip of what mindfulness is, and the author talks a lot of sense about birds and birding too.  The case is made that mindful birding will be a much better route to happiness and contentment than mindless birding.


Claire is speaking at the Bird Fair on Sunday 20 August in the Authors’ Forum 09:30-10:00.

The Art of Mindful Birdwatching by Claire Thompson is published by Leaping Hare Press.


Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson – for reviews see here.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury for reviews see here.

Behind the Binoculars: interviews with acclaimed birdwatchers by Mark Avery and Keith Betton is published by Pelagic – here’s a review and it’s now out in paperback.



10 Replies to “Bird Fair books – review – The Art of Mindful Birdwatching by Claire Thompson”

  1. I’m just guessing, but not this Claire Thompson?

    “Claire Thompson is a BDSM author who has had over fifty novels published since 1996. Claire explores the romance of M/F erotic submission, as well as the darker side of the BDSM experience” – sez Wiki

    1. Filbert – I’m guessing you are right. Will you be at the Bird Fair? If so, you could ask her. And if you were, you could tell me about your Spotted Flycatchers and I’d be happy to buy you a pint, maybe more, of Bird Fair ale.

      1. I realised that the Leaping Hare cover looked distrubingly familiar so my question was answered.

        Will I be at the Bird Fair? No – far too far, much too much non-essential fossil fuel use. Will it ever be at Nether Wallop?

        The Flyscrapers have gone for the year. They keep very regular hours – if I am still in the Land of the Living I will know when it is the middle of May 2018.

        Alas I don’t drink ale no more – too much unfermented sugar. Ballantines, or even Famous Grosue, though …

        1. Filbert – I have a bottle of Famous Grouse within reach – but your glass is a little too far away for me to offer you one at this moment (and no, I am not partaking right now).

    2. Filbert, blimey, I thought I was floating ‘in the moment’ until I read your question. But thanks anyway — it needs a thorough investigation with, let’s hope, a blog on the results.
      Meanwhile all birders and co should be mindful that most wildlife doesn’t like being looked at. And another thing is the way animals can be surprisingly tolerant of the non-acquisitive passer-by.
      Therefore drifting insouciance with, for example, the occasional thought about Tantra Yoga, might do the length of some twitchers’ lists a lot of good.

  2. I have also just finished reading the book and found it an excellent read. Birdwatching is not my main hobby although I certainly have more than a passing interest in our feathered relatives! (Coincidentally last week, my wife and I were watching curlews in Donegal bay (as mindfully as we could muster!)) I do identify with some of the comments regarding the style, but I’m assuming that the author is aiming for the widest audience possible (for the sake of the birds!) and I suspect that some people will be attracted by some of the more ornate descriptions and indeed the more instructional aspects. I did not read the sections in order, but I found it quite a feat of the writing that it is very easy to pick a section and still be able to capture the essential messages of the book. I was also very struck but what I saw as a twist at the end, when the author brings to the fore the argument that a more mindful appreciation of birds could contribute positively to their conservation. Although it may be a long shot, I think it essential that such a narrative is maintained with the hope that there will be a slow erosion of the traditions, rituals and habits which destroy the birds and their habitats. In short, a great book, whether you are reading from a birdwatching, mindfulness or general interest point of view, there is enough for everyone to appreciate.

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