Sunday book review – The Glitter in the Green by Jon Dunn

I remember my first hummingbird. I was sitting on a log in a forest in Canada hoping to see a Beaver (I didn’t) when I heard a whirring sound behind me. I turned, wondering whether I was about to eyeball a large dangerous insect, and was relieved and delighted to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeding on a purple flower spike about three feet away. Mesmerising!

In a previous book Jon Dunn went in search of orchids in Britain and Ireland. That was a thoroughly engaging tale of the species, places and history of those orchid species and the naturalists and collectors associated with them. This book is organised along similar lines but takes us in search of many of the world’s hummingbirds from 60N in Alaska to 63S in Fernando Po. It’s a brilliant read, and not only if you are keen on hummingbirds but just if you are keen on nature, and places, and people and history.

Hummingbirds are amazing, they are somewhat unbelievable creatures. Every time I see them I think they are impossible. Their wings beat in a whirring blur, they can hover and adjust their positions minutely accurately, they can fly backwards to leave a flower, their feathers glint and gleam with irridescence, they are nectar-fuelled and make massive migrations and they are tiny, tiny, tiny.

I’ve only seen North American hummingbirds, some at the same places that Dunn visits in this book (such as the Paton House in Patagonia, Arizona, to revel in Violet-throated Hummingbirds) but the most extravagant of the species are in South America and I was delighted to be taken there by such an engaging guide and with no biting insects as I read the book.

Jon Dunn writes so well. There is only so much, though quite a lot, that one can write about the impossible creatures that are hummingbirds but it is the context in which those observations are made, the places visited and the back stories of people involved in the birds’ histories, good and bad, that make this book, and Jon’s orchid book, such good reads.

What next, Jon Dunn? Could you possibly take me around the world in search of whales and dolphins perhaps? I hope so as I’d like to read more from you, please.

The cover? Not bad, it makes it clear that this is a book about hummingbirds, but it has a little of the flavour of one of those Victorian cabinets stuffed full of hummingbirds; 6/10.

The Glitter in the Green: in search of hummingbirds by Jon Dunn is published by Bloomsbury (on 24 June).

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