Sunday book review – Call of the Kingfisher by Nick Penny

This book is set a few miles from where I live – down the River Nene a few miles – around Oundle. The author makes regular walks, through the calendar year, and covers quite a lot of ground beside the river near his home. He sees much of the local Kingfishers, but much more besides. There are accounts of other wildlife, of the history of the places along the river, and visits further afield up and downstream of the river.

I liked it, as it was a great mixture of the familiar and unknown for me, and I learned much about familiar places. I didn’t know there is a small and long-lasting colony of Midwife Toads in Oundle (I knew of the one in Bedford) – how exciting!  But you don’t need to know any of the places to get a lot from this book which is written in a very sympathetic manner. This could be the story of many rivers in England, and some elsewhere in the UK – a mixture of history and natural history with comments on life and human activities.

A bonus for the reader is that the author has recorded sounds, which can be accessed to accompany the book. I’ve tried them and they work very well. The Nightingale is, surely, the star but there are another 40 recordings, mostly of birds but also those Midwife toads and some mammals too. The author is a maker and user of musical instruments and a writer of music, and uses his ears much more than I use mine. That gives this book a very refreshing and personal flavour which is entirely welcome.

The production values of the book are a bit cheap and cheerful I fear – the quality of the writing has to work against a rather downmarket feel to the book, but because ot its quality it does win through.

The cover? Not great. Those wing feathers just aren’t right. On the rear, the black wingtips of a Red Kite just about disappear against the dark blue background making the bird look misshapen. I would have gone for a scene of the River Nene with a small Kingfisher as the book is about the river and its environs much more than about Kingfishers.  I’d give it 4/10.

Call of the Kingfisher: bright sights and birdsong in a year by the river by Nick Penny is published by Bradt Guides.



Buy direct from Blackwell’s – a proper bookshop (and I’ll get a little bit of money from them)