Monday, September 10, 2007

Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufmann

I loved this book! It's a memoir of Kenn Kaufmann's time on the road in 1973, hitchhiking around the U.S. trying to see as many different bird species as he could in one year (birders call this a "Big Year."  He was still a teenager. People who don't bird (and yes, it's a verb to those who do it) are usually a bit surprised to realize that there is a very thriving birding subculture, and this book is terrific at evoking what the world of birding was like in the early 1970s. Kaufmann (who has since written several field guides to North American birds and wildlife) is an excellent writer and he makes birding sound fun even to people who don't think they would enjoy it. Here's part of his description of a "Big Day" he did with some other birders in Texas (a Big Day means trying to find as many different bird species as you can in one long day, beginning before dawn and ending no later than midnight. It's a very active pursuit, as you can see from the following!):
"Pulling up to the Texas City Dike, we leaped out of the car like gunslingers, binoculars blazing. In a matter of moments we had checked off two dozen new birds. Two Common Loons floated low in the water, like enemy submarines. Several White Pelicans and a flock of Eared Grebes were valuable bonuses. Among the Ring-billed gulls and Royal Terns we picked out two Herring Gulls, a Caspian Tern, and a Sandwich Tern. In less than five minutes we were back in the car driving away."  (pp. 179-180)
See what I mean? He's a great writer, makes it exciting, and frankly, it's also cool just to read along and get familiar with all the weird bird names. (Eared Grebe?!)

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