Some birding is just like breathing –you just do it subconsciously. A Dunnock hopping across a path; the Song Thrush that sings in every outdoor scene of Holby City; or the variety of owls in those young wizard films. Then there is more active birding and the plans you make to get you to those really great birding spots –home or away. Tales From Concrete Jungles is a combination of both of these the everyday and the exciting reminding the reader you can see birds anywhere –if you want to.
NZ26 was a personal attempt to get to appreciate the everyday at the expense of the more bird rich areas. As you know NZ26 has no area that would generally be recognised as a nature/bird reserve. All of those by accident sit outside the boundary –Shipden Pond, Swallow Pond, Big Waters, but it does have a number of key areas which have managed to clock up 130 species so far in 2015. So I was interested to see how other cities fare.
The book appears to be a collection of David’s articles in ‘Bird Watching ‘ about the different towns and cities he has been to and been shown the birding sights there in. So if you have read these you may be familiar with them and his style. I did not buy this book, but was standing next to the author when our raffle ticket was pulled out at the Hen Harrier Day at RSPB Saltholme. It was our second prize from an amazing run of 8/10 tickets that got pulled out, the first one won me Inglorious.
The first selection, are towns and cities widely scattered around Britain. The pattern is one of meeting a local birder who shows him around. Birders are a competitive bunch and I guess some people have been keen to show him the absolute best so while I enjoyed the trip to Exeter I am not sure I would have counted Dawlish Warren as urban. Each example follows a similar pattern of the names of the local places to look; species seen; species missed; and the rarities that have been seen at certain sites.
There is a good scattering of places in the North and especially the North East, though he skirted around the outside of NZ26. With the obvious exception that Washington is not in North Tyneside, David portrays the feel of being guided around a new area well. The real urban places start to be filled with life which most of us miss –e.g. Stockton and Middlesbrough. And it is good to see favourites appear such as the ‘ladders and vans’ of the Dr’s Garden wall for the White-throated Robin. Lowestoft also came out well as true urban birding –underwatched and the temptation is for local birders to travel somewhere else when there could be goodies on their doorstep. This section did remind me of the Sabine’s Gull that spent one summer moulting while people like me, picked their way through full nappies left on the promenade. Neither of these two facts made the book.
I was found the book a bit of a chore in some sections –went to a place, met a guides saw/missed some birds and here are some other species that really make the record books. Then I reached the sections around London. David is obviously much more familiar with places here. The sections on vismigging onTower 42; Canary Wharf rarities; and the development of Beddington Sewage Farm contain the levels of detail absent from his whistle stop tours to other areas. It was this I wanted to see more of.
I think the author could have done better in providing these details that birders could hook into throughout the whole book. It was these insights that make you feel the author has either missed a trick or could be a suggestion for a future book. That is how bird’s lives, not birder’s lives, are shaped by their urban environments and use information that has made Anthony McGeehan’s book so enjoyable.
The second selection are foreign trips -European and Rest of The World. Here the city provides some species sites, but generally act as a springboard for sampling the best spots nearby for birds. Many of these places suddenly go on the, ‘must think about going there’ list. For those cities I have already been to it brings back good memories e.g. Short-toed Treecreeper in Amsterdam that allowed approach down to two metres. The reports are one time trips, so you will need to do some research as to decide when to visit a city as I would argue that the bridge in Merida only comes into its own in the summer when you can look down on three species of swift.
I would recommend the book for two particular groups. Group one for birders as a Christmas present when the trips to families, makes getting out difficult. It quickly reminds you of bird names that you may forget as your arteries clog up with more calories than you eat in the rest of the year combined. Or you may find yourself in a strange city and it gives you the push to get out for an hour when you realise you are the only person still awake in the afternoon. This is because it just says, ‘Right you have an hour go and find something’. Wherever you find yourself there will be birds.
The second group are people you know who are a bit interested in birds. They would like to know more, but just need a stepping stone between showing some interest and full blown being on a nature reserve and all the confusion of species that represents. They need to know that, not only is birding OK at any age, but also their local ponds and parks have things worth looking at.