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Book Review - 'Bird Without Border - An Obsession, A Quest, and the Biggest Year'

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

One thing that so many birders have in common is an abundance of bird books, if there is a new field guide on the market we just have to have it, books with all the region’s birds, books with only LBJ’s, books to help identify waders and well the list can go on and on. I have a small bookshelf at home with two shelves that are full of bird books. Now that I have almost all the bird identification books for my region; I have started to look for books with stories of birders and the birds that they have found. A year or so ago I saw a book by a well-known birder, and I wanted the book badly! Eventually, after many months of waiting, I brought the e-book and eagerly started reading it. It started off well but by the time I got halfway through the book, the book was about as appetizing as a packet of day-old stale McDonald’s fries! He started with some great stories but then page after page was filled with lists in paragraph form of birds that he had seen. He had lots of material, but what I feel is he lacked heart. I still have not finished the book.

After hearing about Noah Strycker’s worldwide big birding year on Youtube Video I wanted to read the book that he had written about the big year. Unlike the book that I mentioned earlier, this book lived up to and exceeded what I expected. It was not filled only with listings of the birds that he saw, it was filled with stories of places, people and the experiences that surrounded every bird that he saw. Unlike the stale McDonald’s fries of the before mentioned book, this book was more like a juicy steak buffet, I took less than five days to read through all 336 pages of this book!

The book I am speaking about is ‘Birding Without Borders: An Obsession, a Quest, and the Biggest Year in the World’, a book in which Noah writes about how in 2015 he set out to become the first person to see half of the bird species in the world over the course of the year, he traveled through forty-one countries and across all seven continents, and he ended the year not only spotting half of the species in the world but notching up 6042 species over the course of the year!

What makes this book captivating is not only the birds that he saw, although many times I was googling many of the birds he mentioned and checking the price of air tickets to get to see them, but rather the stories behind the birds that he saw. I loved hearing how he planned the big year and was fascinated by how he fitted everything into one small bag (it also left me wondering about how the passengers around him much have felt sitting next to a guy that hadn’t cleaned his clothes that much). The book is filled with stories of people that he met – from normal birders that took him out, to professional field guides, to a priest in India and many other fascinating characters. The story also highlights stories about habitat destruction how it is affecting the birds that are around the world.

What I loved most of all is the passion that Noah has, it was so much more than simply a list of birds, you can see his passion for birds (and even the people that he experienced the birds with) jumping off the pages of the book. Reading the book gave me a greater appreciation for birds and made me want to experience species of birds and places that I have never experienced. Noah in birding circles is well known and I would dare to say has a celebrity status, but the book shows the real person behind it all, a person that simply loves birds (and he seems like a real genuine guy also).

The only downside to the book is that at times it there were countries that I would have loved to read more about. An example of this was South Africa which I was eagerly waiting for, he saw 442 species in my home country, but sadly it was covered in only a few pages. I would love to have had more stories and accounts, not only of South Africa but also some other places that I don’t feel he fully gave justice to. The challenge he would have had is to decide what to include and what to leave out, and with a year like he had, I can only imagine how difficult this must have been.

This is a book that I highly recommend, to both birders and non-birders. What Noah successfully does is to write a book about birds that isn’t packed with ornithological terms that would confuse the average reader, but instead writes a book that is well written and simple enough for most people to read. The stories of the places that he saw and people that he experienced will interest both those who are ‘sold’ on birding and those who may have just a passing interest. One warning that should come with this book, set some time aside because you are going to struggle to put it down!

Rating 9/10



May 08

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Gunnar Engblom
Gunnar Engblom
Jul 08, 2020

Noah is not only a great writer but also a great companion in the field. Any hardships are overcome with Noah's always positive attitude. It was a pleasure to spend three weeks with him in Peru.

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