Review The Urban Birder by David Lindo


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The Urban Birder
The is a strong word. It confers authority, experience and definiteness. It’s why no matter how many urban alleyways I traipse down in a fruitless winter Waxwing search, I will never be the urban birder, and you shouldn’t need an introduction as to who is. He’s not the only urban-based birder, but David Lindo is the only person to brand himself, and evangelise from the pulpit of The One Show; the only birder as happy up Tower 42 on a birdless autumnal morning as he is on Cley beach. I know of no birder who isn’t at least slightly curious as to what he’s found in the parks and cemeteries of London and other cities. The answer is found in this, his debut book.

Freed from the word limits of his usual columns for Bird Watching magazine and the RSPB’s Birds, Lindo takes just over 200 pages to trace out the genesis of The Urban Birder, his development, and his Urban Birding philosophy. This takes us from the very beginnings, of the author aged six and without a field guide, staring at the sparrows in his northwest London garden, right through to a vagrant Black-and-White Warbler in a downtown Los Angeles park. He weaves a narrative of nostalgia, not only for the birds he saw but also of growing up in 70s and 80s London alongside the trials of being a teenage birder and being cool, finding a patch, and the heady days of birding Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent for the first time. Patches and finding the perfect one is a recurring topic, until Lindo settles on his beloved Wormwood Scrubs, a search that will chime with many readers. The narrative is lucid and not quite chronological, packing a lot of birding (and living) into a relatively short, and very readable, space.

Lindo’s innate and apparently unending optimism casts his past with a warmth as authentic as his experiences. His childhood is narrated with a genuine feeling for people as well as birds, which helps make this book such an engaging and easy read. The writing is not death by adjective, but simple and plainly told; it is not Proustian, but then Proust never found a Wryneck in Greater London. The simplicity of it allows everybody to read it, possibly even non-birders, though at times it does require at least a rough working knowledge of the birds he’s referring to. Ultimately this book succeeds at being a realistic portrait of a birder, and as such most birders will enjoy recognising the experiences that Lindo relates, and crucially the differences, that led to him to becoming who he is. The Urban Birder is padded out with a small selection of black-and-white photographs, which are evenly split between ones of the author and standard portraits of birds, which decorate but don’t really add much to the book.

This is also a book with a message. Since 2008 more than half of the world’s population have been living in urban areas, and this is only set to grow against a backdrop of perilous global declines in animal species and increasing pressure on green spaces. Lindo ably argues that awakening the city-based populations to the wildlife on their own doorstep is the first step to turning even more people to the conservation cause. For this Lindo deserves our respect.

Canadian author, Booker prizewinner and literary legend Margaret Atwood tweeted that The Urban Birder was "inspirational and informative", and recommendations do not come higher than that. This book is a wonderful way to spend a long autumn or winter evening; it is interesting to the well-seasoned birder, could kindle the passion in beginner birders, and is downright essential to the city birder.

Available from the BirdGuides estore
Pages: 224, Hardback
ISBN: 9781847739506
Images: 30 black-and-white photographs

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The information in this article was believed correct at the time of writing. BirdGuides accepts no responsibility for errors, or for any consequences of acting on information in the article. The opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily shared by BirdGuides Ltd.

hide section Reader comments (1)

I enjoyed this review. As a writer myself (and a life-long birder) I liked its conciseness and nice turn of phrase. Humour at Marcel Proust's expense is always a bonus. Most importantly it made we want to buy the book.
   Jefny Ashcroft, 21/09/11 19:02Report inappropriate post Report 

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