I'm currently reading several books at once for various reasons, and so far have lost the only one I've actually finished. It won't be far away, but it will be well camouflaged. Never mind. One of the books is Georgette Heyer's Powder and Patch which is the current #ReadingHeyer title - and this time I'm hosting the discussion on Twitter. We only started on Sunday and if anybody would like to join in please do. The hashtag will find us.
I bought 'Best Days With Shetland Birds' direct from The Shetland Times Bookshop, because it has a Howard Towll illustration on the cover (see his Instagram here) and I am a fan. I kind of assumed there might be more Howard in the book, and maybe some of Paul Bloomer's pictures as well as his words - wrong on both counts but in the end it didn't matter. I absolutely fell in love with this odd little book - it's easily the most delightful thing I've read this year.
I was a reasonably enthusiastic bird watcher growing up in Shetland and continue to enjoy the birdlife when I was back there, but it wasn't a hobby that survived moving to the city until lockdown made it possible to really go out and see what was on my doorstep. It helps that peregrines, egrets, and the occasional red kite have colonised these parts, but even the peregrines do not punctuate the Leicester skyline in the way that gannets, terns, and bonxies define a Shetland summer.
Best Days With Shetland Birds is odd because it's hard to classify. It's a collection of memories from dozens of people of the best bird days they remember. Some celebrate particular rarities, others great days with lots of good spots, there are celebrations of particular birding patches, and of some less glamorous sightings - the overall theme is enthusiasm and a sense of community. The weather might be awful, the birds reluctant to show themselves, car keys lost, but eventually each day delivers. In the process friendships between the birding community come to the fore as does a sense of what an amazing place Shetland is for bird watching.
My interest is the very mild sort, my expertise at identifying birds is basically non-existent once you get away from the really obvious species, and I'm probably not going to spend time learning which warbler is which but the appeal here is also in the number of birds listed that even I could spot. That's part of the magic of Shetland; find somewhere comfortable in a likely spot and you'll see all sorts of things. My favourite would be gannets diving for food seen from a likely spot on the shore, or listening to snipe drum overhead and trying to spot them on a summer's evening. Basically this book is an absolute gem if you have even the most passing interest in bird watching and you should definitely buy it!