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how to watch a bird

Matthew Butt



I’ll say it now – I have never had any interest in bird-watching, and after reading how to watch a bird, Steve Braunias’ contribution to the successful Ginger Series, I still don’t find the idea of clambering around a swampy shoreline in search of a SIPO (birder-speak for South Island Pied Oyster Catcher) even remotely appealing.
And yet, I loved this book. The appreciation and enjoyment with which Braunias approaches his subject is infectious, and as is always the case, his writing is engaging, witty, humorous and knowledgeable.Many of Braunias’ trademark elements are present throughout the book: his off-hand humour, at times rather cutting – “Middleton Grange goes into the nonsense of a young earth created by God 8000 years ago. The rest of us can thank birds for explaining the way the world really works…” His evocative use of language, which never strays into pretentious wordplay, but is always directed at communicating his point:“If you want to know how to look at a bird, what you do is borrow someone else’s eyes” – that is, getting hold of a pair of binoculars.
Of course, as I was soon to learn, binoculars are always referred to as “bins”, and details like these are scattered throughout the book, as well as wry comment on the ins and outs of the New Zealand birding scene. (If you haven’t guessed by now “birder’ and ‘birding’ are the terms preferred over ‘bird-watcher’ and bird-watching’).
These details include the differences of opinion held by New Zealand birders towards the work of the Conservation Department, and the important distinction between those birders who care about birds and those who simply care about spotting them. Braunias makes occasional references throughout the book to his relationship with his partner and their new-born child. While some writers might attempt some sort of dual storyline or other, similar literary device, Braunias avoids this trap, instead using these brief episodes to add a still more personal touch to a work that is already highly personal in its approach.
While at times I have felt vaguely perplexed by some of Braunias’ journalism, this book is a highly approachable example of his writing, and it’s easy, conversational tone and modest length make for an entertaining read.