A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: a review

Now for something completely different.

Over Christmas and New Year I read a book called A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: a novel written by Australian author Nicholas Drayson.

A a first glance at the front cover you might be forgiven for thinking that this is just another field guide, albeit to a part of the world with a wonderfully rich and diverse bird life. Look again. The two innocent words a novel at the end of the title bring a whole new perspective to the book.

The novel is a story of intrigue, excitement, adventure, mystery, crime and with a light touch of romance. Actually, the whole premise has romance as its basis. Not soppy romance, mind you, but the driving force of the main character and his protagonist is their love for another bird watcher.

Mr. Malik is quiet, reserved and polite in the extreme. He is not the one to ruffle any feathers, ornithological or human. But his heart holds a secret passion; he is deeply in love with Rose Mbikwa, leader of the Tuesday-morning bird walk of the East African Ornithological Society.

Mr. Malik secretly plans to ask Rose to the annual Hunt Ball. Harry Khan, a ghost from Mr. Malik’s past sweeps back into his life, and he too has Rose in his plans. When Mr. Malik unwisely blurts out his feelings at their club, a wager is arranged. Whoever sees the most birds in a week will be the one to ask Rose to the ball.

The chase is on, but not without the inevitable hindrances, intrigue, mystery and complications over interpretations of The Rules. Many birds are seen and woven seamlessly into the story which rollicks along to a satisfying conclusion.

Highly recommended.


Drayson, N., 2008, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: a novel. London, Penguin

Book cover: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: a novel

Book cover: A Guide to the Birds of East Africa: a novel

How to be a Birder part 17

Hint # 17 Read books about birds

Birds have had many thousands of books and magazines dedicated to their identification, study and beauty. Most birders end up having at least several field guides. Many birders subscribe to a range of birding or natural history magazines and newsletters. A few dedicated birders have large libraries of bird books. There are even specialist bookshops dedicated to bird books, or at least to books about natural history.

Books and magazines are an excellent way to educate yourself about the life of birds, their characteristics, identification and distribution. The vast majority of books are broad in their scope. Some are dedicated to the birds of a region or a particular country. Others may confine their coverage to a particular region within a country like the birds of South Australia, for example. Still others confine their attention to a specific family of birds like owls, gulls or honeyeaters. Some authors have restricted themselves to just one species for the entire publication. I have in my collection a book published many years ago on the life of the Mallee Fowl, a threatened species present near where I live.

Build up your collection of bird books and magazines over a period of several years as your budget allows. They will, I am sure, bring countless hours of pleasure over many decades. If your budget is very limited, try second-hand bookshops, garage sales and stalls at markets and fetes and even eBay. Don’t forget your local library either. Our library even has a few excellent videos and DVDs about birds.


Updated November 2013.

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Birder creates a stink

What is it with birders (bird watchers)???

Sean Dooley, that amazing Australian birder who recently published his book The Big Twitch has done it again. This time he has birders all over Australia in a tizz.

He has asked via Birding-Aus (a mailing list) to list their favourite Sewage Treatment Plant! Apparently he is writing an article on the topic. As you do.

Actually, many birders are attracted to Sewage Farms. That statement needs some explanation. You see, birds are VERY attracted to these places. Highly desirable addresses – for birds that is. Birders naturally follow good birding sites, hence the connection. To the dedicated birder, sewage plants are heaven scent. (I wonder how many marriage or relationships have been destroyed in this pursuit???)

Personally, I can only recall ever visiting one such place, in the Clare Valley in the mid-north of South Australia. Haven’t been there for at least 25 years. Must check it out when we go to visit our daughter in a few weeks because it’s only several hundred metres from her place.