Birdland

BirdlandBirdland
by Leila Jeffreys
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 9780733631061
Publication Date: November 5, 2015
Pages: 188
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Hachette Books

Fine art photographer Leila Jeffreys captures the beauty and diversity of some of our most colourful and elegant feathered friends.

In BIRDLAND, Australian fine-art photographer Leila Jeffreys presents us with a bird-watching experience like no other, drawing birds out from their leafy shadows and airy territories and presenting them to us with the skill and intricate detail of a portrait painter. The result is a stunning encounter with some of the world's most beautiful birds.

On display are fine feathers of all types-eagles in burnished battle armor, fairy floss pink cockatoos, owls in spangled evening wear, and the finches and parrots who couldn't settle for just one or two colours, so chose the whole palette instead.

Captured in a moment of stillness, Jeffreys's feathered sitters reveal qualities and features that invite human projection. Meet the sociable gang-gang cockatoos Commander and Mrs. Skyring, always up for a soiree; the dignified and kingly black kite Fenrick; and the adorably gamine Pepper, a southern boobook owl with impossibly huge eyes and irresistibly cute skinny legs.

Sydney-based Jeffreys works with animal rescue and conservation groups to create her portraits. Her love and compassion for her subjects is evident throughout, and every bird has a story, which Jeffreys shares in a profile of nearly every species in the back of the book.

There are working birds, like Soren, the wedge-tailed eagle, who patrols areas to prevent cockatoos from damaging buildings and lorikeets from overindulging on sugar on hotel balconies; Blue, the orange-bellied parrot who is part of a breeding program to increase the population of this critically endangered species; and Sirocco, New Zealand's kakapo conversation superstar.

BIRDLAND invites us to rediscover birds, to gaze unhindered, and to marvel at their many-splendored glory.


A gorgeous book that I’d eyed about a year ago and dismissed as too decadent; coffee-table art books generally don’t make it into my book budget.  Luckily, I received it as a birthday gift last week, so I could wallow in the beautiful bird portraits guilt-free.

Then, at the end, I saw the List of Works, in which Jeffreys included general information about the species, and almost always, a small anecdote about her experience photographing the individual bird.  They were, apologies to Jeffreys and her obvious talent, the best part of the book, because while her photos are stunning, those little anecdotes brought them, and the bird, to life.  So much so that at some points, I found myself a little misty-eyed and a lot jealous.

A beautiful book for those that enjoy birds and photography.

To See Every Bird on Earth

To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong ObsessionTo See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession
by Dan Koeppel
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9781594630019
Publication Date: May 5, 2005
Pages: 278
Genre: Memoir, Natural Science, Non-fiction
Publisher: Hudson Street Press

What drives a man to travel to sixty countries and spend a fortune to count birds? And what if that man is your father?

Richard Koeppel’s obsession began at age twelve, in Queens, New York, when he first spotted a Brown Thrasher, and jotted the sighting in a notebook. Several decades, one failed marriage, and two sons later, he set out to see every bird on earth, becoming a member of a subculture of competitive bird watchers worldwide all pursuing the same goal. Over twenty-five years, he collected over seven thousand species, becoming one of about ten people ever to do so.

To See Every Bird on Earth explores the thrill of this chase, a crusade at the expense of all else—for the sake of making a check in a notebook. A riveting glimpse into a fascinating subculture, the book traces the love, loss, and reconnection between a father and son, and explains why birds are so critical to the human search for our place in the world.


The other day, I was having my weekly coffee with friends when one of them said to me, (in relation to a FB post of mine she’d recently seen): “You’ve become a real Twitcher, haven’t you?”

I hadn’t started this book yet, but my answer was a resounding “no” for several reasons, though it was hard to really define them for her.  Now that I have finished this book, it’s much easier, and I’ll get back to that at the end of my post.

To See Every Bird on Earth is meant to be, if you believe what it says on the wrapper, a book that explores the thrill of the chase across the world to witness as many of the earth’s birds as possible in a lifetime.   There’s some of that, but mostly, it’s the culmination of what I’m guessing was a lot of therapy for the author; a psychological catharsis of his family’s dysfunction, written and published.  In many ways, this book was marketed to the wrong demographic; those that find personal substance in others’ stories about personal journeys would find a lot to like in this book.  Needless to say, it’s not my jam.

BUT having said that, in between the family drama being laid bare, there was a lot of interesting insight into the world of Big Listers.  Big Listers are those that have seen thousands of the known species of birds in the world.  Known species is a moving target, and is currently around 10 thousand.  The biggest Big Lister has seen over 8 thousand.  This is about big numbers, big money, and big obsessions – and very little about the birds.  Koeppel, when he focuses on these people, does a better than credible job getting into their heads and their world and it was fascinating for me, in a rubber-necking kind of way.  The chance to see the birds these people have seen is tantalising; how they go about it, like a military invasion, isn’t.

And ultimately, this is why I’m not a twitcher, neither of the hobby sized or obsessive Big Lister variety.  True, I have the list of birds in my state, and I do check them off when I see them, noting the time and place.  But I don’t count, I don’t plan, set goals, or study, and I’m embarrassed at how few bird songs I can identify after the 10 years I’ve spent tramping around the bush – and at how easily I can confuse myself over identifications.

But I have no desire to ‘do better’  because my hazy goal, set when I started this and unchanged since, isn’t to just see the birds.  When I moved to Australia, not knowing how long I’d be here, I wanted to see Australia, I wanted to experience this place so far away from the rest of the world on so many levels.  Looking for birds (which are, let’s be honest, the low-hanging fruit of the wildlife tree), makes me look up, down, and into the bush; I have to actually explore my surroundings, and in doing that I come much closer to actually experiencing this amazing land.  The added bonus: not only have I seen (and am seeing) Australia in a way that will stay with me, but I have a new found sense of wonder wherever I go, including home to Florida.  I apparently lived 90% of my life alongside hundreds of bird species I never knew about because I never paid attention.  And by looking for the birds, I’m finding an entire world of wildlife right there for me to appreciate (or not, in the case of some).

So while I didn’t enjoy To See Every Bird on Earth as much as I’d hoped, I do thank its author for helping me clarify in my own mind my motivations for my avian hobby that definitely isn’t bird-watching.

A Brush with Birds

A Brush with Birds: Paintings and stories from the wildA Brush with Birds: Paintings and stories from the wild
by Richard Weatherly
Rating: ★★★★½
isbn: 9781741176445
Publication Date: November 12, 2020
Pages: 282
Genre: Natural Science, Non-fiction
Publisher: Hardie Grant

A Brush with Birds celebrates the exquisite artworks and incredible life of one of the world's finest bird painters, Richard Weatherly.

A skilled falconer and artist, Richard has spent more than fifty years observing birds and their natural habitats around the world, from Antarctica to Zimbabwe to New Guinea, Australia and America. In A Brush with Birds, Richard accompanies his stunning paintings and sketches with fascinating insights, anecdotes and knowledge gathered throughout his career.

Richard's work continues to document and celebrate the natural world, and reminds us of the importance of conserving our unique environment.


A few years ago, MT and I adopted the Icelandic holiday tradition of Jólabókaflóð.    We gift each other a book on Christmas eve, then retire to read our gifts and eat chocolate.  This year’s gift from MT was A Brush with Birds, which he bought because he thought it was written by an artist about how to draw and sketch birds.

He was half right; it’s written by a well-known wildlife artist.  But Weatherly is also something of a naturalist; when his art led him into the field, he worked with scientists and conservationists to a degree that his CV, I imagine, would be equally weighted by his artistic and scientific accomplishments.

The result turned out to be so much better than a how-to book about drawing birds.  This, instead, is a memoir of a kind, lightly touching on Weatherly’s journey from his family ranch (station) in Australia and his first personal encounter with a bird, to his higher education in England and his first forays into creating his own art, back to Australia and the homestead, and then on various adventures through Africa, North America, and Antartica.   Generously laced throughout the pages are his sketches, watercolours, and full oil paintings, done throughout the years, chronicling his journeys.

The narrative appears to be his own voice; it’s very much the printed equivalent to sitting on someone’s porch and hearing them tell their stories.  This mostly works, but I did ding my rating 1/2 star, because while that authentic voice made the narrative a warmer, more relatable one, the lack of editorial polish also made it harder to understand in spots.

A genuinely beautiful art book that is also an enjoyable read; it looks good and is good.

The Bird Way

The Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and ThinkThe Bird Way: A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think
by Jennifer Ackerman
Rating: ★★★★★
isbn: 1925713768
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Pages: 355
Genre: Science
Publisher: Scribe Publishers

'There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.' This is one scientist's pithy distinction between mammal brains and bird brains- two ways to make a highly intelligent mind. But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and, lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviours. What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, and survive. They're also revealing not only the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, and disturbing abilities we once considered uniquely our own - deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, and infanticide - but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play.

Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan, to the rolling hills of lower Austria and the islands of Alaska's Kachemak Bay, Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect - in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behaviour - birds vary. It's what we love about them. As E.O. Wilson once said, when you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.


I loved this book so much, I started putting together a post for it and realised I was going to end up writing something half as long as the book itself, with pictures most of my friends have already seen.  Thankfully I realised just how much work that would be, and frankly, Jennifer Ackerman’s done a better job that I’d ever be able to do.

The Bird Way is sort of a follow-up to The Genius of Birds, which I also highly recommend.  Both bring birds to life in a way that highlights just how unique, how smart, and how under-appreciated they are as a species by the general population.  The Bird Way focuses on some of the even more unique outliers of the species; the ones that defy expectations either by their intelligence, their capacity for play, their weird mating rituals, communications, or parenting styles (or the lack thereof).

After reading this, one comes to terms with the idea that there is truly nothing new under the sun.  There are birds that commit chicknapping, and birds that leave their eggs in everybody else’s nests..  There are birds that murder other birds, rape their females and commit acts of necrophilia.  It’s all very sordid, but their are also birds that go out of their way to feed another species’ fledglings, warn other species about predators, and practice cooperative, communal parenting.  Birds that sing so beautifully that symphonies have been written around their song, and birds that create literal walls of sound that chase out every competitor in their vicinity.

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  It’s easy, accessible reading, but Ackerman has done her research and includes a comprehensive Further Reading at the back of the book, broken down by chapters, that serves as a list of citations.  I’ll admit, part of why I enjoyed the book as much as I did was that while her focus was international, a lot of the birds discussed were Australian and ones I’ve been privileged enough to see myself.  It’s probably this first hand experience that pushed the book solidly into 5 star territory for me; perhaps without it I might have rated it 4.5 stars.  Either way, it’s a book I’d happily recommend to anyone interested in not just birds, but it how we are discovering just how wrong we’ve been about what makes humanity “special”.   And if the section about Keas doesn’t make you smile, and perhaps chuckle out loud, you must be having a really bad day.