Flying Over the Pyrenees; Standing on the Plains
by Steve West
Part travelogue, part memoir, part ornithology, this is an engaging story of a young man seeking adventure and enlightenment in a foreign land.
Driven by a lifelong love of birds and nature, this book will by turn entertain and inform. From flying kites with larks to necking with nightjars and soaring over the Pyrenees with lammergeyers, the author takes the reader on an intimate trip to the beautiful landscapes of Catalonia in northeast Spain and beyond.
In 1988 Steve West moved from East Anglia to Catalonia in north-east Spain to find birds and a new life. Nearly twenty years later he is married to a local girl with two children, is an active ornithologist leading bird watching tours and in this delightful book he tells us something of the story of how he made his home in this attractive area of Spain. Each chapter has an individual species as its focus opening with "Gorgeous Wallcreepers" and concluding with "Queens and Bonelli's Eagle". In between, the reader is treated to accounts of the species and a little of how and where to find them although this aspect has been dealt with more fully in his earlier book "Where the birds are in north-east Spain" published in 2004. Then there are the tales of trips in search of the birds, sometimes alone, sometimes with his family or with other local birders and with tour groups. This in itself would be enough to justify purchasing the book but he also touches on local history, the local people and especially the conservation problems for the habitats that support some of the rarer species. Development and agricultural improvements affect this part of Spain as much as elsewhere. All the way through the book are engaging glimpses of the author's life in his adopted homeland.
Each section has an attractive line drawing by Toni Nievas and my favourite is a drawing of Cranes migrating over the little town of Balaguer. I suspect the author felt the same as this illustration appears on the cover of the book, although reversed, and on his business card. My only complaint is that there is no map showing the locations mentioned but its absence in no way spoils the pleasure of reading this book
This is an ideal book for the bedside, a wet day on holiday or whilst travelling, especially if you are heading for Spain. If you are not already familiar with the special species mentioned then Steve's infectious enthusiasm for the birds will draw you towards this sometimes overlooked part of Spain.
Colin Wright August 2007