The Big Twitch
Taking a year off to try and break the Australian twitching record, the author attempts to see more than 700 birds in twelve months. Travelling the length and breadth of Australia, he stops at nothing in search of this birdwatching Holy Grail. Part confessional, part travelogue, funny throughout, this is a true story about obsession.
A growing number of birders have put their experiences into print, sharing the pleasures and pains of bird watching. Sean Dooley joins their ranks with a fascinating account of how he searched for and found over 700 species of bird in Australia in 2002 (703 to be precise).
The story includes some background information on how Sean became a birder and a twitcher (according to his glossary this term does not have quite the same negative connotation in Australia as it does in some other countries). Fortunately for Sean "Australia" includes Christmas Island, a thousand kilometres from the mainland and closer to Indonesia, and Norfolk Island, several hundred kilometres off the east coast and halfway to New Zealand, which make seeing 700 species in one year theoretically possible.
Boat trips to hunt for pelagic seabirds added to the challenge not only in finding the birds but avoiding the dreaded sea-sickness that can seriously affect one's enjoyment of such trips. To see so many birds Sean had to visit varied habitats in every part of the country involving a lot of travelling and the vastness of the country is apparent in the writing. Some of the areas he visited were remote and the dangers of operating alone in such places was brought home to me in one sentence "When something stuffs up out here you really are on your own".
For today's birders who travel the world this book is an entertaining read, full of humour and it gives a good introduction to the Australian list. It will certainly help to pass the time as one flies to Australia although most of us with a smaller budget than was available to Sean at the start of his trip will realise that his record will be difficult to break. For those for whom a visit to Australia is just a dream this book will give a vivid picture of the many, often harsh, habitats that can be found in that enormous country. As it says on the back cover "this is the story of how he followed his childhood dream to become a national champion, both inspiring and ridiculous. Could this be the most pathetic great achievement in Australian history?"