Tim Dee has produced a book the aim of which seems to be simple. To return beauty and wonder to our understanding of birds. This is a book long on poetry and short on lists, it is long on wonder and short on rarities.
Technical descriptions can provide a picture of the bird as an object, but give no real insight into the actual living bird itself. Using the notes on the plumage of a Nightjar from "Birds of the Western Palearctic" (aka BWP or "The Bible') as an example, Dee suggests that a description that relies simply and only on the physical bird is a "defeat". Through the likes of the BWP you may come to know the bird as an object, but know nothing of it as a living thing, as a real live entity.
The pages of this book are full of references to other ways of knowing the birds you see. Poetry, music, literature. He suggests that many birds exist as an idea as well as an object and that these can often be best grasped through less technical, but no less informative, language. In some cases, such as the Nightingale he suggests, as others have done, that poetry built our image of the bird as much as the bird did itself. In other parts of the books he describes our lack of contact with the natural world in wonderful ways; "they call to us, but we do not notice" he says.
This is a book of almost spellbinding beauty - not without flaws, or some passages that seem a little self indulgent, but beautiful none the less. The chapter on the ending of the day in a Devon woodland is one of the most evocative I have read. The damp western woodlands that the author so clearly loves flow from the page. As the day dies and the birds fall silent in the Devon woodlands, the end of the book approaches.
If you watch birds for their mystery and charm, rather than as a source of ticks, I would suggest this is the book for you.