Hard-core birdwatching

To See Every Bird on Earth: A Father, a Son, and a Lifelong Obsession - Dan Koeppel

As you’ve probably guessed, one of my favourite pastimes is birdwatching, but after reading To See Every Bird on Earth, it’s obvious that I’m a rank amateur compared to the people you meet in this book.


The author is Dan Koeppel and it’s the story of his dysfunctional relationship with his father Richard, and of Richard’s equally dysfunctional relationship with his father.


I found the book both fascinating and sad.  Richard was pressurised by his parents into becoming a doctor, even though he really wanted to be an ornithologist.  He married young to a woman who was too much of a free-spirit to be in a committed relationship.  And so he used his hobby as a way of avoiding work problems and trying not to think about his failing marriage.


In Richard's case, his hobby was bird-watching and he decided that he was going to see every bird on earth. This ambition cost him his job, his marriage, and his relationship with his children.  The book is Dan's way of trying to come to terms with his estrangement from his father and his attempts to understand Richard's obsession and rebuild their relationship. 


From a birdwatcher’s perspective it is interesting and rather scary to see just how OCD some of these 'big listers' can become in their attempt to complete a ‘big year’ or to tick off yet another bird from their list.  And it made me very glad I don’t have that kind of obsessive personality. I get just as much pleasure watching the house-sparrows in my yard, as I do from seeing a particular species for the first time.