I do like a good Big Year book. I’ve read at least five other books on the subject*. This one had received some very good reviews so I didn’t think the focus on the state of Louisiana would be a problem.
Marybeth Lima is a professor who has written several non-birding books. This overcomes the problem with some Big Year accounts that are written by people who aren’t writers by training, and fail to get the excitement they experienced across on paper to the reader.
Big Year accounts fall into two main camps – people who set out in advance with a masterplan and people who fall into it almost by accident. This one is in the latter category, year listing creeps up on the author in stages.
The best Big Year books are those that aren’t just a straight list of places visited and birds seen on given dates. This is firmly in that camp, Marybeth’s partner is seriously injured in an accident and there is a backdrop of somebody close to them declining and passing away.
I felt that the book could have made more of the psychology at play in undertaking a Big Year. At one point whilst her partner is convalescing Lima relates that she gets as much pleasure from watching pigeons at the hospital as she would chasing year ticks. That clearly isn’t the case however, and it would have been interesting to explore more why.
The book is sparsely illustrated with vignettes. These felt a little basic to me, and I assumed that they were drawn by the author. When I checked they were in fact done by an illustrator, given that I felt they could have been a little more polished.
That said ‘Adventures Of A Louisiana Birder’ is generally an entertaining and absorbing read. It also avoids an obvious problem with a Big Year account that they can sometimes run out of steam and get repetitive. This book goes out on a high, with a well crafted and inspiring epilogue.
Now I have to get a copy of Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway, the start of the Big Year genre and argued by many to still be the best.
* US – The Big Year by Mark Obmascik and Lost Among The Birds by Neil Hayward, UK – Birding In The Fast Lane by James Hanlon and Arrivals and Rivals by Adrian Riley, Australia – The Big Twitch by Sean Dooley