The Biggest Twitch: Around the World in 4,000 Birds
By Alan Davies and Ruth Miller | 301 pages, 32 pages colour photography | Christopher Helm | Softcover | 2010 ISBN 9781408123874 The publishers info:

Most people dream of packing in their humdrum city life, selling up and heading off into the unknown for a life of adventure. For Ruth Miller and Alan Davies this dream became a reality, albeit with a twist; they decided to pack in their jobs, sell their house and take on the ultimate birder’s challenge – to smash the world record for the number of species seen in one calendar year. This book is the story of their great expedition, searching for birds from Ecuador to Ethiopia via Argentina, Australia and Arizona.

We follow this birding odyssey as they ratchet up the species and the stamps in their passports, sharing in amazing birding experiences such as monkey-hunting Harpy Eagles in the Brazilian rain forest, seedsnipes in the Peruvian highlands and lekking bustards in South Africa, all leading to the ultimate question – will they break the magic 4,000? Written in an accessible style, this book will be of great interest to birders, readers of travel literature, and to people who simply enjoy a good adventure.

Ruth Miller and Alan Davies are self-confessed birding obsessives from north Wales. Alan is currently warden of the RSPB reserve at Conwy. His wife Ruth is a marketing consultant, and former Head of Trading for the RSPB. They dedicated one year of their lives to beating the birder’s world record and smashing the seemingly impossible target of 4,000 species in a single calendar year.My Take on it:

I have really, really enjoyed this book and was wondering why? This is certainly not the only book logging the birding journey to a record, I’ve read at least a dozen. Its not the most lyrical, not the funniest, nor the most thrilling. To date I’ve enjoyed most but not all of such books, and a couple have been outstanding. One was great as it was part race part detective story as three shadowy figures vied for a N American ‘big year’ list. Sean Doolley’s ‘Big Twitch’ was a comic’s history of chasing a record by using the family silver – his inheritance to fund his year. So its not the fact that this book amuses, nor that it records a race for a record that makes it stand out. Nor is it the fact that the authors sold up and ‘went for it’ that makes it such a good read. Like any enjoyable read it’s a mixture and, moreover, it’s a clever marketing package too… hardly surprising given the day job of one of the authors.

I think it stands so high above most of its predecessors for a mixture of reasons… prime of these is that it is a dream many of us have, but one requiring the courage few of us possess. Ruth & Alan decided to do the unthinkable, sell up and squander the proceeds just to indulge the love of their lives – birding. They did not dream of record breaking or book writing, just of birding. Clearly this informed a big chunk of their itinerary – endemic rich counties with iconic species are not necessarily the best places to visit in search of a record. Nor are they necessarily the most easy to write about. I am sure that, way before record setting came up on the horizon some wished for destinations were firmly ensconced.Having decided to go for it the setting of a new world record was added on, both as a focus and along with publishing the journal of the attempt, gave a small ray of hope that they could re-coup the family silver after the event.

I guess I cared whether they broke the record and enjoyed that aspect of the read, but not as much as I enjoyed the countries and the birds they describe and the memories they brought to the fore of some of my own birding adventures. However, none of the above would have so entertained me as much had the whole thing not been so well written. The authors took it in turns to record each leg; luckily for us they failed to agree on doing it any other way, but both write well but Ruth’s bits bring an extra level – Alan concentrates on the birds seen, Ruth’s chapters show the reality of constant travel and the exigencies of people, places, weather and invertebrates!

In short I want you to buy this book for someone for Christmas, partly so they can pay back Ruth’s mum but mostly because it was my top read this year!

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