However they practice their pursuit, be it wading through the Norfolk Broads, or racing across rural Ethiopia at night, it requires a dedicated, almost obsessive, attitude. Head chooses the latter approach for his debut, an intimate glimpse into the mind of the birdwatcher, of the dreams they pursue across some of Earth’s most inhospitable terrain. Head explores their unique ambitions to locate, observe, and understand these animals.
Such ambitions don’t get much higher than discovering the Nechisar Nightjar, officially the rarest bird in the world. Known to exist only by the discovery of a single wing in 1990, Head and his fellow explorers set out to find this most elusive specimen. Along the way, he pens a tribute to the natural world, a little lacking in drama, but still an enjoyable story about trying to uncover the truth behind this mysterious creature.
He could certainly go a little easier on the metaphors: a mountain is likened to both ‘an umbilical cord’ and ‘the neck of a dead giraffe. The style can be somewhat alienating, mentally tearing the reader out of the rainforest. Nevertheless, he writes with a freedom and poetic flair that leaves us in no doubt of his passion for the subject.
THE SEARCH FOR THE RAREST BIRD IN THE WORLD by Vernon R L Head; Signal Books; £14.99; hardback
This review was published in the February 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.