A transplanted Brit travels the birding grounds of America to spy on the avifauna.
Equipped with maps, bug spray, spotting scope, field glasses, camera, bird book and, of course, iPod to check birdsongs, debut author Dempsey explored the state of Washington in its customary rain and the Everglades of Florida in their accustomed insect swarms, hoping for a fleeting glimpse of rare fowl. His travel took in special tracts in Michigan and Pennsylvania, a bit of Mexico and lots of New York’s Central Park. (Dempsey is now the editor in chief of Hudson Street Press in New York.) Travails included a few confrontations with belligerent gunslingers, native waitresses and coarse amateur birders. But there were sympathetic birders and bloggers to assist with the differences between Scott’s oriole and an orchard oriole. The author traveled with bird nerds Don and Donna Graffiti (“mostly a product of my fevered imagination,” he admits) in pursuit of a life list that just might include a buff-bellied hummingbird, a crested caracara or even a dickcissel. To be seen in Arizona were the elegant trogon, the zone-tailed hawk and lots of warblers; in Texas, the fabulously colored green jay. No wonder, with all the avian excitement, a herd of bison was just a cliché to the blasé Dempsey; the only beings better than birds were his twin girls. (He gives no reason for his broken marriage, but readers may well wonder if a lonely spouse might have urged him to “get a life!”) The writing is cute—the author describes his own belly as well as bird bellies—and sincere—he wants us to fix the environment and save many wonderful species while they still exist.
Dempsey proves to be that rara avis, a witty birder, but even humor can’t wholly convey ornithological obsession to any but fellow travelers.