Full review from edition 4.
Ornithologists, birders, twitchers rejoice! It’s finally here…
Catching the Bug – A Sound Approach guide to the birds of Poole Harbour by Mark Constantine, Nick Hopper & The Sound Approach
This is a guide like no other: the photographs and illustrations alone are worth the asking price. Aurally, the double CDs are as lovely as a summer’s evening; intellectually, it’s an education as material is delivered at a measured pace with wry wit. Sonograms add a whole new dimension to appreciation while the anecdotal nature of the manuscript (which should have gone all wrong – they’re twitchers after all) has a style so engaging that engaging with the content is an all too easy step. Before you know it, you’ve learnt something and you’ll want to learn more.
Rumour has it that among the surprisingly segmented and fractious world of the twitching society (whose archetype gets a nod in Chapter 22: Bill Oddie, Bill Oddie, rub your beard on my body), the most eccentric are the people with microphones; The Recorders. One imagines they are the virtuosi of the ornithological world; certainly the results are rhapsodic. A brace of CDs more than adorn the inside front cover; striking as they are with a hunting hobby (Falco subbuteo) on the first and a nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus) on the second, they’re the whole point of the book. Listening to them with the guide to hand, sonograms spring to life and unknown yet familiar voices attain names and form. Although selected tracks have been manhandled to reduce extraneous noise, by and large the recordings are untouched which imparts a sense of immediacy and locality. One charming track even has the lulling tones of church bells tolling in the distance.
Arguably, Catching the Bug is designed to be read from beginning to end with its CDs loaded in the gramophone, earphones over the noggin and pause button to hand. Its structure centres on narrative rather than listings species by species and the recordings play an interactive role throughout. The main text has insets tagged to the relevant CD and track which provide a short but comprehensive précis: common name, the Latin, where and when the species was recorded, but also, if that isn’t enough, those of any other birds chattering in the background.
Or you can forget the music and simply read the book – it’s a darn good yarn. Authors Mark Constantine and Nick Hopper have been marshaled into transferring their good-natured banter, as well as the science and sentiments of The Sound Approach group, to the page. Much is made of the camaraderie and competition between the ‘birders’; it’s clear from the introduction that ale houses are the preferred headquarters. Stories of foreign adventures and rare breeds are swapped, arguments relayed, and subsequently the prose ambles along in the manner of pithy discussion over a bitter(n), all tucked away in a cosy corner of the pub. Humour is never far away, nestling comfortably between comprehensive twitcher-like observations and often startling information. The last breeding pair of Common Ringed Plovers was blown up by the bomb disposal unit, here – informs one caption to a photograph. Another: Marsh Harrier eggs thinned due to DDT, breeding stops in 1963. Such are sharp reminders of what has been lost and how we lost it – ignorance, mostly.
Archaeological and historical background in the early chapters, stretching beyond the days when Poole Harbour was a landlocked swamp, yields a trove of information – much of it drawn from first hand research by renowned local archaeologist, Lillian Ladle. Ilay Cooper’s excellent chronicle, Purbeck Revealed, provides more recent historical flavour, quotations liberally peppered. Then there are gems of information so unexpected they genuinely illuminate; here’s but one: “Like a mythical destination from a pirate film, tidal systems rotate around amphidromes and consequently the tide neither rises nor falls (this is to do with the Coriolis effect)… there is a minor one of the edge of the New Forest… All the smaller harbours along the Solent, like Christchurch, have a tiny tidal range because of their proximity to the amphidrome.” Bet you didn’t know that!
The all too rare illustrations by Killian Mullarney are both utilitarian and utterly beautiful. His scientific attention to detail is matched by an intrinsic appreciation of his avian subjects; the brush-hand of a master technician and attention to anatomic detail combine with the eye of a seasoned campaigner-in-waders to produce truly insightful images. The illustrations are nothing short of fine art. May we look forward to an exhibition? The public deserve it! But more so, a compendium of these and other works that we might treasure at home.
With the trunk running to 264 pages and nearly a kilo in weight, the words ‘pocket-book guide’ don’t readily spring to mind and there are few similarities between the formats – though, in common with the more standard type, the beginning is only one of several points of entry. Whichever way you read this book, The Sound Approach won’t let you down.
ISBN 978-90-810933-0-9 £29.95
Published by The Sound Approach
For more information, visit: www.soundapproach.co.uk