Published: 28/05/2014
ISBN: 9781783064090
eISBN: 9781784626761
Format: Paperback/eBook



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About the Author



Colin Rees is a biodiversity specialist with a life-long passion for birds, beginning his career on the faculty at the University of Maryland. He then returned to the UK before joining the Asian Devel... read more

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Birds of a Feather
Seasonal Changes on both sides of the Atlantic
by Colin Rees & Derek Thomas

In Birds of a Feather, an informative and beautifully illustrated book, Colin Rees and Derek Thomas portray the changing seasons in the UK and US, bringing their observations together with some startling results. With images by artists Robert Gillmor and Ian Rees, the book will appeal to anyone with an interest in birds and their future in North America and the UK.

Exploding flocks of Snow Geese rising from icy fields; the arrival of the osprey; the harmonies of the dawn chorus; migrating waders racing south before the surf – these are but a few moments evoking the sights, sounds and colours of the passing seasons observed and recorded over a year by two experienced ornithologists living on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the context of their gardens, neighbourhoods and in larger landscapes, Colin Rees and Derek Thomas provide a month by month account of their birding year, commenting upon what they see and hear. They also consider how our world is radically changing the lives of birds. Birds of a Feather celebrates the gentle patter of raindrops, the scent and luminescence of spring, swallows of an evening and the first flight of young ospreys. They take the reader on walks through grasslands, forests, marshes, estuaries and along coasts and describe the effects of changing weather on flora and fauna, the unfolding of the breeding season, bird counts, the character of birders and bird organizations in the US and UK. They also address the challenge of conservation in the modern world. Over 45 million people consider themselves bird watchers in the US and 20 million watch birds in the UK making this book appealing to bird watchers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Advanced praise for Birds of a Feather

‘The joys of the seasons are deep in our souls. Gilbert Whites classic The Natural History of Selborne shared his astute diaries of nature’s calendar. Edwin Way Teale’s acclaimed books on the American Seasons inspired a generation of naturalists on this side of the” pond”. Birds of a Feather now engages us in much the same way through the superior powers of observation and charming prose of two pals, here and there.’ – Frank Gill, formerly Philadelphia Academy of Sciences and Vice-President, Science, National Audubon Society.

Birds of a Feather is a poignant and moving reminder of how experiences of wildlife can grip the human soul and linger in our memories. Two friends thousands of miles apart share with us moments they will never forget. Their consciousness of, and love for, the natural world brings even the most unexpected places to life.’ – Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive The Wildlife Trusts.

‘This book will be a great read for birders from either side of the Atlantic who normally experience the birds of the “other side” through short trips during peak seasons. The book provides a flavour of the year-round diversity of species and habitats through the eyes of two experienced birders who understand how seasonal change drives the bird movements that make birding so much fun. The trans-Atlantic comparisons of two amazing birding locations throughout the year make this an even more compelling read.’ – Mike Parr, Vice President for Program Development, American Bird Conservancy

‘’The annual rhythms of nature provide a ceaseless flow of variety and change to our natural environment that stimulate and inspire us, wherever we live. Observing birds is surely one of the most engaging ways to enjoy the year’s natural cycle, with bird migrations each spring and autumn delivering the colour and sounds of the tropics and the Arctic directly to us. Birds of a Feather takes us, via delightful personal accounts, through the ornithological year on both sides of the Atlantic, juxtaposing the rich coastal plain of the Chesapeake Bay with the rocky coast, plains and mountains of South Wales. Along the way are valuable reminders that birds in both regions, and across the globe, are at risk from a similar array of threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.’ – David Curson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Maryland-DC

‘This delightful dialogue, back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, demonstrates that wildlife is a shared pleasure wherever we live.’ – Mark Avery, former Head of Conservation at RSPB, now a freelance environmental consultant and journalist.

The book features illustrations by Robert Gillmor (cover art) and Ian Rees (interior illustrations)

Robert Gillmor is an English artist, ornithologist and illustrator and one of the founders of the Society of Wildlife Artists of which he is a past president. He has contributed to over 100 books, is a 2001 recipient of the medal from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and his work is the subject of numerous museum collections. He recently designed seven sets of Royal Mail postage stamps and over many years has designed many of the book jackets for the New Naturalist Library in the U.K, published by Collins.

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The first two entries.

1st January

Light, Lighthouse, and Waterfowl

Dawn is breaking, the fog is slowly lifting in the eerie light of the rising sun, and the mildness of the morning is a welcome relief from the icy conditions of last week. Canada geese cackle from our creek and the calls of American crows echo in the woodland neighboring the house. I hear American robins calling in the holly trees, and from afar, a Carolina wren sings a cheery “tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.” It’s a heartening start to the New Year.

I visit Thomas Point, a wooded spit of land protruding out into the Chesapeake Bay just south of Annapolis. Offshore stands the historic Thomas Point Shoal Light, the most recognized lighthouse in Maryland. It’s the only screw-pile lighthouse remaining in the Bay, and its hexagonal wooden cottage is hauntingly reflected in the glassy water. Ships large and small glide by, and gulls cry out in the mist merging sky into water. On the Point, a few yellow-rumped warblers invade an oak tree, and a yellow-bellied sapsucker teases food from the bark.

At midday the winter sun casts vague shadows, and offshore a brown pelican flies effortlessly, close to the water, and disappears to the south. I scour the distant water for more and discover a few hundred surf scoters swimming and bobbing in tight flocks. Known as skunkhead-duck, their heavy, sloping bills make them seem front-heavy. In a small cove several dozen canvasbacks circle between piers; some dive, others call in the fashion of a strangled crow. A few redheads circle with them, but remain silent. Unlike the vertical dives of the canvasbacks, to search for food they adopt a forward lurch and sometimes dabble in shallower water. Joining them are greater and lesser scaup, bufflehead, common goldeneye, and a single, elegant, long-tailed duck (oldsquaw). The long-tailed duck is very vocal providing a melodious yodeling. Without warning, the ducks suddenly patter, run along the surface, and take flight for a neighboring cove.

In the evening, I sit before a log fire peering at activities around the birdfeeders. A few northern cardinal pipe up with a “what-cheer cheer cheer.” The cries of Canada geese echo along the creek and continue throughout much of the evening as a foggy blanket returns and cloaks the first night of the year.

New Year’s Day Bird Race

For many years it’s been a New Year’s Day tradition of the Gower Ornithological Society to hold a fun competition to see who can log up the most birds during the day. Sadly, this seems to have lapsed in recent years and we couldn’t muster up enough enthusiasts to hold it again this year. Traditionally we would enter in teams of four, enough to each fill a car, head off at dawn, and finish at dusk. Boundaries where strictly defined, and each team was encouraged to minimize the distance travelled. The meeting in the pub afterwards to gloat, commiserate, or congratulate was often the best part.

This year, I manage to persuade three friends to join in a one-team race. With the certain knowledge of victory, we set out at first light to see what we can find, knowing that this year’s event will spend minimal carbon. As we head off for the foreshore, a tawny owl calling by the meeting point is a great start. Waders quickly get the list moving, and as the sun rises, woodland and urban species are easily picked up. The rules allow sounds as well as sightings to be counted, and so in no time at all most of the common birds are accounted for. The real challenge is to find the scarce ones.

In the small wintering flock of sanderlings on Oxwich Beach, one is color ringed. Bright red and yellow bands on each leg, with a green flag on the right leg, make the little white wader stand out amongst the 20 or so others scurrying about the sand. The local birding grapevine will no doubt soon find out the origin of this very special bird.

Common scoters offshore remind me of much colder, but happy, winter days at Ocean City in Delaware, where white-winged scoters and flocks of common loons fed in the breakwater by the harbor wall. I’m also reminded of a pair of harlequin ducks there too, a bird until then I had only dreamed of.

The day progresses and we’re proud of our great northern diver, purple sandpipers, woodcock, and hen harrier, but search as we may there’s not a hint of a grey wagtail or dipper. As dusk approaches, we gradually realize that luxuries such as short-eared and little owls are too much to ask for and we retire to lick our wounds inside the warmth of a local watering house and tot up the not-bad total of 89 species.

It was a day of no real conservation value, but one of fellowship, fun, and enthusiasm for the New Year ahead.

Bird Watching Daily

Capital Gazette

"The joys of the seasons are deep in our souls. Gilbert White’s classic The Natural History of Selborne shared his astute diaries of nature’s calendar. Edwin Way Teale’s acclaimed books on The American Seasons inspired a generation of naturalists on this side of the pond. Birds of a Feather now engages us in much the same way through the superior powers of observation and charming prose of two pals, here and there."

Frank Gill, formerly Philadelphia Academy of Sciences and Vice-President, Science, National Audubon Society.

by frank gill


“The annual rhythms of nature provide a ceaseless flow of variety and change to our environment that stimulate and inspire us, wherever we live. Observing birds is surely one of the most exciting ways to enjoy the year’s natural cycle, with bird migrations each spring and autumn delivering the color and sounds of the tropics and the Arctic directly to us. Birds of a Feather takes us, via delightful personal accounts, through the ornithological year on both sides of the Atlantic, juxtaposing the rich coastal plain of the Chesapeake Bay with the rocky coast, plains and mountains of South Wales. Along the way are valuable reminders that birds in both regions, and across the globe, are at risk from a similar array of threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.”

David Curson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Maryland-DC.

by David Curson


“'This delightful dialogue, back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, demonstrates that wildlife is a shared pleasure wherever we live.”

Mark Avery, former Head of Conservation at RSPB, now a freelance environmental consultant and journalist.

by Mark Avery


“Birds of a Feather is a poignant and moving reminder of how experiences of wildlife can grip the human soul and linger in our memories. Two friends thousands of miles apart share with us moments they will never forget. Their consciousness of, and love for, the natural world brings even the most unexpected places to life.”

Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive The Wildlife Trusts.

by Stephanie Hilborne


“The annual rhythms of nature provide a ceaseless flow of variety and change to our environment that stimulate and inspire us, wherever we live. Observing birds is surely one of the most exciting ways to enjoy the year’s natural cycle, with bird migrations each spring and autumn delivering the color and sounds of the tropics and the Arctic directly to us. Birds of a Feather takes us, via delightful personal accounts, through the ornithological year on both sides of the Atlantic, juxtaposing the rich coastal plain of the Chesapeake Bay with the rocky coast, plains and mountains of South Wales. Along the way are valuable reminders that birds in both regions, and across the globe, are at risk from a similar array of threats, including habitat loss, pollution, and climate change.”

David Curson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Maryland-DC.

by David Curson


“This book will be a great read for birders from either side of the Atlantic who normally experience the birds of the “other side” through short trips during peak seasons. The book provides a flavor of the year-round diversity of species and habitats through the eyes of two experienced birders who understand how seasonal change drives the bird movements that make birding so much fun. The trans-Atlantic comparisons of two amazing birding locations throughout the year make this an even more compelling read.”

Mike Parr, Vice President for Program Development, American Bird Conservancy

by Mike Parr


 

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