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Birders: Tales of a Tribe Hardcover – May, 2002

3.4 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cold, wet, cramped, exhausted, and having the time of his life, nature writer Mark Cocker finds deep satisfaction in bird watching. His book Birders: Tales of a Tribe combines elements of memoir, manifesto, and anthropological study in its examination of how and why these hobbyists go about their sometimes obsessive work. Cocker's writing is lively and compelling--even readers who'd rather stay warm and comfortable quickly find themselves longing for a quick glimpse of the Himalayan Satyr Tragopan. Following the adventures of the author, his acquaintances, and famous and infamous birders across the world, the book uncovers essential truths about human strengths and follies while sharing the rare pleasures of the close observer of nature. Watching birds is often seen as an eccentric hobby, but the value added to environmental monitoring and other scientific endeavors by these legions of amateur spotters is tremendous. What could have been a patronizing showpiece in the hands of a less sensitive writer becomes a rapturous celebration of quiet passions. --Rob Lightner

From Library Journal

Cocker (Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold) presents a witty, entertaining look at the subculture, lifestyles, adventures, and misadventures of the consuming hobby of birding, as distinguished from the passive, idle pursuit of bird watching. His birders are bright, active, often quirky people who are aggressive, adventurous, and obsessive about their avocation. Written from a British perspective, yet worldwide in focus, Cocker's tales describe the birder's lust for achieving long lists of species seen as well as the never-ending search for rarities. He shows how birders are highly knowledgeable about geography, ecology, and botany, and in many respects their familiarity with birds often surpasses that of professional ornithologists. Top birding personalities are portrayed, sometimes ruthlessly. An appendix listing "useful information, addresses and organizations" is heavy on Old World loci. A delightful, well-informed read for all with a bent for listing in nature. Henry T. Armistead, Free Lib. of Philadelphia
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; First American Edition edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871138441
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871138446
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,094,879 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I had debated whether or not I should purchase this book, mainly because of the reviews. However, I realize that we all have different tastes in reading material, different senses of humor - so I gave it a shot.

I was indeed disappointed. I felt it was not well written, but rather muddled & disjointed. Basically each chapter starts with the memory of a bird and then segues into a "story" of sorts. The story is basically multiple memories of past & present, with comments randomly added. At times, I was struggling to figure out exactly where I was in various chapters and it wasn't because it was such a complex story. At times, his humor seemed odd - example in Ch 8 (pg 63), when he encounters the soldier and gets into an argument with him. The comment about the guy being a hero and leaving the Argentinians to guard the seabirds - I have read that chapter, that segment repeatedly......I just don't find the humor. In fact, I wasn't really sure what to make of it at all. Actually Ch 8 says it all - starts out speaking of an eider that he & a friend want to twitch, from there it heads to Paul Flint (a top Brit birder), to hitchhiking tales, then abruptly back to mentioning Paul and his amazing hitchhiking adventure - which he NEVER tells you about and ends it with a comment on celebrating freedom. Which would be fine if the writing flowed well, if there seemed to be a coherent story when all was said & done.

I have to wonder if I read the same book as the others who praised it so?

A well written book is just that, no matter what side the pond the author hails from. This is not a well written book.
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Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed this book, partly because I am British birder in exile so it reminded me of home, but also because I could identify with many of the characters it describes.
At times I got the distinct impression that the author was writing it for himself rather than anyone else, and I mean that in a positive sense. Some of the tales are deeply personal and reflective, and yet never cloyingly nostalgic. The book recounts one man's obsession with birdwatching, but also his obsession with other birdwatchers : clearly great subject material due to various eccentricities. There are some very funny tales of long trips to see birds in Britain and abroad, some of the best ones of course being when it all goes horribly wrong. There are some very British characters and places in the book which non-UK folk may be slightly nonplussed by, but overall, I would recommend this book to them.
The chapters are distinct and so it's the kind of book you can dip into here and there, rather than one long narrative sequence.
It's a lot of fun, and some of the birds and scenes are so vividly described it made me want to book a flight there and then to see some of these thing. Maybe I will, one day......
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Format: Hardcover
I love bird-watching and have spent many happy hours around the world behind a pair of binoculars but this book captures very little of the joy I get from watching birds. Yes it's occasionally funny and occasionally well written but most of the time it consists of little more than the birder equivalent of name dropping. I came away with a strong feeling that birding is a clique of people who feel that they are the only people who know what real birding is.
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Format: Hardcover
I don't doubt that persons uninitiated in the brotherhood of birding and who may have may picked this book up out of curiosity, after reading it may very well be tempted to say "life-list? forget that! Please, get a life!". Cocker understands and he has all the traits of a serious birder instantly recognizable to other members of the species. We are just a little bit defensive at times, especially when having to explain our obsession. And yes, we may be a touch overly sensitive but we do tend to react negatively to those goggle-eyed, mouth-slightly-agape ostrich-like stares of total incomprehension that usually greet us when describing our wondrous hobby. Cocker though is a great advocate because he has an abundance of that vital birding necessity - a self-depreciating wit - and a sense of humour that prevents taking oneself or their sport too seriously. That his adventures and "Tales of a Tribe" about BIRDERS are very well written just adds to the enjoyment of this book.
Cocker is not a mere bird-watcher. Outside of the US the UK has more of his particular species of birder than most other countries. This is the serious afficionado who travels cross country and around the world in pursuit of rare birds, spends good sums of money on gear such as photographic equipment and state-of-the-art optics. A person who right after introducing himself - "Hi, I'm Michael" - will prove that he's probably beyond recovery by asking "how many birds have you gone?" Were I living in the UK like the author I would be tagged as something colloquially known as a "Twitcher".
Each birder has a story about a particular quest that is their most memorable trip but few can match experiences with the characters that Cocker introduces us to.
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Format: Paperback
This book offers a uniquely British perspective on fanatical birding. As a boy Mark Coker found a nest of pigeon eggs and from then on as he nears adulthood is taken with twitching. This is initially the story of the quest for new bird records, driving thousands of miles for a new British first. Like an addict, the juice from that drives them to greater thrills, foreign trips and to Nepal and the Satyr Tragopan. Perhaps more important, this is the story of a unique social group of fanatical birders and their unique language and tools: the quest for perfect notebooks, hitchhiking across country, staying at Cley, and the legendary Richard Richardson. This is a society whose only class structure is the ability to find birds. American readers will enjoy an amusing antidote about Roger Tory Peterson. A good, well written book, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant. Probably best for British birders or American's traveling overseas.
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