Bad Birdwatcher's Companion

Audio Sample

Simon Barnes

A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion

...or a personal introduction to Britain’s 50 most obvious birds

Read by Simon Barnes


Simon Barnes is one of Britain’s leading bird writers and humorists. His weekly column in The Times, his essays for the RSPB magazine and his two books on bad bird-watching have made him one of the characters of the bird world. Here he reads his own illuminating introductions to the fifty main birds of Britain, supported by the distinguishing bird song of each species. He not only gives helpful identifying features, but enriches them with whimsical observations on their characters and tendencies. It is a delightful text, superbly presented by the author himself.

The Times – Best Audiobooks of the Year
  • 4 CDs

    Running Time: 4 h 47 m

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    Digital ISBN:978-962-954-704-2
    Cat. no.:NA444612
    Download size:70 MB
    Released:April 2007
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As a committed non-twitcher, I’m eternally grateful to Simon Barnes for inspiring me to get up at daybreak this morning to listen to the dawn chorus. His latest quirky bird book, with its gloriously uplifting recordings of birdsong, is tailor-made for audio and will help you to identify the 50 British birds he writes so engagingly and enthusiastically about. Don’t worry, this isn’t a field guide full of statistics that requires you to buy binoculars, keep a diary and make endless lists. It is that rarest of manuals, a handbook that makes you want to go out and discover for yourself if all the fascinating things he has told you about robins, blackbirds, yellowhammers and buzzards are really true. If chaffinches were rare, he writes, they’d be prized above Siberian ruby-throats and red-flanked bluetails. Here he is writing about chaffinches in spring: “The cock is outrageous, admire him – a cap of more or less Wedgwood blue, conker-brown back and a breast of the tartiest pink any designer could come up with.” If you follow the precise instructions for identification at the start of each section, you can’t fail. “Wren: where to look – tangled undergrowth, low down. When to look – all year round. What to look for – tiny tawny bird, cocky tail. What to listen for – astonishing volume.” This is followed by a generous earful of wren song. I love his descriptions of, say, mistle thrushes – “big, chunky and hops in a bold, rather in-your-face way” – and song thrushes – “the jazz musicians of suburbia”. By the way, wood pigeons don’t coo. What they’re actually saying, in a cooing sort of way, is “steal two cows taffy”. Don’t believe me? Get out there and listen.

Sue Arnold, The Guardian

Yes, I know I recommended this three years ago but, like the above authors, I can trace my addiction to birds (well, birdsong, really – I can’t see birds) to one particular book. This one. The brilliant thing about Barnes’s guide to 50 British birds (apart from its wit, charm and spot-on descriptions – ‘Swifts are profoundly committed to their habitat of the sky. As they fly they scream like customers on a Big Dipper, hooliganing round the rooftops, screaming at the tops of their voices, the ultimate avian flying machine. They lift the heart’) is that you get to hear a snatch of their songs. Bird-wise, audio is the best.

Sue Arnold, The Guardian

Nothing could be more appropriate for the great outdoors than A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion, by the Times writer Simon Barnes. Specially constructed for audio, with examples of the songs of our best-loved twitterers prefacing a salmagundi of curious facts about each bird, it is designed, Barnes says, for those whose hearts lift at the sound of the dawn chorus and a melody from a tree, but who can’t identify the singers because they never get round to opening a field guide. Barnes makes amateur twitching easy, with witty mnemonics to help you remember bird calls.

Christina Hardyment, The Times

The Times Best Audiobooks of the Year

Knowing one feathered friend from another has long been an ambition, so thanks to Simon Barnes for his reading of A Bad Birdwatcher’s Companion. The audiobook format means he can provide superb aural mnemonics. Chaffinch: think fast bowler warming up for his run: dadadadadada deeeeeee. Thrush: sings his song twice over, just as Robert Browning told us. Wood pigeon: ‘take two pies, taffy, take two pies taffy’.

The Times

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