A Bird too Far: Travels of a biking birder by Robert Duncan

Many people seek a hook on which to hang their journey; something that will stand out on the social media battlefield and gain them notoriety. Others just get on with it, are true to themselves, and don’t seem to notice that they have produced something unique.

When this book arrived I really wasn’t sure what to make of it, given that digital media has enabled the democratisation of publishing, but I tentatively dipped in nonetheless and am glad that I did. It is really well written, perfectly proofed and easy to read. It’s also strangely compulsive which, hand on heart, I hadn’t expected because it actually is about birds. Yes, the fluffy kind.

My avian ignorance means I know there are ‘little brown jobs’ and really big ‘soary overhead’ ones, but beyond that bird spotting has never really kindled any inner flame. Motorcycles on the other hand… which is why I wondered how much of this book would hold my attention and if it really, honestly, was about bird-watching. It is and it compelled me to learn and broaden my understanding of the natural world. I had no idea that Romania is home to such an incredible range of species!

Robert Duncan is a twitcher aboard a CBF600, undertaking a dream journey around Europe on a quest to see birds in their natural habitat, before it’s too late for them, and for him. He ‘ticks’ 243 birds from his list during the ride but what difference to ticking off Alpine passes as many do? He’s not an overly confident rider and doesn’t allude to any heroics, though you may be able to empathise if you’ve ever had to ride when exhausted and ill, stopping to throw-up at the side of the road in the pouring rain.

But birding and indeed biking is only half the story, as Duncan rides around Europe for 2 months. He also faces the kinds of realities that befall most of us when dealing with a family life that may have become something other than the dream once youthfully envisioned. There is no ladling of self-pity, but there is the honesty of acknowledging the battle between guilt and pleasure when undertaking a solo trip, knowing that some of your responsibilities are being put on hold, or given to others.

It certainly is different, but I learnt a lot and really enjoyed this book.

Paddy Tyson
ISBN: 978-17941-663-56
372 pp sprinkling of B&W images £10
Published by Littlehouse Publishing (2019)