176 pages, 10 colour illustrations
For forty years, Alan Contreras has studied birds and natural history in the West. In Afield: Forty Years of Birding the American West, he recounts his bird-watching experiences – primarily in Oregon, but also in Alaska, Arizona, California, and Texas. Sprinkled with comments made by ornithologists and early explorers of the West, his essays offer elements of natural history, personal memoir, and adventure travel.
In the largest sense, Afield is a love story, reaffirming the practice of unhurried observation of nature. It is a chronicle of growing up as a person interested in the natural world. From encounters with Oregon's first Eurasian Dotterel to the inspiring but unsuccessful search for Spruce Grouse, Afield describes the experiences of a birder and the life of an explorer. Contreras records his observations largely from the perspective of a lifelong birder, but the people he encounters – and their perceptions about nature – also inhabit Afield. The reader inspired to visit the locations described in Contreras' stories will be pleased to find useful information about them.
Afield will appeal to birders – and to anyone who loves the outdoors.
"Reading about someone else’s birding can be tedious at best. But Contreras does a good job of keeping things interesting and engaging the reader. The experiences are presented as discrete vignettes rather than a continuous narrative, which helps make Afield a very quick read. But this is not an entirely good thing, as it also highlights the book’s main flaw – it’s too short. At only 144 pages, it feels too brief. I would have loved some more details on the excursions, or maybe for a few more to be included. [...] Engaging and well written, Afield: Forty Years of Birding the American West should appeal to readers who relish birding tales, along with those interested in Oregon’s birding scene."
- Grant McCreary (09-04-2010), read the full review at The Birder's Library
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Alan Contreras has studied birds for over forty years. He is past president of the Oregon Field Ornithologists, and has written and edited several books on Oregon birds, including Birds of Lane County, Oregon and Birds of Oregon: A General Reference. He lives in Eugene, Oregon.