264 pages, illustrations
It began with a weekend house; then weekend trips. Then the occasional meeting rearranged in favor of a morning in Central Park, just while the spring migration was on. Before Luke Dempsey knew it, he had spiraled down into full-on birding mania – finding himself riding along with two like-minded maniacs in a series of disreputable rental cars and even nastier motel rooms, charging madly around the country in search of its rarest and most beautiful birds.
A Supremely Bad Idea is the story of that search, and those birds, and those maniacs, and that country, and (to a much lesser extent) those rental cars. In Texas, the three obsessives go in search of the deeply endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler, which lives on the side of a hill near a waterfall; in Michigan, they see the pretty-much-extinct Kirtland's Warbler, which insists on short pine trees for nesting and lots of "quiet, please"; in Arizona, they see the very private Elegant Trogon after a very public fight with a birding guide. Along the way, Dempsey narrates an amazing sequence of encounters with nature and humanity, including a man building a 40-foot ark in his Seattle backyard; a beautiful woman who shows him how to kill 4,000 Cowbirds a year; a coyote (and his human smuggler) on the Rio Grande; and everywhere, these incandescent birds flitting across the range of his binoculars, and his heart.
With the casual erudition of a Bill Bryson and the comic timing of a British David Sedaris, Dempsey demonstrates why so many millions of birders care so much about birds – and why, perhaps, the rest of us should, too.
"Riotously funny, utterly enthralling [...] Dempsey's a hoot."
– Minneapolis Star Tribune
"Dempsey succeeds where few authors do. He masterfully shows how a few chance encounters can transform a seemingly normal guy (or gal) into someone obsessed with birds."
– WildBird magazine
"It starts as an innocent experiment, something undertaken just out of curiosity. Then it becomes a hobby and quickly an obsession, until you're skipping work and taking trips across the country to feed your addiction. Birding – or bird-watching, as it's more commonly known – is, if this very entertaining book is any indication, a much more exciting, lively, and suspenseful pastime that one might expect. Dempsey's memoir chronicles the newly divorced, newly committed birder's cross-country odyssey, in the company of two friends, in search of rare birds. Along the way, they meet a host of interesting folk, including a backyard Noah and a band of smugglers; but what they find, most of all, is peace of mind, a reappreciation of nature, and a better sense of what matters in the larger scheme of things. A gentle, contemplative memoir punctuated by frequent bursts of hilarity and weirdness. At some points, the book reads like a cross between Bill Bryson and Dave Barry (or perhaps Patrick McManus), and that's a very good thing, indeed."
– David Pitt, Booklist
"Well-traveled birders will probably have been to most, or even all, of the places visited in this book. There is not much for them to learn here, but revisiting these hotspots through the eyes of our three intrepid birders should still be fun. Personally, I found it interesting to contrast the author's experiences with my own in the places I've birded. For instance, my visit to Salineno, TX was drastically different than the one recounted here. I probably saw more birds, but still had a much less exciting time (for which I am grateful!).
Newer birders will learn much about these places and the birds that inhabit them. But be prepared that this knowledge may leave you restless until you can bird these places yourself!
That just leaves one more group – non-birders. It is actually this demographic that may get the most out of this book. Let's face it, most of those unexposed to it look upon birdwatching as dull and uncool. Some of the situations in this book may be a bit extreme, but overall it shows what birding is about. And, like the author's friends who first introduced him to the wonder of birds, this book has the potential to open eyes and smash the preconceptions of pre-birding readers. [...] It may not flare up into the all-consuming flame that Dempsey obviously has, but that's ok. Anything in this day and age that encourages people to take an interest in the natural world around them is fantastic, and should be applauded.
But regardless of birding experience, this is a fun read, and the entertainment value alone warrants a recommendation to everyone."
– Grant McCreary (04-10-2008), read the full review at The Birder's Library
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