244 pages, no illustrations
In 1990 an expedition of Cambridge scientists arrived at the Plains of Nechisar, tucked between the hills of the Great Rift Valley in the Gamo Gofa province in the country of Ethiopia. On that expedition they found three hundred and fifteen species of birds; sixty one species of mammal and sixty nine species of butterfly were identified; twenty species of dragonflies and damselflies; seventeen reptile species were recorded; three frog species were filed; plants were listed. And the wing of a road-killed bird was packed into a brown paper bag.
It was to become the most famous wing in the world.
When the specimens finally arrived at the British Natural History Museum in Tring it set the world of science aflutter. It seemed that the wing was unique, but they questioned, can you name a species for the first time based only on the description of a wing, based on just one wing?
After much to and fro confirmation was unanimous, and the new species was announced, Nechisar Nightjar, Caprimulgus solala, (solus:only and ala:wing).
And birdwatchers like Vernon began to dream.
Twenty-two years later an expedition of four led by Ian Sinclair set off to try to find this rarest bird in the world. Vernon R.L. Head captivates and enchants as he tells of the adventures of Ian, Dennis, Gerry and himself as they navigate the wilderness of the plains, searching by spotlight for the elusive Nechisar Nightjar.
But The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World is more than a boy's own adventure in search of the rarest bird in the world. It is a meditation on nature, on ways of seeing, on the naming of things and why we feel so compelled to label. It is a story of friendships and camaraderie. But most of all it embraces and enfolds one into the curious and eye-opening world of the birdwatcher. For birdwatchers, twitchers, bird lovers, and about-to-become birdwatchers everywhere. For those who enjoy the natural world, the outdoors, the untamed places. Reminiscent of Nathaniel's Nutmeg and Longitude, this true story of incredible adventure will bring out the explorer in everyone who reads it.
"[...] The Rarest Bird in the World tells of a bird that was discovered in a most improbable manner and the quest to see it living for the first time. It’s an amazing story, one worth reading. But it would have been more enjoyable had the author exercised a little more restraint on the flowery language."
– Grant McCreary (27-04-2016), read the full review at The Birder's Library
"[...] I picked this book up to look at, out of curiosity – and couldn’t put it down. It is a most interesting and well-written account, which I would definitely recommend."
– Dorian Moss, BTO book reviews
"Head writes evocatively, making it easy for the reader to virtually smell the dust and hear the ?sounds. Head writes of his passion for birding and his love of pristine environments. Read and enjoy."
– African Birdlife
"Mr. Head's gently rocking prose is dense with surprising metaphor and exquisitely descriptive phrases, the kind that make a reader double back to savor them twice. Within a few lines, you know you're in for a Nabokovian ride. The seekers find their nightjar. More study is needed. But it hardly matters; the search and Vernon Head's telling are more than satisfying enough."
– Wall Street Journal
"Head recounts his journey with reverence and exuberance. His enthusiasm for his subject is contagious. Head memorably demonstrates that bird-watching is more than just a hobby, offering an almost magical way to allow flesh-and-blood fantasies to take flight."
"Head is a keen observer. He makes clear the excitement of the chase and the motivations that drive birdwatchers to add names to their life lists, and his love for and appreciation of the natural world are unmistakable."
– Kirkus Reviews
"The skills involved in spotting rare species approaches magic, even as it references science. This combination of reverence and scientific history is attractive as both a work of literature and an illumination. The Rarest Bird in the World is an alluring view into birdwatching and multiple rarities."
– Shelf Awareness (starred)
"A pean to the pristine. Think Rider Haggard or Indiana Jones with birds. Accomplished, vivid, ?lyrical prose that is full of wonderment."
– The Sunday Times (South Africa)
"Head's language is laudatory, his tone elegiac. His search for an elusive bird opens up his past and reveals a contagious curiosity and passion about nature."
– Publishers Weekly
"A lyrically written adventure story. An adrenaline rush."
– The Financial Mail (South Africa)
"Recommended for those interested in natural history, exploration, and Africa."
– Library Journal
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Vernon R.L. Head was born in Cape Town (South Africa) in 1967. He grew up in a bungalow near the sea. He studied architecture, winning national and international awards for design and creative thinking. He is presently Chairman of BirdLife South Africa, one of Africa's biggest and most influential conservation organisations. When not working on environmental matters, he is either designing special buildings, or traveling the world looking for the rarest birds. This is his first book.