The Profit of Birding, by Bryan Bland

Published on 02 March 2013 in Book reviews

New Holland, 2012; hbk, 352pp; many colour photos and line-drawings; ISBN 978-1-78009-124-2 Subbuteo code M21315 £14.99

Prophet or profit? Bryan Bland could potentially be the former, given his supernatural ability to remember facts not just about birds, but music and history, and to be able to recount amazing tales from his countless birding trips across over 70 countries. Take, for example, the story of how on one trip to Libya he accidentally ripped off his little toe – only for it to grow back over the following months! Prophet or amoeba?! You need to read the book to decide.

Of course, Bryan needs little introduction to most birders, and if you look at his personality profile back in 1987 (Brit Birds 80: 663-666) you can see that he hasn’t changed much since. Based in Cley, he alternates his highly popular residential birdwatching courses with overseas tour-leading for Sunbird. With his unmistakable long flowing beard and all-weather shorts and sandals, he is easily recognised. (I was slightly thrown by the book’s cover, which shows him wearing long trousers, while on the back cover he is in a dishdasha – although the sandals are clearly visible!)

Each chapter takes a different destination – mostly in the Western Palearctic: Morocco, Israel, Egypt, Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Norway, Estonia, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Romania, but also India, Bolivia, Belize and Costa Rica. Using his trip reports from each destination, Bryan weaves together an excellent spread of birding intelligence with stories of derring-do. No doubt the occasional tale has been embroidered slightly over the years, but his scrapes with terrorists, local police and uppity tourist guides all make for a great read. The book is illustrated throughout by Bryan’s delightful sketches, and there are over 300 colour photographs stuffed into two sections totalling 16 pages. Bryan apologises for the fact that he doesn’t like big gaudy photos, but I do wish some of these were a bit bigger!

Amazingly this is Bryan’s first book, and I feel the second volume has to be on its way. I’d love to hear about the funny things that have happened on his UK travels – I found myself laughing out loud on many occasions. This is a great book and you will profit from reading it.

Keith Betton

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