Birds of the Homeplace – a review

A while back I mentioned this book by Anthony McGeehan with Julian Wyllie. I said then I would attempt a review and so today, here it is.

You should read this if you love birds, want to know more about birds or just want to read some of the very best writing on them. The Homeplace is Ireland but you don’t need to be Irish or live in Ireland to enjoy this. The insights, observations, analyses and sheer joy in the avian world make this a book for everyone to appreciate.

There are 25 chapters on aspects of birds – topics ranging from the language of birds to their moult strategies and their vocalisation. You can read about fieldcraft, ‘labelling the parts’ of a bird and I’m sure you are all wondering how migration works. Read and be astounded.

Then there are species accounts. Yes they are all birds found in Ireland but does it really matter? The first account is the Grey Heron. It commences:

Grey Herons demonstrate Walter Mitty mood swings. Skinny as a beanpole when staring forwards and straining to pounce, off-duty they resemble prayerful monks, hunched against the world like a cleric lost in reverie.

This is no dry fact dump. What about the Raven?

Ravens have presence. The biggest and blackest of crows, a meat-cleaver bill and tar-lined voice box cement the impression that Mr. Big likes cigarettes and biker leathers.

I love that description. If you know the Raven then it is spot on. If you are not familiar with the species then you ought to feel compelled to get out and see this Hell’s Angel of the corvids.

Birds of the Homeplace gives you science you can take in small, delicate, sips. I didn’t gulp this down in one slug. The book educates without feeling like a textbook. It is based on field observation, research and passion. And you have plenty of decent photographs to sweeten the medicine if you need it.

My favourite chapter is number 9. How Blackbirds Detect Worms. Less than 3 pages but fascinating in the way it walks you through to the dénouement. I won’t spoil it for you. Its worth twenty quid just to find out.

I’ve never met Anthony McGeehan, more’s the pity, although I have exchanged messages with him. I suspect he is great company in the field, full of craic, beating you to the bird-point each time but in a sympathetic, encouraging way, urging you to up your game and see more. Maybe one day our paths will cross. Until then I can savour his writing and follow him on FB

And here is what to look for on the bookstore shelf if you don’t order by Amazon.





10 thoughts on “Birds of the Homeplace – a review

  1. Thanks for the info. I want this book very much and will try for a used one or if not it really does seem to be a great read. The descriptions are funny and unlike anything that I’ve read about birds in the past.

  2. Anthony McGeehan is a good writer, he used to have an entertaining monthly column in one of the UK bird magazines – “BirdWatch”, possibly.

    I’ll keep an eye out for this one.

  3. A really interesting review Andrew. I like the description of the Raven. Does he tell you where House Martins go when they migrate? It seems fantastic to me that in 2014 nobody knows where they go.

    • Anthony suggests they may be found over the Congo but agrees their whereabouts in Africa is largely unknown. HBW says “W populations migrate N-S across Europe, winter mainly in sub-Saharan Africa; records in Africa scarce and widely scattered, largest numbers in S; not recorded in roosts. From ringing studies, Baltic and Scandinavian breeding populations appear to winter in Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa, and W European ones in W Africa; S European populations may winter in Sahel zone. ” It seems to be a mystery bird, Colin.

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