Flying over the Pyrenees, Standing on the Plains

by Steve West

Reviewed by Grant McCreary on October 19th, 2007.

cover of Flying over the Pyrenees, Standing on the Plains

Publisher: West Publishing
Date: 2007
Illustrations: line drawings
Binding: softcover
Pages: 206
MSRP: see note at end of review

The author of this wonderful book is a birding guide in northeast Spain, and for the most part the 15 stand-alone chapters of this book recount birding trips taken by the author either singly, with family and friends, or as leader of a tour. But along the way we get glimpses into the author’s past, insight into our shared pastime, and information about Spanish birds, history, and culture.

As mentioned, each chapter is formed around some sort of birding trip or encounter with birds. But instead of a mere trip report or retelling of events, the author is able to get across so much more. He uses flashbacks to tell the readers about himself, and many asides that go into detail about the birds, land, and people. A great example is the chapter called “Visions of Bee-eaters”. The nucleus of the chapter is the author showing a pair of bee-eaters to a van-full of tour participants. I’ve never seen this bird, but from all accounts they are spectacular. Still, a story of a guide pointing out these birds doesn’t sound all that great on the surface. But he does it in a very entertaining manner, even using the idiosyncrasies of the participants to good effect. However, to me the best part of this chapter is a recollection from his childhood. The author writes that as a kid growing up in southern England he would peruse his field guide and pick out his 10 most wanted birds, such as the Wryneck, Pied Flycatcher, and Bearded Tit. According to him, “It would be an insult to nature not to try and see these birds.” I know exactly how he felt, as I had done the same thing at that age (and honestly, continue to do now).

As with the example above, much of what he shares will resonate with all birders, no matter how old they are or where they’re from. That is the greatest strength of this book and what allows it to be relevant to everyone despite the regional focus. Sure, the birds and the location may be unfamiliar, but they are usually described nicely. Plus, it’s not so much the birds themselves as the circumstances surrounding them that will be recognizable to most birders. Still, the reader can’t help but learn a great deal about the special birds and places of this region.

Simply put, this book was a delight. The writing is engaging, entertaining, and informative, if a bit too extravagant at times. Reading it made me want to take my wife on the Spain trip that she’s been longing for. This is highly recommended to anyone who can get their hands on a copy.

Note: the copy reviewed was a pre-publication version. There were some punctuation and grammatical issues that I trust were corrected before going to print. But even if they weren’t they didn’t do much to detract from my enjoyment of the book.

For more information, sample chapters, and to purchase this book check out the author’s site – Birding in Spain.

Category: Miscellaneous

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Disclosure: The item reviewed here was a complementary review copy provided by the author. But the opinion expressed here is my own, it has not been influenced in any way.

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