Anne Hailes: Birds of a Feather

Birds of the Homeplace Anthony McGeehan Published by The Collins Press Price £19.99

If you don’t know about birds of the feathered kind, allow Anthony McGeehan give you the lowdown. For instance, did you know that kestrels spot prey using UV vision which picks up urine spots and pinpoints active latrines. Pheasants are no more Irish than budgerigars! “Cocks,” says Anthony, “are more heavily decorated than communist generals whereas female plumage, when motionless among stalks and stems becomes invisible ink.” And: ‘ Magpies are born pirates that reconnoiter songbird homes within their breeding territory and then plunder them, The righteous suffer while the wicked prosper.”

Anthony’s books are always much anticipated and he’s done it again; with Julian Wyllie he has produced ‘Birds of the Homeplace’ which charts the lives of our familiar birds.

Talking of the blackbird he writes that only exponents of yoga could hold their body as stock still as a blackbird peering for worms. “Blackbirds stalking worms employ a rugby scrum – crouch, touch, engage, action.” “Grey herons demonstrate Walter Mitty mood swigs.” “A swallow whose arrival signals the end of winter weigh about the same as a slice of buttered toast”.

When it comes of Anthony’s writing it’s impossible not to read on from chapter to chapter and you can almost hear the birds singing! He knows them inside and out and he talks about them with passion and pleasure. He talks about Labels to Know, what are feathers for, why the male is on the catwalk showing off their colours and preening themselves whilst the female prefer to use their feathers as camouflage, and he explains the markings in detail for the serious twitcher.

Together with excellent colour photographs, this book is a little masterpiece of knowledge, you’ll learn facts about our local birds that will amaze you and it’s a book that any parent or teacher would be delighted to own, it will give hours of discussion and lots of ideas for field trips or excursions into the garden.

Anthony’s last book in 2012, Birds through Irish Eyes, is another must for the home library. Anthony worked with Julian Wyllie on Birds of the Homeplace and together they make an excellent team working with a number of contributors when it comes to photographs. Anthony is brutally honest, despite being steeped in his subject, he says he is a student not an expert. “The more I learn the more I feel like a graffiti artist in the presence of Van Gogh.” Give me the Banksy every time!

By Anne Hailes

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Post Author: Belfast Times

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