"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

The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World

Vernon R. L. Head

“[Head] writes with a freedom and poetic flair that leaves us in no doubt of his passion for the subject.” —Geographical

“Fortunately for the reader, it is always possible both to enjoy Head’s linguistic ingenuity and to follow the narrative. Perhaps the real lesson we learn from The Quest for the Rarest Bird in the World is that academic ornithology, with its austere requirement to interpret the lives of birds in terms of their ‘lifetime fitness’ and the twitchers’ soulless obsession with ticking off lists of rarities, are not the only routes to modern birdwatching. Head, with his poetic literary style and reverence for the natural world and the people in it, has shown us how both approaches may be combined and enhanced in a way which recaptures the spirituality of a Gilbert White or a Thomas Bewick. And what of the Nechisar Nightjar? It’s elusive, but it’s still there.”—Times Literary Supplement

“It’s Rider Haggard with birds! Hidden secrets in remote exotic lands, hearsay and scraps of treasure but not map!”—Chris Packham, naturalist, nature photographer BBC and Channel 4 television presenter and author

“A truly enthralling book that reads like a good detective yarn. The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World is a must-read for anyone who delights in birds and the magic of their flights.”—Athol Fugard

“This book combines poetic descriptive language, birding and science to tell the tale of four experienced birders on an expedition to a remote corner of Ethiopia where a nightjar’s wing had been found by a university expedition 20 years earlier. . . . 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.” —British Trust for Ornithology

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, 315 species of birds were seen; 61 species of mammal and 69 species of butterfly were identified; 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies; 17 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.

At British Natural History Museum in Tring, the wing 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 this book 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.

£15.99 hardback

Buy now

256 pages
October 2015
ISBN: 9781909930315