Arrivals and Rivals
A duel for the winning bird
Birding is becoming one of the fastest growing outdoor activities, especially in the UK. Adrian Riley provides with his book entertaining and highly illuminating insights into the obsessions - and passions - when he set out to become the nationally recognised 'Birder of the Year'.
Here is a classic tale, set amidst the beautiful British countryside, involving a rivalry so strong that all else is forgotten - save the birds and the desire to see them, despite the many costs both mentally and physically.
The cover painting is by Deb Gillett.
Author: Adrian M. Riley
Publisher: Brambleby Books
Year of Publication: 2007
Format and Pages: Paperback, 180pp.
Retail Price: £9.99
Our Discount Price: £8.99
Sample text from Arrivals and Rivals
...A short drive took us to the RSPB reserve at Abernethy Forest. As we approached, I began to feel a familiar tingle of excitement for I love the place with all my heart. There is an ancient feel about it which envelopes you like a friendly old coat, and the silence here is almost visible; you can certainly hear it. Its creatures, too, seem primordial – the strutting 'Cock o’ the woods' (a wonderfully evocative old name for the capercaille), the delicate red squirrel and the palmate newts that somehow survive in the smallest of ride-side ditches. The verdant woods feel as bottomless as a mysterious green ocean, and when the winter snow falls I have actually heard the flakes kiss the ground as they land....
...Nessie and I charged at great speed to the RSPB Nature Reserve at Minsmere, Suffolk, where an alpine accentor had been reported. Fortunately, we had very good views of this scarce vagrant, which neither of us had seen before. There were many people present, and I suddenly heard someone answer their mobile phone with the words, 'Oh, hi Lee'. He turned to look directly at me and then answered a very obvious question by saying: 'Yes, he is'. That was the moment I realized with great discomfort that I was being watched....
...A water rail mocked us from its muddy lair and two other silent birders scanned a different part of the marsh to our right. Their body language suggested a severe lack of success. A hushed but excited 'Ade!' from over my shoulder spun me in the direction of a crouched Jason and there, close in front of us, was an aquatic warbler doing what this species does best - skulking low down in the sedges trying hard to hide. Very like a sedge warbler, but pale ginger with more contrasting dark markings, the doubts lingered until it turned in such a way that the pale central crown stripe allayed all our fears of misidentification....
...The day was indeed complete, and I drove home having reached the end of October a happy man. Had it not been for Les, Adrian and Dave, I would merely have been successful, and where’s the fun in that? My total was now on 370, but only a handful of people knew, and my news blackout was from now on to include the Surfbirds league table. I would keep that man guessing until it drove him crazy. ...
...On Christmas Eve, I found myself in Oxfordshire, wondering how on earth a Baikal teal could have found its way there and why this year in particular should produce such a glut of late rarities....
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Reviews and readers' comments
'...The expense and effort [of Adrian Riley's birding quest] have now finally been revealed in a book titled Arrivals and Rivals: a birding oddity. The arrivals part is pretty straight forward. In short, these are the waifs, strays and mega-rarities that make Britain arguably the most exciting place to watch birds on Earth.
Adrian's quest saw him spot more birds in 12 months than most keen birdwatchers see in a lifetime. His beloved car ended up with an extra 78,000 miles on the clock and his bank balance was £8,000 worse off, but his log reads like a birdwatcher's wish list.
There was the strangely named bobolink from across the Atlantic; a Sardinian warbler from the Mediterranean; a Siberian chiffchaff from Russia; a two-barred crossbill from the Finnish forests and an ivory gull from the polar ice floes.
While the romance of Adrian's quest is highly readable, it is the Rivals part that makes it so addictive. The way his friendship with Lee Evans - not the comedian, Britain's most fanatical rarity-chaser - degenerates into what amounts to contempt, is the real driving force of a very entertaining book that will appeal to birdwatchers everywhere.
Even non-birders who question what makes grown men sacrifice so much for often a fleeting glimpse of a bird as it flies away will find many of their questions answered.'
Stuart Winter, Sunday Express, June 12th, 2005
'...Never dull and very affordable, it is sure to be a book that many will be keen to read, and it will also inspire vigorous debate amongst the readers. Ultimately, isn't that the goal of every author?'
Graham Jones, Battle royale of the year-listers, Birdwatch, 2005
'If you are a birder already, and especially if you are a twitcher/lister, you will recognise and relate to much in this book. If you enjoy a more leisurely approach to your birding you may find the concept of 'Big Years' to be a waste of effort and activity that fails to contribute anything towards our understanding of birds. You might also think (and Adrian admits to this on one occasion) that competitors in these competitions see birds purely as 'ticks' and fail to enjoy the birds for what they are. Whilst I can more easily relate to the latter point of view, this is a good, easy read and, if nothing else, could encourage you to get out there and see some of the amazing birds that turn up on our shores.'
Neil Phillips, Free-living EXTRA, 2005
Year-listing – seeing as many species of birds in 12 calendar months – is arguably the most futile twitching activity.
Building geographical lists – a local patch, national or international levels, is one thing, staking out the likes of Mandarin on duck ponds or Ring-necked Parakeet in West London during the first weeks of January is Sad with a capital S.
This said, there is an ever-growing army of the un-dead ready to become willing zombies for this annual pursuit.
Since what seems the dawn of Time, Lee Evans has been the undisputed King of the Year-listers, performing Herculean feats to remain one-step ahead of all-comers. But when challengers do lay down the gauntlet expect binocular cases at thirty paces.
Adrian Riley’s account of how he beat Lee Evans to win the 2002 year-listing marathon reveals not only the insignificance and worthlessness of this achievement but also questions the sanity of its exponents.
It also makes fantastic reading.
Arrivals and Rivals, is the title of Riley’s addictive and highly enjoyable book, which charts his 78,000 mile odyssey along the highways and byways of the British Isles to see an incredible 380 species… and costing him the princely sum of £8,000.
Each bird has a story, some more than others. On occasions he risked life if not limb to get his tick. Whether it was suffering near hypothermia in the Shetlands or facing the wrath of Ireland’s Garda, Riley’s account of how he clocked up his “arrivals” – the rarities that willingly succumbed to his checklist – makes great bedside reading.
It’s the stories of his run-ins with “rival” Lee Evans, however, that makes this book a must-buy. To read how a birding friendship degenerates to the point where libel lawyers are consulted is far more interesting than travelling to Bedfordshire to see Lady Amherst’s Pheasant.
The irony of ironies is that when Riley finally claims the crown which list does he use? – the one drawn up by Lee Evans’ own UK 400 Club! Mmm…
Stuart Winter, Bird Watching Magazine, 2005
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