How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher by Simon Barnes. First published 2005.
Look out the window. See a bird. Enjoy it. CONGRATULATIONS! You are now a bad birdwatcher.
Throughout How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher, Simon Barnes shares his premise that birdwatching should simply be done for the joy of it. His ideas reminded me a lot of Alvaro Jaramillo, a professional bird guide whom I've had the pleasure to see speaking twice now. Alvaro is a world-class birder, with excellent field skills, but beyond that you can really tell he enjoys the birds. If you're not enjoying yourself, after all, what is the point?
This enjoyment of birds was the recurring theme in Bad Birdwatcher; if you're to truly enjoy the birds, there's no room for identification anxiety or optics envy. On the latter matter, his advice for your first pair of binoculars? "Ah, shut up -- any old pair, cheapest you can find, don't worry about it. [...] Birdwatchers can be the most crashing bores on the subject of optical glass." The point is to watch the birds, learn from them, and enjoy them.
Barnes tells of how he first became interested in birds (on binocular-less walks in the country with his father), and how his fondness of birds developed into a lifelong avocation and part-time vocation. Barnes' writing is natural (his primary career is sports journalist) and the book was an easy read. It is also filled with downright hilarious anecdotes of a birding career, but the overall message is no joke.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite lines from the book:
People always whisper in a blind, not because they don't want to disturb the birds or the birdwatchers, but because they don't want to be overheard misidentifying a bird.
I give How to Be a Bad Birdwatcher 4 Goldfinches out of 5.