Part detective story, part love affair, and pure adventure storytelling at its best, a celebration of the thrill of exploration and the lure of wild places during the search for the elusive Nechisar Nightjar.
In 1990, a group of Cambridge scientists arrived at the Plains of Nechisar in Ethiopia. On that expedition, they collected more than two dozen specimens, saw more than three hundred species of birds, and a plethora of rare butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles, mammals, and plants. As they were gathering up their findings, a wing of an unidentified bird was packed into a brown paper bag. It was to become the most famous wing in the world.
This wing would set the world of science aflutter. Experts were mystified. The wing was entirely unique. It was like nothing they had ever seem before. Could a new species be named based on just one wing? After much discussion, a new species was announced: Nechisar Nightjar, or Camprimulgus Solala, which means "only wing." And so birdwatchers like Vernon began to dream.
Twenty-two years later, he joins an expedition of four to find this rarest bird in the world. In this gem of nature writing, Vernon captivates and enchants as he recounts the searches by spotlight through the Ethiopian plains, and allows the reader to mediate on nature, exploration, our need for wild places, and the human compulsion to name things. Rarest Bird is a celebration of a certain way of seeing the world, and will bring out the explorer in in everyone who reads it.
More than 20 years after a group of scientists from Cambridge University discovered "a small, solitary wing" of a rare bird in Ethiopia, Head, a South African architect and conservationist, ventures there hoping to learn more. In this solid, if sentimental, volume, he charts his journey and enduring interest in ornithology. Writing of the original expedition, Head notes that the "scientists were modern in their approach to Nechisar and nature," but their motivations remained decidedly old-fashioned in their desire to "seek out and catalogue life." According to Head, the explorers were "aesthetes and poets infused with naivety; dreamers but also doers." Traveling with three others, Head sets out to follow in their footsteps and is stunned by the scenery and the creatures he encounters. "Ethiopia smiles and cries at once," he writes, "lush in some places and stark in others." Head's language is laudatory, his tone elegiac. Recalling his foray into Nechisar National Park, where "unusual trees poked up out of the plain like party-favours," Head is reminded of time spent as a child on his grandfather's Johannesburg farm, where he developed an interest in bird-watching. Head's search for an elusive bird opens up his past and reveals a contagious curiosity and passion about nature.