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Friday, December 19, 2008

Birding Babylon

Birding Babylon - Jonathan Thouern-Trend

Birding Babylon - A Soldier's Journal from Iraq is a inspiring book! I picked up a copy on the recommendation of a fellow birder. The book quite short - only 80 pages. It is an edited selection of journal enteries by a soldier serving a tour of duty in Iraq with the 118th Area Support Medical Battalion.

The book is not so much about the military operations in Iraq as the title suggests. Rather, it contains the observations of a life long naturalist who somehow found a way to find hope and serenity amidst the violence of war. On one occasion, he discovered a Little Owl nesting in the shelter of a concrete bunker. He also speaks of birding in full battle gear the day following a rocket attack and finds centeredness in watching a Squacco Heron. Following a sandstorm, he finds calmness in watching two white-cheeked bulbuls chasing a moth.

Squacco Heron
Image Credit: Mike Lane

The following is a brief excerpt from the book's preface:

Most people's view of Iraq focuses on the chaos and violence of war. To read about something universally familiar as the migration of birds, or watching ducks in a pond, fufilled a need to know that something worthwhile or magical was happening, even in the midst of suicide bombings and rocket attacks...Knowing that the great cycles of nature continue despite what people happen to be doing is reassuring, I think. There is an order we can take comfort in and draw strength from.

I would definately recommend this book to anyone who needs some inspiration. It's a nice read for birders as well. You can get it at Amazon. I found it helpful to keep a field guide, Birds of the Middle East, within arms reach so that I could look up the birds the author encountered.

You can also check out more of the authors journal at his blog, Birding Babylon.

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