Sean Dooley 2014. The Big Twitch. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 322 pp.

Ostensibly a diary of Sean Dooley’s twitching year, in which he devoted 2005 and more than $40,000 to criss-crossing Australia to observe (“twitch”) 703 species of birds in Australia (I think the current record is 745, in 2012 by John Weigel). In reality it is at least as much a memoir of mild psychiatric interest. Anyway, this kind of behaviour, like this book, is seriously weird. On the other hand, compared with bombing the crapper out of countries on the other side of the world where we have no business, or digging new mines for coal that we have no need of, I guess it is a comparatively harmless kind of weirdness.

Sean Dooley, now editor of Birdlife magazine, certainly knows heaps about birds, but that only slips out now and then, interspersed with comments that are sometimes mildly witty, othertimes not at his own expense and at the expense of other twitchers. Very many folk with a natural history bent would give a lot to have a year to devote to birdwatching, but not to dashing off from so many wonderful places after only a day or so just because no further new “ticks” were possible. Looking back nearly 15 years, I daresay Sean Dooley would now rather not have exposed quite so much of his weirdness, for example the comments about his girlfriends who find themselves scattered through the text like cardboard cutouts. Probably he is a much nicer guy in the flesh but some of these these youthful attempted witticisms don’t come across too well.

I never intended to finish reading this, but I must be weird too and I did finish it despite myself. Sort of like watching a late night rerun of a very ordinary Clint Eastwood movie.