‘The Glitter in the Green’, Jon Dunn’s hummingbird odyssey, was published earlier this week by Bloomsbury. Ceri Levy reviews.
Jon Dunn’s remarkable book, The Glitter In The Green, is the hummingbird compendium. Dunn captures his love for hummingbirds throughout and we are left in no doubt that the world would be a darker place without them in it. Many of us may never see a hummingbird in the wild and after reading this book I am left with the sense that our life would be a little poorer for this.
I admit to a tinge of envy as the writing reminds me why I love travelling. It’s the prospect of the new, the unseen and the unknown. That first smell of a country on leaving an airport and feeling the excitement rise. This is what great travel books do. They make you walk in the writer’s shoes and imagine being with them every step of the way; watching, learning and enjoying the adventure. It becomes the reader’s adventure too.
For centuries the hummingbird family has captured our hearts and our imaginations. A mystical aura surrounds these creatures that seemingly defy the laws of physics as they flicker and dazzle at a different rate to our movements. To see them one needs to seemingly glimpse into another unearthly dimension as they bedazzle the viewer and those that seek them desire that brief, rapid moment of connection with their thrumming world where fleetingly, time means nothing.
We follow the writer and photographer as he collates a series of expeditions across the Americas, home to all of the world’s hummingbirds. Our intrepid explorer’s stories are told geographically and we start in the far north of Alaska and wend our way down to the extreme south of the continent, ending in Tierra del Fuego.
Dunn only has a limited amount of time on each journey before he has to head home and the clock ticks loudly across the pages. Each trip’s chronicle reads like a rip-roaring adventure story as Dunn takes us deeper into the unforgiving and unknown world of extreme birdwatching. Trails for a specific bird can go cold and then ignite again as new information on a bird’s potential location is found, and last-minute diversions have to be made. The generosity of people helps him considerably and a lost cause often becomes a wonderful reprieve as the target bird grants an audience with our guide.
In between each journey we are treated to discovering more about the hummingbird and its place in our history and our folklore. Venerated by Native Americans, and desired by European collectors, — their feathers needed for fashionistas — we learn too how James Bond got his name and visit the Pacific island that inspired Robinson Crusoe. All this knowledge jostles for space, but can’t compete with the stars of the book: the hummingbirds themselves. There are plenty to salivate over and the prose is elegant.
Booted Racket-tails with rich buff pom-pom legwarmer feathers flew, like dragonflies, around the perimeter of the small clearing in which the feeders were hanging, their long delicate tails tipped with petrol-blue discs that gleamed in the broken sunlight that streamed through the overarching trees in pale golden shafts.
The birds fly rapidly between the pages, touching our minds in a blur and whirr of information and knowledge. For such small creatures the imprint they leave on our world is exponentially greater than their size. Their magic confounds, beguiles and entrances on every page. Jon Dunn is a very lucky man to have seen so many beautiful birds, and we are very lucky to have him relate his experiences so wonderfully well. He’s a man I would love to go birding with.
‘The Glitter in the Green’ is out now.