The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

Nest: The Art of Birds Janine Burke (Allen & Un­win, $32.99) GIVEN the ti­tle, you could ex­pect an il­lus­trated com­pendium, per­haps a homage to John James Audubon’s mas­ter­piece Birds of Amer­ica. But this re­cent book by Mel­bourne-based au­thor and art his­to­rian Janine Burke is some­thing else en­tirely. She calls her­self a ‘‘very am­a­teur nat­u­ral­ist’’ but ad­mits a fas­ci­na­tion for ob­serv­ing birds and an ad­mi­ra­tion for their nest­ing habits and self­con­tained worlds. It is crafted in a chatty style, ref­er­enc­ing many writ­ers who have had their say about birds, such as Italo Calvino, who de­scribed pi­geons as ‘‘a de­gen­er­ate prog­eny, filthy and in­fected’’ and, much more ap­prov­ingly, John Gould on the male fairy-wren in courtship — ‘‘its re­splen­dent beauty is hardly sur­passed by any of the feathered race’’. Burke in­cludes Charles Dick­ens on the raven and Karen Blixen on the stork; Vir­ginia Woolf’s hus­band, Leonard, de­scribed her as swoop­ing as a bird in and out of re­al­ity, like ‘‘a spirit as one with the wind and the wide sky’’.

You don’t need to be a birder to love this book; it just makes you want to look more care­fully. ‘‘We tend to take birds for granted, in the land­scape or in our neigh­bour­hoods,’’ writes Burke. ‘‘Yet when they’re gone it’s as though there’s a hole in the sky, in the air, an ab­sence of beauty and grace . . .’’

I am not con­vinced about the beauty of the my­nas that di­ve­bomb our beach-house deck nor the grace of the brush tur­keys that de­stroy our plant­ings. But such reser­va­tions aside, this is an en­chant­ing and thought­ful read.

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