“Warblers and Woodpeckers” by Sneed B. Collard III
Review by SUSAN LUBBERS
For the Gazette
Sneed Collard and his son Braden set a bodacious goal: count 350 species of birds in one year. Braden memorized identification details to help his father, a biologist nature writer, distinguish the birds in their habitat. Both would document their sightings with photographs.
“Warblers & Woodpeckers” by Collard, a prolific writer of children’s books, documents the effort and is among the finalists in the Creative Nonfiction category for a High Plains Book Award. He considers the book his first for adults. The highs and lows of the planning, the anticipation, the travel and the searching for the birds known to be in each location strengthens the bond between the two.
“Most people view birders as mellow nature lovers out to enjoy the outdoors,” Collard writes. Yet, with a specific goal set for one of the outings, Collard writes, “It was this almost militaristic side of birding that surfaced.” A side that non-birders rarely witness, he adds. This driven approach to meet their goal took them to Texas, Arizona, California, the Galapagos and of course Montana. The Collards reside in Missoula and many species dwell in Western Montana.
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Various outings include conversations with other birders, weather challenges, and just good interplay between father and son. The rather long story offers both descriptions of the birds as well as their habitat. Every trip the duo attempts to identify the high point or bird of the day. The condors soaring above the cliffs in California and the Northern-Pygmy Owl spotted in Montana make both lists.
Collard, also a writing teacher for children, spins quite a yarn of more than 200 pages. That might exhaust some readers who may not think of birding as an interesting adventure. This saga draws you in and even as you grow weary of spotting yet another bird, you share the excitement.
Braden says it best, “I know some of the birds by song, but I want to learn other calls too, especially warblers and other songbirds.” Collard adds, that the year took him from mainly “collecting” birds to wanting to understand birds better. “As his dad, I couldn’t have been more pleased by this evolution.”
Did the duo meet their goal? Nearly.
Susan Lubbers, reader and reviewer, continues her involvement with the High Plains Book Awards by sponsoring an award.