In 1990 an expedition of Cambridge scientists arrived at the Plains of Nechisar, tucked between the hills of the Great Rift Valley in the Gamo Gofa province in the country of Ethiopia. On that expedition, 315 species of birds were seen; 61 species of mammal and 69 species of butterfly were identified; 20 species of dragonflies and damselflies; 17 reptile species were recorded; three frog species were filed; plants were listed. And the wing of a road-killed bird was packed into a brown paper bag. It was to become the most famous wing in the world.At British Natural History Museum in Tring, the wing set the world of science aflutter. It seemed that the wing was unique, but they questioned, can you name a species for the first time based only on the description of a wing, based on just one wing? After much to and fro, confirmation was unanimous, and the new species was announced, Nechisar Nightjar, Caprimulgus solala, (solus: only and ala: wing).And birdwatchers like Vernon began to dream. Twenty-two years later an expedition of four led by Ian Sinclair set off to try to find this rarest bird in the world. Vernon R.L.Head captivates and enchants as he tells of the adventures of Ian, Dennis, Gerry and himself as they navigate the wilderness of the plains, searching by spotlight for the elusive Nechisar Nightjar.
But this book is more than a boy's own adventure in search of the rarest bird in the world. It is a meditation on nature, on ways of seeing, on the naming of things and why we feel so compelled to label. It is a story of friendships and camaraderie. But most of all it embraces and enfolds one into the curious and eye-opening world of the birdwatcher. For birdwatchers, twitchers, bird lovers, and about-to-become birdwatchers everywhere.
Vernon R. L. Head was born in Cape Town (South Africa) in 1967. He grew up in a bungalow near the sea. He studied architecture, winning national and international awards for design and creative thinking. He is presently Chairman of BirdLife South Africa, one of Africa's biggest and most influential conservation organisations. When not working on environmental matters, he is either designing special buildings, or traveling the world looking for the rarest birds. This is his first book.