Shearwater by Roger Morgan-Grenville

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

I have not yet been fortunate to see a Manx Shearwater, but they are a fascinating bird from all that I have read about them. They are moderately sized birds with a wingspan of around 80cm and weigh approximately 400g. They nest and breed on islands on the west coast of the UK that are free from rats. After breeding they abandon the chick in the burrow and make the 8000-mile journey to the South Atlantic just off Argentina.

Morgan -Grenville first came across them when he used to stay with his grandmother at her croft on the Island of Mull. While they were staying they were expected to help around the place in the mornings, pulling ragwort, hefting sacks of seaweed and equally hard but necessary jobs. That done the afternoon was time for adventure; climbing hills, swimming and having tea with some of her eccentric friends. One special treat was being taken out in a boat to see the puffins. It was on one of these trips that he noticed this bird just above the water and wasn’t quite sure what it was. The skipper of the boat told him it was a shearwater and his life was never quite the same again.

Thirteen years later and he is on his way to South Georgia for military duty. He has just stepped out from the bridge as he felt rather nauseous. He thought about the letter he has just received from his grandmother, he always saved it until last when he noticed a bird in the distance, his first albatross and a veteran bird too by the looks of it. He had the same feeling when he saw the shearwater and it set a question in his mind that he would spend the next thirty years answering: What happens with those ocean birds when they go out of sight?

This book is his story to seek the answers to that question and it will take him back to the places of his childhood, the tiny island of Lundy and all the way to South America. He helps with the research team on the Island of Skomer and sits waiting in a bar in Ireland waiting for a storm to pass.

I thought this was another step up from his previous book, Liquid Gold. This is part memoir, part travelogue and you can tell that this is a bird that he is obsessed with, from the story that he tells within the pages. The prose is rich and full of personal moments that do not detract from the book at all. Not quite a funny as his previous book, the narrative is a fitting tribute to these amazing birds and his fiercely independent grandmother.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh this sounds a good one. Annoyingly, I need to ask my husband if I’ve seen one of these!

    • Paul

      It was, his writing has improved greatly since his book on bees

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