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Crow Country (2007)

by Mark Cocker

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1846117,921 (3.95)13
One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to roost in the Yare valley. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the night woods, these gloriously commonplace birds were unsheathed entirely from their ordinariness. They became for Cocker a fixation and a way of life.Cocker goes in search of them, journeying from the cavernous, deadened heartland of South England to the hills of Dumfriesshire, experiencing spectacular failures alongside magical successes and epiphanies. Step by step he uncovers the complexities of the birds' inner lives, the unforeseen richness hidden in the raucous crow song he calls 'our landscape made audible'.Crow Country is a prose poem in a long tradition of English pastoral writing. It is also a reminder that 'Crow Country' is not 'ours'- it is a landscape which we cohabit with thousands of other species, and these richly complex fellowships cannot be valued too highly.… (more)
  1. 00
    Corvus: A Life with Birds by Esther Woolfson (chrisharpe)
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    Ravens in Winter by Bernd Heinrich (chrisharpe)
    chrisharpe: For those with an interest in crows, Heinrich's work is an absolute classic!
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A long ellipse of shapes, ragged and playful, strung out across the valley for perhaps half a kilometre, rides the uplift from the north wind directly towards my location. The birds, rooks and jackdaws heading to their evening roost, don't materialise gradually -- a vague blur slowly taking shape -- they tunnel into view as if suddenly breaking through a membrane. One moment they aren't visible. Then they are, and I track their course to the great skirt of stubble flowing down below me ...
A short paragraph from near the beginning of this 'meditation' includes much of what I loved about this book: the prose poetry in the language, the evocation of a moment in time and the willingness to share a worthy obsession. Mark Cocker describes himself as author, naturalist and environmental activist (in that order) but I liked the way he melded all those roles into a seamless whole in producing the eighteen chapters of this book. There's some autobiography here, there's also travel writing, science, historical perspective, literary allusions, potted biographies of contemporaries and predecessors who have laboured in this field. And yet he wears much of this learning and experience lightly, inviting the reader into the warm glow of campfire anecdotes mingling with facts and figures.

Cocker's focus is the Norfolk Broads, in the triangle between Norwich, Great Yarmouth and Beccles, with a bulge extending towards Lowestoft. The rivers Waveney and Yare, which flow together before heading to the sea at Great Yarmouth, have provided the habitat for birds of all descriptions for generations; probably many of these avian creatures have been here since the end of the Ice Age.

The author's obsession with corvids -- rooks in particular -- is hugely satisfied by the presence of significant flocks of these sociable birds. He charts their ebb and flow, both daily from and back to their roosts as well as seasonally between roosts and rookeries where their young are raised. He discusses their habits, how they compare with roosts in Cornwall or Dumfriesshire, any similarity with other corvids such as ravens; he also credits other ornithologists, both professional and amateur, when they've added to the store of knowledge; and he details rook appearances in literature, folklore and popular culture. As an example of folk tradition merging with modern popular culture he even quotes from the lyrics of 'Rook', a song on rock band XTC's 1982 album Nonsuch (a record for which my violist daughter was a session musician): "Rook, rook / Read from your book / Who murders who and where is the treasure hid? ... Rook, rook / Gaze in the brook / If there's a secret can I be part of it?"

One of things that endeared me to this reissue of Crow Country (first published nine years before) was the delightful and classy all-over fold-out cover Vintage Classics had commissioned from the Timorous Beasties studio to a design by Suzanne Dean: as well as a handsome rook it features plant tendrils, flowers and wildlife as could be found in, say, a Victorian naturalist's notebook. But it is what's within the covers that counts, and I for one was enlightened, entertained and enervated by what I read. You may be too.

http://wp.me/s2oNj1-rook ( )
  ed.pendragon | Jul 24, 2016 |
A lovely meditation on one of England's most common birds, highlighting the richness that can come from really paying attention. Enough to have me ready to dust the binoculars off on the weekend and go wandering the Merri Creek. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
Strictly for the birds. Beautifully written. But birds. ( )
  adrianburke | Jan 25, 2013 |
Crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens have always fascinated me, and when I saw this book, I could not resist it. Here was somebody else with the same fascination, only he has approached the subject like a scientist and he has written a very interesting and very readable book. I've learned a lot and my fascination has even increased after reading it. ( )
  mojacobs | May 9, 2011 |
This is a well written and enjoyable book, accessible even for those with no immediate interest in birds. Despite the title, this is largely about rooks, although Cocker does discuss other members of the crow family (ravens, jackdaws, carrion crows etc). It centres on his interest in the roosts and rookeries close to his own home in the Norfolk Broads. Each chapter is largely dedicated to an aspect of corvine behaviour, often providing intriguing pieces of information. However, there is one chapter towards the end which focuses on why he has become obsessed by a single bird species. This includes the accounts of other naturalists whose studies he admires. Whilst there are examples of naturalists studying crows, this chapter does sit oddly with the rest of the book. I merely feels like an apology from Cocker as to why he has written the book in the first place. No apology is needed, the rest of this work stands for itself. ( )
1 vote geocroc | Sep 29, 2010 |
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One night Mark Cocker followed the roiling, deafening flock of rooks and jackdaws which regularly passed over his Norfolk home on their way to roost in the Yare valley. From the moment he watched the multitudes blossom as a mysterious dark flower above the night woods, these gloriously commonplace birds were unsheathed entirely from their ordinariness. They became for Cocker a fixation and a way of life.Cocker goes in search of them, journeying from the cavernous, deadened heartland of South England to the hills of Dumfriesshire, experiencing spectacular failures alongside magical successes and epiphanies. Step by step he uncovers the complexities of the birds' inner lives, the unforeseen richness hidden in the raucous crow song he calls 'our landscape made audible'.Crow Country is a prose poem in a long tradition of English pastoral writing. It is also a reminder that 'Crow Country' is not 'ours'- it is a landscape which we cohabit with thousands of other species, and these richly complex fellowships cannot be valued too highly.

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