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To the Ends of the Earth (cover)

Publisher: Collins Press, Dublin

Publication Year: 2018

Binding: Hardback

Page Count: 248

ISBN Number: 9781848893528

Price: £ 24.99

To The Ends of The Earth: Ireland's Place in Bird Migration

As a resident of Northern Ireland, I chose this book for its title: ‘Ireland’s Place in Bird Migration’. However, the scope of this fascinating book is global, like the paths of the book’s protagonists.

This is far from being a book for those interested in the birds of Ireland only; the miraculous biology of migration is explored from the physiological changes in a bird’s body to the actions of weather and luck on migrations. Each chapter of the book is well researched, and McGeehan distils the most astonishing facts from the scientific literature and weaves them seamlessly into the flow of the migration story. Reader beware - if reading in company, you may find yourself reciting aloud each new surprising finding to your companion!

My particular favourite chapters in the book demystify birds’ almost magical ability to orient themselves via magnetic fields. McGeehan is thorough in his approach, beginning by describing how the geology of the Earth creates magnetism, then proceeding through the evolutionary background of magnetic perception in primitive life forms and even describing how species as diverse as mole rats, turtles and eels were discovered to react to magnetic fields. Feeling more informed, we then return to magnetic orientation in migratory birds and to the truly astounding way in which this sense is integrated into the avian eye.

Preceding the science and anecdotes contained in the chapters are snippets of poems and excerpts that complement McGeehan’s often poetic writing style. The lines that introduce the short chapter on a shearwater experience off the west coast of Ireland set the scene for the following story wonderfully.

Opening the book anywhere along its length reveals beautiful photos, annotated with additional interesting stories about the subject, in addition to many helpful diagrams showing migration routes, fat deposition patterns and describing pressure systems, among many other interesting additions.

This was a thoroughly entertaining and educational book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in a light read full of fascinating facts. You’ll never look at a Blackbird in the same way again.

Book reviewed by Katherine Booth Jones

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