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Searching for the Rarest Bird, Poetry and Featherings

Searching for the Rarest Bird, Poetry and Featherings

Vernon Head grew up in Cape Town in a bungalow near the sea and the gulls. He studied architecture, winning international awards for design and creative thinking.

Words by Tania Anderson, Pictures by Jacana Media

When not designing special buildings, he is either writing or travelling the world looking for rare birds.

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His first book, published in 2014, became an acclaimed bestseller. The Search for the Rarest Bird in the World is a remarkable story of an incredible adventure to find a bird that no-one has ever seen. Described as a new species based on only one wing discovered in 1975, the Sinclair expedition of 2009 set out to find another wing, or perhaps a pair of living wings of the Nechisar Nightjar. This true story will fascinate birdwatchers, twitchers, bird lovers and birders-in-training alike.

This book reveals Vernon’s deep love for nature and both his penetrating and startling way of seeing birds. Looking upon a living thing in nature that has never been seen by science before –looking closely and with intent – is a moment filled with many feelings. It is a moment of enlightenment; a reminder that nature is still filled with secrets… it is wildly satisfying instinctively…    

Vernon Head birding

The Laughing Dove and other Poems is his second book, a collection of poems about nature. Reviewer PL Anderson remarks “These poems have audacity and wisdom, even at their quietest they are as deft and spry as the smallest bird”. Trees is one of Vernon’s favourite poems.


Are mountains and seas, and a homemaker’s keys.

 I do not need the heat on the edge of cities:

 the shimmer and the shame.

I do not need the peaks up near the stars:

the reaching, the taking, the blame-game.

I do not want the bends of Earth that curl like the hardest dreams:

the steel water or the steel land; the tight slit of faraway;

the slamming vastness of another lonely day.

 Just give me a tree.

 I do not need the bright windows onto Clifton Bay

or the wide porches framing the Milky Way. I do not need the panorama,

the diorama, or the dead world of distance.

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Give me a tree, a real tree:

A home holds the roof of a tree like children hold hands, and the

freshness of leaves mix new pastorals with every, single sun. Big, old branches,

swing in so many textures they seem to hug like bucolic, Bohemian breasts, and sometimes a bow bends with the little skips of feet, pulling scuffs of sand

like paintings made by roots. Eaves fold into a canopy of singing rooms

extending into bark, soft like memories. Green feelings, orange ways,

red thoughts, yellow secrets all flutter in the bright holes of glass.

And doors make moments against the fingers of the tree, holding

a home so beautifully open and yet so together for me. And in summertime

 a path of twigs always gives a family to the birds.       

His third book, Featherings True Stories in Search of Birds, released in October 2017, is a remarkable collection of curiosities written by some of our country’s most intrepid bird observers.  “Everyone has different ways of seeing nature. This book gives you a glimpse through the eyes of scientists, birdwatchers and ornithologists who share their personal great moments of birding and beautiful stories”.

Also read: Faansie Peackock’s ABCs of LBJ Identification

Vernon Head birding

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