When I first picked up A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All by Luke Dempsey, I wondered whether it would be like The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik. The latter book also has three birders traveling across the United States trying to see every bird that resides in or migrates through the country. But there is a big difference. In the new book, the birders are friends, not rivals. They even have a pact to not count a bird unless all three identify it, either by sight or sound. They join together for long weekends and vacations, hauling binoculars, scopes, and cameras, and listening to bird songs on an iPod.
Why these people are friends is the question I struggled with. Dempsey tells us how he met Don and Donna Graffiti, a couple who coax him to go out birding. Once they start traveling together, however, all their eccentricities are revealed and tempers flare, but just when the group looks like it might break up, someone spots a ringed kingfisher or an eastern meadowlark. Luke tolerates the horrible motels that Don books, and Donna and Don forgive his penchant for sudden tactless statements to the people they meet. Their common love for the birds holds them together.
I tired of the soap opera aspects of the book but read on for the descriptions of birds and details of how the trio spotted them. Going out into remote areas, such as lonely stretches of the Rio Grande in Texas, brought the friends into contact with some dangerous characters. They'll never know why the smuggler (drugs or people?) backed off after demanding their cameras.
Overall, A Supremely Bad Idea is an entertaining read that makes me long for some warmer weather and time in the wild.
Dempsey, Luke. A Supremely Bad Idea: Three Mad Birders and Their Quest to See It All. Bloomsbury, 2008. ISBN 9781596913554