Dorian Anderson: Birding under The Influence - Cycling Across America in Search of Birds and Recovery

"THE attack commenced without warning - two seething German Shepherds exploded from the brush with unparalleled fury.

"They were barking and snarling, and I knew I was f**ed when their menacing eyes saw the gathering fear in mine."

So writes Dorian Anderson in this action-packed book which, following its highly successful launch in the United States, has recently been published in the UK.

Encountering hostile dogs is an occasional occupational hazard for birders, but for the author , it proved to a regular occurrence on an extraordinary January-to-December cycling journey which took him along 18,000 miles (yes, almost 18,000!) across 28 states.

En route, he managed to sight (or hear) a remarkable tally of no fewer than 618 species.

Packed with colourful and revealing anecdotes - many of them alarming, some funny - his account is absorbing from first page to last.

The first bird he encountered soon after he set out on a freezing day in Massachusetts was a snowy owl - the experience perhaps marred by the fact that, in the sub-zero temperature, his teeth were "chattering like an old-fashioned typewriter".

The 600th, again on a cold day, was a least grebe in Weslaco, Texas.

Not that our resilient cyclist always shivered. There were the scorching days of June and July in Colorado when he felt the rays of the sun prodding his skin "like a barbecue master poking at a slab of sizzling meat".

One early delight for Dorian, while still in Massachusetts, was when, out of the blue, he received a tip-off from a teenage enthusiast, Miles Brengle, that a thick-billed murre, typically a species of the faraway ocean wave, was within viewing distance from a wharf in Gloucester harbour.

Having rushed to the scene to view the bird, the grateful Anderson tells his informant: "Too bad I'm an alcoholic and you're only 14 - otherwise we'd crack open a beer to celebrate!"

The author, an alcoholic?

Yes, and, throughout his narrative, he is strikingly candid about how booze - and drugs - messed up much of his youth including his promising career as a neuroscientist.

Along with the biking and the birds, Dorian's battle to overcome his demons by adapting his addictive behaviour into more positive ends provides another fascinating, and often moving, strand in this endlessly enthralling book.

He expresses gratitude to those who encouraged him along the way, not least his ever-loyal and patient girlfriend, Sonia, who was later to become his wife.

But back to those snarling attack-dogs? Obviously - and happily - Dorian survived to tell the tale.

To find out the details get hold of a copy of the book and all is revealed.

Birding Under The Influence is published in paperback and as an e-book by Chelsea Green (

It is available from the publisher and wherever books are sold.