The Birdwatcher’s Wife Book by Gayle Smith Padgett
Retired and living in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence since 2011, even after a decade, Gayle Smith Padgett and her hubby Ralph continue their exploration of the region. In 2019, they embarked on “The Big Birding,” a 12-month project they decided would feed Ralph’s passion for birding and test Gayle’s logistical, writing, and record-keeping skills. Published in September 2021, The Birdwatcher’s Wife is an engaging chronicle of the couple’s quest to reach their goal.
Gayle Smith Padgett hails from Washington State. She graduated from UCLA with two master’s degrees in Spanish and Latin American studies. After studying in Mexico and South America, Gayle worked as a language specialist in California and Virginia and later as a management analyst and US government liaison in Heidelberg, Germany. In 2011, she and Ralph moved to Provence and are still cracking the French culture codes.
In her first book, Passion for Provence, 22 Keys to La Belle Vie, Gayle shares her “key” (a motto or a saying) to coping with life in Provence. The book is a light-hearted view of what can be challenging for any couple; a strange country, new friends, limited language skills and oh-la-la, the famous French bureaucracy. For more information about this book, please read our review here.
The Birdwatcher’s Wife begins when Gayle and Ralph land at the Marseille Provence Airport on January 1, 2019. It’s the start of their Big Birding Year. Without wasting a moment, Ralph is already looking for feathered friends before they have even left the airport parking lot. Early on, Ralph is on a roll racking up some 76 sightings in the first month. Perhaps his stretch goal of sighting 200 unique birds on French soil in 12 months is far from a stretch.
Although the pace slows in the following months, the couple’s determination to meet their target does not. Throughout the year, they are never far from a set of binoculars, a trusty spotting scope, and the Collins Bird Guide.
Regular walks in the hills of the Alpilles near St Rémy deliver some flying surprises. Unfortunately, Provence sometimes provides weather that is far from ideal for bird spotting.
While reading the book, you discover beautiful regions of France during their 12-month quest. Gayle records the highs and lows of their day trips to the Camargue’s (Rhône River delta) bird blinds. Venturing further afield during the year, they travel from the Mediterranean to the Alpes to the Atlantic, looking for feathered friends. Although this book is not a travel journal, Gayle’s description of their trips to Côté d’Azur, Brittany and beautiful St Jean de Luz in the Southwest might have you booking a trip.
Sorry, no spoiler alert here. You need to read the book to determine if Gayle and Ralph achieved their goal. As you read this delightful, engaging journal, you learn a lot about birds and admire this couple’s bond. You might find yourself making notes for places to visit in France as you read The Birdwatcher’s Wife.
Who are the Readers?
Anyone who loves nature and France will enjoy this book. The Birdwatcher’s Wife provides technical information on the birds. Of interest to some people, Ralph sights without boring the non-birder. If you are planning a holiday in France, this book is a terrific read.
Where to Buy the Book?
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May Bird: ©Hoopoe by Zeynel Cebeci
August Bird: ©Griffon Vulture by Thermos