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Book of the Week

 

Commission for Conservation
Rare Bird Alert does not profit from the sale of books through Wildsounds. Instead we are part of their Commission for Conservation programme where a percentage of every sale made through RBA helps supports BirdLife's Spoon-billed Sandpiper Fund.

 

 

Book of the Week - 15 August 2018

Bird Brain: Over 2,400 Questions to Test Your Bird Knowledge

Birdfair

An ornithological quiz book packed with challenging questions for birders, based on the popular 'Bird Brain of Britain' contest at the annual Bird Fair.

The British Birdwatching Fair, held every August at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, attracts over 30,000 visitors every year. One of the most popular attractions in the events marquee is the 'Bird Brain of Britain' contest. Each of the four contestants must answer a set of questions on their nominated specialist subject, and a second set on general (ornithological) knowledge. The participants have included popular presenters and experts throughout the years, including Stephen Moss, Chris Harbard, Mark Andrews, Nigel Redman, Mike Dilger and David Lindo, among many others.

Bird Brain features the questions asked in the contest over its 30-year lifespan. Many seemingly simple questions turn out to have complex answers, and some that seem difficult have a very simple explanation. The questions are difficult and varied enough to test any birder's knowledge, and will provide many hours of challenging entertainment. Be they trivial, idiosyncratic, baffling or strange, the varied bird trivia included makes this compilation as entertaining and enlightening as it is educational.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 8 August 2018

How to Be an Urban Birder

David Lindo

Urban birding is fast becoming ornithology's new rock 'n' roll. Birds and birding have never been cooler - and urban birding is at the cutting edge.

How to Be an Urban Birder is the world's first guide to the art of urban birding - which is easy and great fun. Here, urban birding pioneer David Lindo tells you everything you need to know about birds and birding in towns and cities in the UK.

  • Includes a brief history of urban birding in the UK
  • Covers the best places to look for birds in towns and cities
  • Helps you get to know your urban birds
  • Gives useful tips on how to attract birds to your garden
  • Explains what gear you need and how to go about being an urban birder
  • Features hundreds of cool images and illustrations of birds in urban settings 256 pages.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 1 August 2018

Tweet of the Day: A Year of British Birds

Bill Oddie, Chris Packham, David Attenborough, Kate Humble & Michaela Strachan

The complete first series of Tweet of the Day, with introductions by Sir David Attenborough, Chris Packham, Kate Humble and many others.

First heard every weekday morning at 5.58am on BBC Radio 4, Tweet of the Day captured the imagination of early risers and bird lovers, proving so popular that it was named Radio Programme of the Year 2014. Each episode begins with a bird call or song, followed by fascinating ornithological detail about its owner.

This collection contains every edition from the first series, British Birds. The songs of over 160 birds can be heard over the course of a year, from the Cuckoo's call in spring to the summer seaside sound of the Herring Gull, the autumn song of the Robin and the Song Thrush's voice of hope in the depths of winter.

Featuring a mix of native birds, such asthe Blackbird and Tawny Owl, and migrant visitors including the Icterine Warbler and Ortolan Bunting, the series provides memorable insight into their behaviour and habits, explains their literary or folkloric associations, and tells stories of scientific or conservation success.

Presented by wildlife experts including Miranda Krestovnikoff, Steve Backshall, Michaela Strachan, Brett Westwood, Chris Watson, Martin Hughes-Games, John Aitchison and Bill Oddie, Tweet of the Day is a treat for the ears. 6 hours.

 

 

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Book of the Week - 18 July 2018

Antpittas and Gnateaters

Harold Greeney

Harold F Greeney, Illustrated by David Beadle Elusive jewels of the Neotropical undergrowth, antpittas are among the most sought-after of all bird groups. These forest birds specialise in following their primary food source - invertebrates stirred up by columns of ants - and they often keep close to the ground as a result. More likely to be heard than seen, antpittas are relatively poorly studied by ornithologists due to their habitat, behaviour and, in many cases, their rarity.

This authoritative handbook, part of the Helm Identification series, is the first book dedicated solely to the world's antpittas, the family Grallariidae. It also includes the gnateaters (Conopophagidae), a small family of 11 species that, like antpittas, are also native to Central and South America. Antpittas and Gnateaters discusses the identification and habits of these birds, bringing together the very latest research with accurate range maps, more than 250 colour photos, and 24 superb plates that illustrate age and racial plumage differences.

Antpittas and Gnateaters is the ultimate reference on these remarkable and beautiful birds, and will be indispensable for anyone interested in the birds of the Neotropics.

A must-have book for anyone interested in the Neotropics and its birds: it will become the standard reference on the subject for many years to come.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 11 July 2018

Handbook of Western Palearctic Birds: Passerines (2-Volume Set)

by Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson

This unique and spectacular handbook is the most complete and comprehensive photographic guide to the passerines of the Western Palearctic. Written by two of the world's most respected ornithologists, Hadoram Shirihai and Lars Svensson, it contains the most up-to-date information available on bird identification covering all aspects of plumage, moult, ageing and sexing, with sections on voice and other identification criteria, and detailed taxonomic notes.

The passerines are divided into two volumes, with the first covering larks, hirundines, pipits and wagtails, bulbuls, accentors, robins, chats, wheatears, thrushes, prinias and cisticolas, and warblers, and the second covering flycatchers, reedlings, tits, nuthatches, orioles and sunbirds, shrikes, corvids, finches and buntings, along with extreme vagrants.

The exceptional text is backed up by a remarkable collection of more than 5,000 photographs, featuring a comprehensive range of plumages that illustrate every race and morph of each species in the region. This stunning handbook will be the definitive reference for the region for years to come - no birder's shelf will be complete without it.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 4 July 2018

Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear?

by Lev Parikian

At twelve years old, Lev Parikian was an avid birdwatcher. He was also a fraud, a liar and a cheat. Those lists of birds seen and ticked off? Lies. One hundred and thirty species? More like sixty. Then, when he turned fifty, he decided to right his childhood wrongs. He would go birdwatching again. He would not lie. He would aim to see two hundred species of British bird in a year.

Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? is the story of that year, a story about birds, family, music, nostalgia, the nature of obsession and obsession with nature. It's about finding adventure in life when you twig it's shorter than you thought, and about losing and regaining contact with the sights, sounds and smells of the natural world.

It's a book for anyone who has ever seen a small brown bird and wondered what it was, or tried to make sense of a world in which we can ask, 'What's that bird?' and 'What's for lunch?' and get the same answer.

 

Book of the Week - 27 June 2018

Swifts in a Tower

by David Lack

First published in 1956, Swifts in a Tower still offers astonishing insights into Swifts' private lives along with thoughts about their life style and wider issues. Now more than sixty years later Swifts have been studied even more thoroughly, with technology unimaginable in the 1950s. This continues to reveal even more of their secrets, so this edition, published in association with the RSPB for their Oxford Swift City project includes a new chapter by Andrew Lack, bringing the story of this remarkable bird into the 21st Century.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 20 June 2018

Islander: A Journey Around Our Archipelago

by Patrick Barkham

Britain is an archipelago made up of two large islands and 6,289 smaller ones. Some, like the Isle of Man, resemble miniature nations, with their own language and tax laws; others, like Ray Island in Essex, are abandoned and mysterious places haunted by myths, ghosts and foxes. There are resurgent islands such as Eigg, which have been liberated from capricious owners to be run by their residents; holy islands like Bardsey, the resting place of 20,000 saints, and still a site of spiritual questing; and deserted islands such as St Kilda, famed for the evacuation of its human population, and now dominated by wild sheep and seabirds.

In this evocative and vividly observed book, Patrick Barkham explores some of the most beautiful landscapes in Britain as he travels to ever-smaller islands in search of their special magic. Our small islands are both places of freedom and imprisonment, party destinations and oases of peace, strangely suburban and deeply wild. They are places where the past is unusually present, but they can also offer a vision of an alternative future. Meeting all kinds of islanders, from nuns to puffins, from local legends to rare subspecies of vole, he seeks to discover what it is like to live on a small island, and what it means to be an islander.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 30 May 2018

Mrs Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names

Stephen Moss

We use names so often, and with such little thought, that we often forget to pause and wonder about their origins. What do they mean? Where did they come from? And who originally created them?

Since the dawn of mankind we have been driven by a primordial urge to name the birds and beasts of the earth and skies. It is through names that we make sense of the world around us, and through understanding these names, we can arrive at a greater awareness of our world.

Many of our most familiar birds are named after people or places, sometimes after their sound or appearance, or perhaps after their quirky little habits. But sometimes a little more detective work is required to find the deeper meanings and stories behind the names. And a familiar face such as the blackbird, may not turn out to be named after its colour after all.

Through unexpected encounters with the bird kingdom, from the familiar sparrow to the many-coloured rush-tyrant of Patagonia, Stephen Moss shows us that something as small as a name can carry a whole story – an arctic expedition, a pitched battle between rival ornithologists or the discovery of a new system of genetic hybridisation. Mrs Moreau's Warbler is a journey through time, from when humans and birds first shared the world, up to the present day, as we find ourselves struggling to coexist sustainably with our feathered friends.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 30 May 2018

Mrs Moreau's Warbler: How Birds Got Their Names

Stephen Moss

We use names so often, and with such little thought, that we often forget to pause and wonder about their origins. What do they mean? Where did they come from? And who originally created them?

Since the dawn of mankind we have been driven by a primordial urge to name the birds and beasts of the earth and skies. It is through names that we make sense of the world around us, and through understanding these names, we can arrive at a greater awareness of our world.

Many of our most familiar birds are named after people or places, sometimes after their sound or appearance, or perhaps after their quirky little habits. But sometimes a little more detective work is required to find the deeper meanings and stories behind the names. And a familiar face such as the blackbird, may not turn out to be named after its colour after all.

Through unexpected encounters with the bird kingdom, from the familiar sparrow to the many-coloured rush-tyrant of Patagonia, Stephen Moss shows us that something as small as a name can carry a whole story – an arctic expedition, a pitched battle between rival ornithologists or the discovery of a new system of genetic hybridisation. Mrs Moreau's Warbler is a journey through time, from when humans and birds first shared the world, up to the present day, as we find ourselves struggling to coexist sustainably with our feathered friends.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 23 May 2018

Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather

Tessa Boase

When Mrs Pankhurst stormed the House of Commons with her crack squad of militant suffragettes in 1908, she wore on her hat a voluptuous purple feather. This is the intriguing story behind that feather.

Twelve years before the suffragette movement began dominating headlines, a very different women's campaign captured the public imagination. Its aim was radical: to stamp out the fashion for feathers in hats. Leading the fight was a character just as heroic as Emmeline Pankhurst, but with opposite beliefs. Her name was Etta Lemon, and she was anti-fashion, anti-feminist and anti-suffrage.

Mrs Lemon has been forgotten by history, but her mighty society lives on. Few, today, are aware that Britain's biggest conservation charity, the RSPB, was born through the determined efforts of a handful of women, led by the indomitable Mrs Lemon. While the suffragettes were slashing paintings and smashing shop windows, Etta Lemon and her local secretaries were challenging 'murderous millinery' all the way up to Parliament.

This gripping narrative explores two singular heroines - one lionised, the other forgotten - and their rival, overlapping campaigns. Moving from the feather workers' slums to the highest courtly circles, from the first female political rally to the first forcible feeding, Mrs Pankhurst's Purple Feather is a unique journey through a society in transformation.

This is a highly original story of women stepping into the public sphere, agitating for change and finally finding a voice.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 2 May 2018

The Ascent of Birds: How Modern Science is Revealing their Story

John Reilly

When and where did the ancestors of modern birds evolve? What enabled them to survive the meteoric impact that wiped out the dinosaurs? How did these early birds spread across the globe and give rise to the 10,500-plus species we recognise today – from the largest ratites to the smallest hummingbirds? Based on the latest scientific discoveries and enriched by personal observations, The Ascent of Birds sets out to answer these fundamental questions.

This book is divided into self-contained chapters, or stories, that collectively encompass the evolution of modern birds from their origins in Gondwana, over 100 million years ago, to the present day. The stories are arranged in chronological order, from tinamous to tanagers, and describe the many dispersal and speciation events that underpin the world's 10,500-plus species. Although each chapter is spearheaded by a named bird and focuses on a specific evolutionary mechanism, the narrative will often explore the relevance of such events and processes to evolution in general.

 

Book of the Week - 15 Apr 2018

Behind More Binoculars

Keith Betton and Mark Avery

How and why did our most acclaimed birdwatchers take up birding? What were their early experiences of nature? How have their professional birding careers developed? What motivates them and drives their passion for wildlife? How many birds have they seen? Keith Betton and Mark Avery, passionate birdwatchers and conservationists, interview members of the birdwatching community to answer these and many other questions about the lives of famous birdwatchers.

Following on from the success of their 2015 book Behind the Binoculars, Keith and Mark are back again, taking you behind the scenes, and behind the binoculars, of a diverse range of birding and wildlife personalities.

Behind More Binoculars includes interviews with: Frank Gardner, Ann and Tim Cleeves, Roy Dennis, Kevin Parr, Tony Marr, Tim Appleton, Tim Birkhead, Dawn Balmer, Jon Hornbuckle, Tony Juniper, Richard Porter, Bryan Bland, Carol and Tim Inskipp, Barbara Young, Bill Oddie.

 

Book of the Week - 18 Apr 2018

Curlew Moon

Mary Colwell

Curlews are the UK's largest wading bird, about the size of a herring gull on long legs. They are particularly known for their evocative calls which embody wild places; they provoke a range of emotions that many have expressed in poetry, art and music. Over the last thirty years curlew numbers have fallen by an alarming 20 per cent across the European continent, and by a staggering 99 per cent in their most western reaches in the Irish Republic. So alarming are the figures that curlews were made a species of highest conservation concern in the UK in December 2015, and put onto the red list of threatened species by the IUCN.

This transition of curlews to high conservation status made it clear they were slipping away for problems that could be addressed with the public and political will to solve them. It was then that the idea of a 500-mile journey by foot began to crystallise in Mary Colwell's mind and became a concrete plan. Colwell decided to take time out to walk from the West coast of Ireland through Wales to the East coast of England to raise awareness about its plight, and to raise funds to protect this beautiful bird and its habitat.

Colwell started walking in the early spring when birds were first arriving on their breeding grounds in the west of Ireland, walking through to Wales when they incubated their eggs. She then travelled through England to coincide with the time when the chicks were hatching. Six weeks after setting out she arrived in East Anglia as the fledglings were beginning to try out their wings. By finishing on the east coast, she marked the place where many curlews would come to spend the winter.

Colwell chronicles her impressive journey in this beautifully illustrated book, weaving a wonderfully told story of the experiences on her walk, interspersed with the natural history of this most impressive of birds that has fascinated us for millennia.

 

 

Book of the Week - 11 Apr

A Shimmer of Hummingbirds

Steve Burrows

Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune hopes an overseas birding trip will hold some clues to solving his fugitive brother's manslaughter case. Meanwhile, in Jejeune's absence his long-time nemesis has been drafted in as cover to investigate an accountant's murder. And unfortunately Marvin Laraby proves just a bit too effective in showing how an investigation should be handled. With the manslaughter case poised to claim another victim, Jejeune learns an accident back home in Britain involving his girlfriend, Lindy, is much more than it seems. Lindy is in grave danger, and she needs Jejeune. Soon, he is faced with a further dilemma. He can speak up on a secret he has discovered relating to Laraby's case, knowing it will cost his job on the north Norfolk coast he loves. Or he can stay silent, and let a killer escape justice. Turns out that sometimes the wrong choice is the only one there is.

 

 

Book of the Week - 04 Apr

Owl Sense

Miriam Darlington

Owls have captivated the human imagination for millennia. We have fixated on this night hunter as predator, messenger, emblem of wisdom, something pretty to print on a tote bag or portent of doom. Darlington sets out to tell a new story. Her fieldwork begins with wild encounters in the British Isles and takes her to the frosted borders of the Arctic.

In her watching and deep listening to the natural world, she cleaves myth from reality and will change the way you think of this magnificent creature.

 

 

 

Book of the Week - 28 Mar

The Long Spring

Laurence Rose (Author), Richard Allen (Illustrator)

Exploring the wildlife, places, traditions, culture and personalities associated with spring throughout Europe, and introducing readers to cultural, scientific and historical research and his recollections of 30 years of continental travel, Laurence Rose paints a vivid picture of one of the world's most significant and beautiful natural phenomena: spring. Laurence begins his journey in the first week of February, arriving in southern Spain with the storks that herald the beginning of Europe's spring on San Blas Day. Swallows, cranes and, later on, wild swans are his constant companions as he journeys his way north through Spain, France and the UK, eventually crossing over to Sweden, Finland and Norway before finally reaching the Arctic Circle four months later.

While on the road, Laurence follows live data from satellites tracking birds as well as other indicators of spring. Throughout his travels, he meets people living closely with nature. He also encounters new behaviours, such as cranes wintering in France, and explores how they link to climate change. The further north he travels, the more unpredictable the events of spring become. At the end of his journey, Laurence reflects on what he has learned, as the long Arctic days stretch out into 24 hours of daylight.

 

Book of the Week - 21 Mar

Crossbill Guide: Southern Portugal

From Lisbon to the Algarve

Southern Portugal is a superb and rich wildlife destination. The Algarve province and its northern neighbour the Alentejo has a highly diverse landscape from the cliffs, dunes and tidal marshes on the coast to the extensive oak pastures, steppes and rocky hills in the interior. Whether you enjoy birdwatching, searching for orchids or simply a pleasant ramble through a flower-dotted landscape, southern Portugal is a great destination at any season.

This book contains 23 routes and 29 site descriptions of Portugal south of Lisbon.

 

 

Book of the Week - 7 Mar

Far from Land: The Mysterious Lives of Seabirds

Michael Brooke (Author), Bruce Pearson (Illustrator)

Seabirds evoke the spirit of the earth's wildest places. They spend large portions of their lives at sea, often far from land, and nest on beautiful and remote islands that humans rarely visit. Thanks to the development of increasingly sophisticated and miniaturized devices that can track their every movement and behaviour, it is now possible to observe the mysterious lives of these remarkable creatures as never before. This beautifully illustrated book takes you on a breathtaking journey around the globe to reveal where these birds actually go when they roam the sea, the tactics they employ to traverse vast tracts of ocean, the strategies they use to evade threats, and more.

Michael Brooke has visited every corner of the world in his lifelong pursuit of seabirds. Here, he draws on his own experiences and insights as well as the latest cutting-edge science to shed light on the elusive seafaring lives of albatrosses, frigatebirds, cormorants, and other ocean wanderers. Where do puffins go in the winter? How deep do penguins dive? How far away can an albatross spot a fishing vessel worth following for its next meal? Brooke addresses these and other questions in this delightful book. Along the way, he reveals that seabirds are not the aimless wind-tossed creatures they may appear to be, and explains the observational innovations that are driving this exciting area of research.

Featuring illustrations by renowned artist Bruce Pearson and packed with intriguing facts, Far from Land provides an extraordinary up-close look at the activities of seabirds.

 

 

Book of the Week - 21 Feb

Orchid Summer: In Search of the Wildest Flowers of the British Isles

by Jon Dunn

A heady celebration of the beauty and history of the wild orchid species of the British Isles, embraced in one glorious and kaleidoscopic summer-long hunt by naturalist Jon Dunn.

From the chalk downs of the south coast of England to the heathery moorland of the Shetland Isles, and from the holy island of Lindisfarne in the east to the Atlantic frontier of western Ireland, Orchid Summer is a journey into Britain and Ireland's most beautiful corners. The flowers that are the focus of this treasure hunt are exquisite and diverse. Some resemble insects and develop scents that mimic the smell of a virgin female wasp in order to lure male wasps to sample their unsatisfying charms. Some tower above the surrounding vegetation; others are vanishingly small and discrete. Some are sweetly scented; others smell of ripe billy goats. Some can be readily found but some will prove more elusive – none more so than the last to flower, the rarest of them all, the ghost orchid…

Capturing the intoxicating beauty of these rare and charismatic flowers, Orchid Summer is also an exploration of their history, their champions, their place in our landscape and the threats they face. Combining infectious enthusiasm and a painterly eye with a deep knowledge that comes from a lifetime's passionate devotion to their study, Dunn sweeps us up on his adventure, one from which it is impossible not to emerge enchanted and enriched.

Read a review by Andy Stoddart here

 

 

Book of the Week - 14 Feb

Gulls of the World

by Klaus Malling Olsen

In stock and available for despatch. Until recently, gulls were a group that inspired dread among birders, due to the bewildering variety of plumages, age-groups, and races, many of which are very difficult indeed to separate, even to species. Things changed in 2003 with the publication of Klaus Malling Olsen's Gulls of Europe, Asia and North America (Christopher Helm), a plate-based title that made accurate ID of gulls a realistic possibility for the first time. This photographic ID guide is a companion and successor to that seminal work and covers all of the world's gull species, tackling some of the stiffest ID challenges in birding. Concise text places particular emphasis placed on field ID, with detailed discussion of variation, and there is coverage of habitat, status, and distribution. The text is followed by a series of high-quality photographs, carefully selected to highlight identification criteria and, crucially, to allow age and subspecific separation in the field. The species entries are complemented by an accurate colour range map. 'Gulls of the World: A Photographic Guide' is an informative, fact-packed and beautifully designed guide to a group of great interest to all serious birders. Take a copy to your local rubbish tip today! c488 pages.

 

Book of the Week - 7 Feb

Making of the British Landscape

by Nicholas Crane

Nicholas Crane's new book brilliantly describes the evolution of Britain's countryside and cities. It is part journey, part history, and it concludes with awkward questions about the future of Britain's landscapes. Nick Crane's story begins with the melting tongues of glaciers and the emergence of a gigantic game-park tentatively being explored by a vanguard of Mesolithic adventurers who have taken the long, northward hike across the land bridge from the continent. The Iron Age develops into a pre-Roman 'Golden Era' and Crane looks at what the Romans did (and didn't) contribute to the British landscape. Major landscape 'events' (Black Death, enclosures, urbanisation, recreation, etc.) are fully described and explored, and he weaves in the role played by geology in shaping our cities, industry and recreation, the effect of climate (and the Gulf Stream), and of global economics (the Lancashire valleys were formed by overseas markets). The co-presenter of BBC's Coast also covers the extraordinary benefits bestowed by a 6,000-mile coastline. The 12,000-year story of the British landscape culminates in the twenty-first century, which is set to be one of the most extreme centuries of change since the Ice Age.

 

 

Book of the Week - 31 Jan

A Shadow Above: The Rise and Fall of the Raven

by Joe Shute

For centuries, the Raven has stalked us in life and in death. Excavations of Bronze Age settlements in Britain have revealed Raven bones mingled with human remains. The Viking and Norman warriors that stormed these shores did so sporting Ravens on their shields and banners. By the 15th century the service the birds provided scavenging and picking clean bodies on the streets of British cities led to their protection, under the first-ever piece of nature conservation legislation.

Yet by the 1700s this relationship between humans and the Raven had soured. The birds came to be regarded as vermin – representative of something deeper and more visceral – and were driven out of towns and cities with a hatred that moved into savagery. By the close of the 19th century, Ravens clung on only in the furthest outposts of the United Kingdom – the southwest, west Wales, and the Scottish uplands – and this remained the case throughout most of the last century, but the past decade has witnessed a remarkable comeback. Raven numbers have increased by 134 percent since the turn of the millennium and there are now well over 12,000 breeding pairs across the country, with these moving ever closer to human settlements.

The history of this bird embodies our best and worst impulses, and symbolizes our deepest fears. Ravens became ingrained in our culture as omens of death, and we projected our own deepest fears on to them.

Joe Shute's book chronicles the return of the Raven, and the people who have made that comeback possible. In it, he travels to every corner of the UK, meeting those who have spent the past ten years recording every sound and sighting, and showing why these birds reflect and provoke our innermost feelings.

His interviews will range from the descendants of the Vikings on Orkney to those who monitor the White Cliffs of Dover, where Ravens have started breeding for the first time since the Victorian era, to the burgeoning Raven roosts of Anglesey. Joe meets biologists studying the vast intellect of the birds which have proved how they mimic human speech – and interactions – and the city dwellers who never imagined the sight of Ravens in residential streets could ever be possible in their lifetimes. He also spends time with upland sheep farmers still struggling to come to terms with this uneasy relationship, and asks why we drove this bird to near extinction in the first place.

 

 

Book of the Week - 24 Jan

Beetles - New Naturalist Series 136

Richard Jones

Beetles are arguably the most diverse organisms in the world, with nearly half a million beetle species described and catalogued in our museums, more than any other type of living thing. This astonishing species diversity is matched by a similar diversity in shape, form, size, life history, ecology, physiology and behaviour.

Beetles occur everywhere, and do everything. And yet they form a clearly discrete insect group, typically characterised by their attractively compact form, with flight wings folded neatly under smooth hard wing-cases. Almost anyone could recognise a beetle, indeed many are intimately associated with human society. Groups like ladybirds are familiar to us from a very young age. Large stag beetles and handsome chafers are celebrated for their imposing size and bright colours. The sacred scarabs of the ancient Egyptians were given iconic, if not god-like, status and even though the exact religious meanings may be fading after three millennia, their bewitching jewellery and monumental statuary inspire us still.

Despite this ancient and easy familiarity with beetles, the Coleoptera remains tainted by the notion that it is a difficult group of insects. The traditional routes into studying British natural history, through birdwatching, butterfly-collecting and pressing wild flowers, now extend to studying dragonflies, bumblebees, grasshoppers, moths, hoverflies and even shieldbugs. These are on the verge of becoming popular groups, but beetles remain the preserve of the expert, or so it seems. So many British beetles are easy to find and easy to identify by the non-expert, but that bewildering background diversity, and the daunting numbers of species in the Coleoptera as a whole, have been enough to dissuade many a potential coleopterist from grasping the nettle and getting stuck in.

This groundbreaking New Naturalist volume on beetles provides a comprehensive natural history of this fascinating and beautiful group of insects.

 

Book of the Week - 17 Jan

The House of Sky - The life and work of J A Baker

Hetty Saunders, Foreword by Robert MacFarlane

Since rising to fame in 1967, when his work was awarded the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize, J A Baker has captured popular imagination with his vivid depictions of British landscapes and native wildlife. Compelling, strange, and at times both startlingly funny and cruel, Baker's prose is at one with his image as a writer, which has, since the publication of his first work, been characterised as an obsessive recluse.

Next to nothing was known about Baker, who died in 1987, until an archive of his materials and those related to him was brought together and given to the University of Essex in 2013. Now it has been possible to piece together an accurate view of the life and unpublished work of the man whose writing has become 'the gold standard for all nature writing' (Mark Cocker), and whose work has influenced naturalists including Richard Mabey and Simon King, and screenwriters David Cobham and Werner Herzog.

This new book showcases some of the most compelling parts of the Baker Archive, containing previously unknown details of Baker's life as well as previously unpublished poems. It provides an invaluable new insight into both the sensitive, passionate character of J A Baker and the state of late twentieth-century Britain, a country experiencing the throws of agricultural and environmental change.

 

 

 

 

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