Friday, December 04, 2009

Inspiration...

Steve Gale has inspired me.

To look at the literature that set me on a lifelong venture into natural history. Being an avid bibliophile, there have been so many books over the years its difficult to select from them all but a few are so evocative of childhood memories they are worthy of mention here.

It may suprise many who know me ( or not) to see that some of my great influences have not been from birding lore. For example, in Steve's list he included the great Collins Bird Guide. A masterpiece its true, but not one to inspire me I'm afraid. Its just a tool for use in the field and no more. I can't feel the wind or rain or see the moon when I delve into its pages.

No, what I'm on about here are some of the writings that take you to past places no longer with us, with a sense of field craft and quietness.



Saying that, this is what set the ball rolling. Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow was my first proper bird book. I was lucky to have been bought the first edition in 1972 I think, aged 8, from a shop in Seahouses. I remember opening the pages for the first time and seeing coloured plates of bird after bird with wonderful sounding names. I read it from cover to cover. How on earth I managed that I'll never know, the text is very dry indeed!








The Ladybird 'What to Look for in Spring' etc series with paintings by Tunnicliffe was well read. I particularly remember the autumn bonfire scene being looked down on by a Tawny Owl in the darkness...













It was the autumn greyness of Richard Richardsons plates that sold this to me...









Now for the proper stuff....



Ennions tales and drawings from Monks House was, and still is, my favourite. The local and historical aspect gives it a special place on the bookshelf even today.














Many of Denys Watkins-Pitchford's books have been read and re-read over the years. Does anyoneone set the scene better?




















These three fishing books are by great writers too, Walmsley, Venables and Forbes let you see the seaweed fronds waving on the flood tide or the mist on a June dawn over a tench pool...


















Pre-war poaching tales by the light of the moon. Old timers field craft...

















The biography of the first 'famous' wildlife photographer. No digital images in Hosking's day. Includes the photo of the Tawny Owl that took his eye.


These and many others were all read while I was still at school...what an education. Apart from a few exceptions, I think it is the artwork as well as the great writing that made these books so enjoyable...

7 comments:

Alan Gilbertson said...

Snap, Stewart.

My first "proper" bird book was the Heinzel et al (mine's a 1977).

I also read the "Poacher's Handbook" and many more by Ian Niall in my teens, borrowed time & time again from the library. (Churn of milk to empty a salmon pool).

Another favourite from the library was "The Oxford Book of British Birds". I would borrow it, and when it was due back I'd get it restamped time & time again. I copied the paintings of teal, kestrel & other stuff from it.

Memories.

Gavin Haig said...

A nice post, Stewart. Fishing was my thing as a kid, not birding, and I still have the 1966 copy of David Carl Forbes' 'Small Stream Fishing' that my grandparents gave me one summer. As a youngster I must have read every single 'BB' book in the local library. Both writers are also superb artists and their plates take me back to my childhood instantly...

Birding Sometimes said...

Lovely post Stewart, I was introduced to birds via my Dad and his books - Collins pocket guide to british birds (I have his 1957 5th impression copy)/ nest and eggs (1959 second impression). Then in 1986 I purchased the Shell guide on a trip to Minsmere... and it was the vagrants section that really got me going! Thought that was an amaing book, right up till the new Collins guide came out a few years back... the illustrations are great ~ now I'm waiting for the second edition to arrive.

Nice to see "The House on the Shore" there too - I also like Adventure's Fen, Ennion had a nice writing style.

Greenfingers said...

Thanks for this post Stewart, brought back a lot of memories. 'What to Look for in Winter' - a present from my grandmother when I was about 7 - set me on the road to becoming a naturalist 50 years ago. I think it was Charles Tunnicliffe's illustrations in this marvellous series of books that did it. I still have all four in the series. And then there was the Brooke Bond tea cards that he illustrated too, which satisfied the natural historian's collectors instinct. I think illustrators have played a great part in encouraging people to explore natural history. I picked up a copy of Eric Ennion's biography, The Living Birds of Eric Ennion, in Tynemouth market last weekend - what a brilliant observer and masterful illustrator he was!

Killy Birder said...

A great post. The appeal of older naturalist books, to me anyway, is the fact that we seem to have lost so much of what they were writing about. Sad, but true I think.

I was at a talk given by Ian Kerr earlier in the year and he highlighted some of the regions older naturallists, Ennion was amongst them, and I feel I ought to get around to reading some of his and others books that are still available. Cheers Brian.

Warren Baker said...

Ah! There are one or two there that grace my bookshelf too Stewart.
The Birds Of Britain and Europe - nicked from the local Library, shameful I know. :-(

Stewart said...

Well thats more interest than I thought!
Alan - I remember Thorburns paintings in there too.
Gav - Have you seen how much a copy is on the net now!
John - I havent read Adventurers Fen but have seen many of the illustrations from it. Fantastic.
GF - Thanks for the comment. Those Tunnicliffe's in the WTLF in series still are a great window into that time..

Brian - Get stuck in, you won't be disappointed. Life at a slower less frenetic pace.

Warren - Shame on you. I er 'borrowed' some Northumberland old annual bird reports. I still have them....