Some Favourite Illustrated Books

Dear Readers, what a day! I have been beset by brain-fog, and have been chasing an amount of 36 euros round and round my financial statements until I feel like throwing my laptop out of the window. I don’t think people talk enough about how being recently bereaved takes about a hundred points off your IQ, makes you completely incapable of concentrating on anything for more than thirty seconds, and completely wrecks your short-term memory. And then, I had an 8 o’clock call so I didn’t get out for my brisk walk (extremely bad planning on my part). Finally, every time I look up it has been pouring with rain. But nonetheless, here I am, still. And I wanted to share some of my very favourite books with you, because my library is full of well-thumbed, much-loved favourites and also because I might do this regularly, if anyone is interested. There’s so much out there that’s it’s sometimes difficult to know what to buy, so let me do a little filtering for you first.

My favourite guide to what I see in the garden is Richard Lewington’s Guide to Garden Wildlife. This is the second edition, and I am still holding onto the first one. Many fieldguides are just too overwhelming, but I think this is a great book both for those who already know a lot of the creatures that they see, and for complete beginners. The illustrations are utterly beguiling. Richard Lewington, who also wrote the text, has done the paintings for most of the book, but his brother Ian Lewington does the birds. This is a real labour of love, and I especially like the detail and care that has been brought to the illustrations of insects, who are often not depicted in all their beauty.

Birds by Ian Lewington

Dragonflies by Richard Lewington

It’s not just about the illustrations though – I often turn to this book when I’m writing the blog, because each entry has at least one fact that I didn’t know. Plus, the illustrations show male and female of a species alongside examples of typical behaviour.

If I knew someone who was just getting interested in their garden wildlife, this is the book that I would buy them as a present.

Now, a more London-centric book, but one that I think has something of interest for all you dendrophiles out there. Paul Wood’s ‘London’s Street Trees – A Field Guide to the Urban Forest’ is packed full of stories about urban trees, different species, and features such as ‘what does a London Tree Officer do all day’ and ‘what does the future hold for London’s planes (as in tree rather than airplane). Furthermore, it contains four guided walks, one of which kept this blog occupied for a whole two weeks The Street Trees of Archway Part One and The Street Trees of Archway Part Two. The first thing I shall do when this lockdown finally ends and I can loiter without attracting opprobrium is go on another tree walk, and I am in luck, because the book is being reprinted with more trees and additional walks in May.

I remember that when I was visiting my Mum in Whittington Hospital in 2016, I was often intrigued by some huge trees planted on the other side of the road. They looked familiar, but strange at the same time. On my street tree walk I revisited the site and discovered that one of them was the tallest lacebark elm in the UK. So many street trees go unremarked, and Paul Wood is here to bring them back to our attention. I know that during the lockdown many people have been paying attention to their immediate surroundings in a way that they never have before, and I know that trees can bring so much pleasure at any time of year. This is a great book for getting to know your local planting. There is something about being able to put a name to a tree that is very satisfying, and shows a kind of respect. Not all trees are the same, just as not all people are the same, and it’s good to recognise the fact.

And finally, this one.

In some ways this is a very strange book indeed. Each page shows a gathering of a particular species, in all its variations: adult, juvenile, male, female, flying, perching. The illustrations are a kind of collage of photos of the species, making it look as if Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ was happening with every kind of flying animal. And yet, I love it! Have a look at the pages on pigeons, for example.

Having seen this, could you ever get a stock dove and a woodpigeon muddled up again? Richard Crossley even has a woodpigeon in the picture of the stock doves so you can tell the difference. Both species are flying about so you can tell the difference when they’re on the wing, and the woodpigeon has a handy juvenile just in case you’ve not come across one before. The whole thing is a bit mad, but it works for me. It’s not a straightforward field guide (and I’d love to know what you birders out there think of it), and it’s certainly not for purists, but it has that ineffable spirit of fun and a sense of abundance that I find very appealing.

I like the rather disgruntled- looking juvenile heron, and that the cattle egrets are pecking around behind a herd of what look like Guernsey cows to me. There is even a purple heron at the top of the left hand page, just in case you get really lucky. I think that having photos of the birds in the landscape adds something too – having lots of pictures gives a sense of the ‘jizz’ of the bird in a way that just a single, beautifully executed portrait doesn’t. The only problem is that it makes me yearn to go out to the RSPB reserve at Rainham, or Woodberry Wetlands with my binoculars. Never mind. Like everyone else, I’ll have to pay extra special attention to my poor neglected local birds. Who knows what we might turn up?

15 thoughts on “Some Favourite Illustrated Books

  1. Anne

    These look like wonderful guides to have on hand. My bird books, guides to animals, insects, wild flowers, common weeds, trees, butterflies, succulents … are all well thumbed and bring me joy and a sense of satisfaction when I can not only identify something but learn about some aspect of it, I am awaiting a guide to our butterflies – when the postal service starts operating once more!

  2. sllgatsby

    Those look so lovely! I wish there was a nice book on the trees of Seattle, with such good pics for reference. Especially when my son was little and wanted to know the name of every tree and flower, it would have been nice not to have to chase it down via the internet or more general plant ID apps. Sometimes I was quite stumped (lol, just noticed my own pun).

    When I was in England last year, I found a charming little vintage Ladybird nature book on, “What to Look for in Summer.” I don’t know much about English wildlife, so it was a good introduction and much of it was similar to the Pacific Northwest. I love the pictures so much. I keep meaning to see if I can find the Ladybird books on the other seasons. I was hoping to look for them in person this May, but Covid-19 put paid to that!

    A note that I hesitate to make, but as you have an international readership, I thought I should mention, is that in the US “jizz” is a crude slang term for semen. I’ve never heard it in any other context, so I was surprised to see it here. It obviously means something entirely different in the UK!

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Sllgatsby, in the UK ‘jizz’ is slang for the overall ‘feel’ of a bird species – a combination of the way it flies and moves, its behaviour and all the obvious things like colour and shape. Thanks for the heads up though! A lot of people find their way to Bugwoman when they’re actually looking for ‘Big woman’ which as you can imagine is a rather different interest group. Who knows who will turn up now ? 😉

      I loved those Ladybird books when I was a child, the illustrations were lovely, as you say. I think I had the one about autumn – I certainly remember a picture of ploughed fields with redwings and fieldfares in it. I do hope you still manage to get to England once the lockdown is over – maybe we could meet for afternoon tea. It’s the hope that keeps me going!

      1. sllgatsby

        I would love to meet! I hope I’m able to get over there next spring.

        The Ladybird book I have, What to Look for in Summer, has a ploughed field on the cover, with a tractor and a couple of swallows. Last night, I did go up to a vintage book site in England and order the other three. Cost me a pretty penny, compared to the 5 pounds I paid for the first one, but I’m looking forward to having the whole set.

  3. Alittlebitoutoffocus

    That’s a great idea – to post examples of one’s best or favourite books. We have a whole library of stuff which hardly ever gets to see the light of day, so I may “steal with pride” as we used to say in the office and post something similar. (I’ll give you credit for the idea of course! 😉). I love all these types of books, especially when they give the distribution. The only downside, is having a decent picture, e.g. the images in my Alpine Flower book are far too small and there’s no easy way to find what you’re looking for, so I have to thumb through the whole series until I spot one that looks something like my photo. I’d not be without it though!

    1. Bug Woman

      I’ve found it really difficult to get a good fieldguide to Alpine plants – there are the little ones that are ok for the ‘top fifty’ but as you know, you can see fifty species on a quick walk to the supermarket in spring! There was one that looked interesting but I think it’s now out of print. And feel free to post about your favourite books, I for one love to see what people have in their library so I hope I’m starting a trend!

  4. Pingback: Some favourite books | Alittlebitoutoffocus

  5. Liz Norbury

    This is a wonderful idea, Viv, and I do hope you’ll tell us more about your favourite books. I loved the Ladybird What to Look For books when I was a child, and wish I still had them, so it was lovely to come across my brother-in-law’s childhood copy of What to Look for in Winter. Just opening the book unlocked vivid memories and made me realise how much I learned from the books at the time. Another of my favourites is the field guide Wild Flowers of Britain and Ireland – the illustrations are by Marjorie Blamey, who was 86 when the book was published. I visited her studio in Cornwall three years later, and whenever I consult the book, I remember her passion for both wild flowers and painting. She was 101 when she died last year.

    1. Bug Woman

      Ah the nostalgia of Ladybird books, how I loved them! I also had a great collection of Hamlyn All Colour paperbacks, including one on pets that I seem to remember included bushbabies and chameleons as potential victims. And I have the Marjorie Blamey too, I find it’s often very helpful when I can’t ID something from my other books. What a labour of love it was!

  6. Relly

    Thanks for your book list, I absolutely love my large, hardback illustrated wildflower book – The Wild Flowers of the British Isles, by David Streeter, illustrations by Ian Garrrard – isbn 9781900732031. I got it secondhand a couple of years ago for £15, but notice that you can’t get it on Amazon now for under £80! Worth looking out for if you can get it for a decent price, it is pretty old (mine is a reprint 1998), but I have nearly all the other wildflower books out there, and this is the best for picture ID, lovely just to flick through (not a pocket book tho!). I really enjoy your posts, I used to live/work in London but now in Kent and love looking at nature wherever I find it, so gatecrashing your nature walks is highly enjoyable -especially during lockdown! (yes, I’m wfh). best wishes, Relly

    1. Bug Woman

      Hi Relly, I think I know the book that you mean – it was absolutely gorgeous, not one for lumping about in the field but perfect for when you got home with a few photos. And I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the blog! Welcome!


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