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.
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?