Monday, August 30, 2010

The Observer's Book of Birds

In 1969 I was bought my first bird book - The Observer's Book of Birds. Whilst I never of course questioned the accuracy of the text as a mere seven year old, I did marvel at why I didn't see hawfinch in my garden as the book described them as being rare but widely distributed, especially in gardens.
Of all the species described in the book, only one had eluded me from being seen in Great Britain - until this weekend when Kentish Plover could after forty one years, be ticked. This has led me to smile at some of the changes over these past forty years using my 1969 edition as reference.

Chough are said to exist in the extreme south west of England and thankfully that is again true.

Lesser Redpoll was then more abundant in the north rather than non-existant in the south as is now the case !

Cirl Bunting were present in southern Britain but nowhere as common as Yellowhammers. I lived in the south but could never find one but I did scrutinise every Yellowhammer just in case.

Tree Sparrows avoid the dwellings of man which is undoubtedly why I never saw them in trees around my house despite much looking as a young boy.

Meadow Pipits are also known as Titlarks. Are they ?

Willow Tits were exactly like Marsh Tits or almost so by all account. This scared me as to how I would know if I found one as a boy and if I'm honest, still does now.

Marsh Warbler gets a full page and b&w plate whilst Cetti's Warbler fails to get a mention. just as well I didn't see one then.

Yellow-browed, Barred or Icterine Warblers didn't exist in those days but Ortolan Bunting could be seen migrating, cheifly at the coast.

Red-backed Shrike happily bred as a summer visitor although I never knew where despite going fishing at the blue and green lagoons in Arlesey which I think was their last breeding site in Beds. A candidate for reintroduction I reckon.

Wrynecks were mostly seen in the south east of England in summer rather than on the east coast in autumn.

Red Kites were only found in parts of Wales and White-tailed Eagle was only a rare visitor to our east coast.

Osprey was a scarce migrant usually to the east coast.

Marsh Harrier - the rarest of the three harrier species found in Britain. Now they are widespread and by far the most common of the three.

Goshawks weren't invented and were probably misidentified as Sparrowhawks (!)

Spoonbills were mere migrants and Cranes and Little Egrets were unknown.

Avocets were considered mainly as migrants and winter visitors rather than breeding despite re-establishment in 1946.

Spotted Redshanks were uncommon migrants and Temminck's Stints didn't get a mention.

Little Ringed Plover were now breeding in gravel-pits in the home counties. I lived in the home counties but I never knew where to look.

No mention in 1969 of Corncrakes being restricted to the Scottish extremities.

Collared Dove barely gets a mention whilst Turtle Dove is afforded a full colour plate but best of all and most poignant, the Kentish Plover then nested in a small area of the south coast and on Sunday could only be found at Eyebrook reservoir and a couple of other coastal sites I can't remember.

I wonder what the next forty years will bring ?


Katie said...

Nice post Robin! My granddad gave me a copy of this book and it was my only bird book for quite a few years! These days I enjoy flipping through it for a trip down memory lane...

Robin Edwards said...

Thanks Katie. On reflection I think my 1969 edition was way out of date when published. I do enjoy flicking through though and looking back. In those days I had little concept of which species prefered different habitats and expected many of the birds shown in the book to turn up on my village walks with my grandad.