BOOK REVIEW



Adventure and Exploration 

Bates, Henry Walter (1969) A Naturalist on the River Amazon. Faber. One of the early serious collectors, the number of species he discovered is quite amazing. He was a naturalist interested in every aspect of natural world, but had a passion for butterflies. 

Bridges, Lucas (1949) Uttermost Parts of the Earth About Tierra Del Fuego, and his very hard life there as a missionaries son. Monster treks over killer terrain. Being one of the earliest Westerners to settle there, he knew the native tribes and their differences well. A fascinating account, and very good read. 

Darwin, Charles (1968) The Voyage of the Beagle. Heron Books. Darwin’s narrative. 

Darwin, Charles (1968) The Origin of Species. Penguin Books, London. His most famous book. 

Desmond, A. and Moore, J. (1991) Darwin. Penguin Books, London. The best and most detailed guide to Darwin, his life and works. 

Fawcett, Lt-Col. P.H. (1954) Exploration Fawcett. Hutchinson. Started off doing border demarcations in South American Andes and became obsessed with the search for lost cities. In his final expedition he and his son and his son’s friend disappeared in Mato Grosso (Amazon of Brazil, but now Soy fields). What was unusual was that Fawcett was very experience in S. American exploration, he was extremely fit (in fact no one in any of his expeditions had his endurance, whether native or not) and he knew how to deal with Indians. His disappearance sparked many other expeditions to try and find him or his remains. 

Fleming, Peter (1933) Brazilian Adventure Ostensibly a search for Fawcett, what could possibly go wrong 3000 miles into the jungle? 

Hudson, W.H. (1922) The Naturalist in La Platta. J.M. Dent. Hudson was born in Argentina and grew up there, he was a very good observer of nature and could write well. In time he settled in London, where he wrote many books on wildlife he found, many are now considered classics. 

Kerr, Sir John Graham (1968) A Naturalist in the Gran Chaco. Greenwood. This expedition (well 2 actually) up the Pilcomayo far into Paraguay was remarkable for its number of deaths. When the boats got stranded miles from anywhere, fever, fighting and starvation took their toll with the captain subduing mutineers with his sword before dying later of fever himself. On a hunting trip some enraged peccaries turned on the hunting party and one man could not get up a tree fast enough. Kerr says his screams as he was torn to shreds were painful; bet it was worse for him! 

O’Hanlon, Redmund (1997) Congo Journey. Penguin. An odd adventure into the Congo, ostensibly looking for a living dinosaurs that the pygmies claimed lived in a lake. There were noises in the jungle that could not be explained, but were guessed to be earthquakes. In the end a well-written and enjoyable account of the wildlife and people of this vast African jungle. 

Victor Perera, Robert D. Bruce (1986) The Last Lords of Palenque: The Lacandon Mayas of the Mexican Rain Forest Tells the heartbreaking story of these native people being driven from their forest so it could be logged. 

Plotkin, Mark, J. (1993) Tales of a Shaman’s Apprentice. Viking. A classic contemporary adventure. Mark becomes obsessed with learning the secrets of the medicine men and taking the knowledge back to the west to develop new cures. The book has been made into a film; Amazon. Mark has now founded Amazon Conservation Team. 

Ure, John (1986) Trespassers on the Amazon Early Anglo-Saxon explorers. 

Waterton, Charles (1891) Wanderings in South America. Cassell & Co. Ltd. This eccentric Yorkshire boy was the world’s leading taxidermist of his day, developing the modern techniques still used now. He had a large house (now National Trust). He was fond of climbing trees and churches and also once wrestled a Caiman, much to the astonishment of the guides. 

White, Gilbert (1971) The Natural History of Selbourne. Many editions In contrast to so many other naturalists Gilbert was not into travelling, in fact he spent just about his entire life in his small village. The book benefits from this in its amazingly detailed and usually very accurate observations, though he still somewhat tended to believe that swallows wintered in the mud at the bottom of ponds (since they gathered in reedbeds in autumn then the next morning were gone). 

Ralling, C. (1979) The Voyage of Charles Darwin. Mayflower, New York. A readable account of Darwin’s travals. 

Scott, Peter (1985) Travel Diaries of a Naturalist. Collins, London. An interesting account of Peter Scott. 

Ecology and Countryside 

Coxon, Peter (1988) A Curlew in the Foreground. David and Charles, London. A brilliantly written and illustrated book, all the more poignant because the author died shortly after. 

Forsyth, Adrian and Miyata, Ken (1984) Tropical Nature Bit like Neotropical Companion, natural history narrative in Central and South America 

Kricher, John, Mark Plotkin (1999) Neotropical Companion Ecology in the tropics. 

Mabey, Richard (1981) The Common Ground. Hutchinson Publishing Group, London. Richard explores our relationship with the countryside. 

Quammen, David (1997) The Song of the Dodo. Touchstone, New York. A very readable book about the burgeoning loss of biodiversity and why we should care. 

Rackham, O. (1990) The History of the Countryside. J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, London. A true classic guide to our countryside and how and why it has come to be the way it is. This book guides you through the history and teaches you how to find clues about the past. 

Tomkies, Mike (1985) Out of the Wild. Jonathan Cape, London. Wildlife around his isolated Scottish home. 

Tomkies, Mike (1989) In Spain’s Secret Wilderness. Jonathan Cape, London. An equally good read of Mike’s trip to Spain. 

Yorkshire Interest 

Being from Yorkshire, I am naturally biased in believing it is the best county! I therefore have half-heartedly collected books specifically of Yorkshire interest, especially those pertaining to my long-time favourite local patch. This is only a partial list! Some accounts are not complete as my library is in storage, so the following is largely from memory. 

Nelson, T.H. (1907) The Birds of Yorkshire. A. Brown and Sons Ltd, London. The first comprehensive review of the birds of Yorkshire, in 2 volumes. 

Chislett, Ralph (1953) Yorkshire Birds. A. Brown and Sons Ltd, London. An update of the species and their status in Yorkshire. 

Mather, John R. (1986) The Birds of Yorkshire. Croon Helm, London. The modern guide to species status. 

Mather, J. R. (1998) Where to Watch Birds in Yorkshire. Christopher Helm, London. An excellent compliment to the above book. 

Wilson, A. and Slack, R. (1996) Rare and Scarce Birds in Yorkshire. Biddles Ltd, Guildford. Deals with rarer species and their more detailed documentation in recent years. 

Dickens, R.F. and Mitchell, W.R. (1978) Birdwatching in Yorkshire. Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd, Clapham. 

Vaughan R. (1974) Birds of the Yorkshire Coast. Hendon Publishing, Nelson. An old but useful account. 

Chislett, Ralph (1996) Birds on the Spurn Peninsula. Peregrine Books, Leeds. The early pioneer of Spurn, one of the first to recognise it as an important migration point. This is a reprint review of the birds of Spurn. 

Bell, N.A. and Degnan, L.J. (Eds.) Spurn Wildlife No. ?. Yorkshire Naturalists’ Union. The modern Yorkshire Naturalists’ reports continue to document the areas wildlife. 

Denton, M.L. (1995) Birds in the Yorkshire Museum. William Sessions Ltd, York. Some interesting records. 

Crackles, E. (1990) Flowers of East Yorkshire. Hull University Press. A very good guide to the regions flowers. 

Edlin, H.T. (1972) North Yorkshire Forests. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London. Covers Forestry commission woodlands natural and introduced, details here they are and their wildlife. 

Sledge, W.A. (Ed) (1971) The Naturalists’ Yorkshire. Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd, Clapham. An interesting book covering many aspects of Yorkshire wildlife. 

Thorne Moors (part of the Humberhead Peatlands NNR) 

Stovin, G.H.T. (1948) Verdant Memories. Frederick Warne and Co Ltd. London. Includes notes about the natural history of the area. 

Casson, William (facsimile) The History and Antiquities of Thorne, With Some Account of the Drainage of Hatfield Chase.. Mr Pye Books. A Victorian rector who lived on the south side of Thorne Moors and had a passion for gardens, eventually opening a nursery there which specialised in rhododendrons (because they grew well in the acidic peaty soil) and which today have run rampant over large areas of this lowland bog. The small book contains some interesting notes on the wildlife of the moors. 

Tomlinson, John Hatfield Chace and Parts Adjacent (facsimile). Mr Pye Books. The Humberhead Peatlands area was once part of the largest and one of the most productive royal Chaces in England. This fascinating book traces its history from the earliest records (an English King, Eldred is said to have died in a great battle here (though many other places apparently lay claim to the battle in which he died) and indeed ancient artefacts including swords and coins have been found) its origins and upkeep. The large and very detailed book includes many maps and illustration and rolls of crimes against the Chace and punishments as well as list of the game species and amounts taken for the royal table. The area was especially noted for its huge numbers of Red Deer, hundreds of which could be rounded up into one of the water bodies (often the Great Mere) where they could be easily slaughtered (indeed there is a painting showing just such a royal hunt (see also notes for book below). Today Red Deer of the area only exist as a population derived from escapes of stock. 

Cornelius Vermuyden Birds (facsimile). Mr Pye Books. A detailed account of this Dutchman, and his great works of drainage up and down the country. We are concerned with him here in that it was by royal charter that he got agreement to drain Hatfield Chace and its commons. This caused massive and almost universal opposition from nearly everyone in the area who relied on the great marsh and bogs for their livelihood and often protection. They also feared widespread flooding of populated areas due to alteration of watercourses and digging of new drains. The scheme only seemed to be of benefit to those wealthy enough to invest as shareholders in the scheme (nothing new there then!) and seemed set to deprive the commoners of much of their land. Many riots and protests to the king ensued, and there was a militant uprising, which the king frustratingly noted was so difficult to quash due to the very hostile nature of the land to those who did not know it well. 

The account tells how engineering of huge dykes and banks allowed successive tidal warping to cover the land with a deep layers of extremely fertile silt, raising the level of the ground in the process which with the aid of drains and sluices prevent re-flooding on completion. The salty ground was gradually leeched of its salts by rains and salt tolerant plants until any crop could be grown. Over half the marshlands were thus converted to agriculture and were very productive (this very land, to the south of the present moors, once held the world record for wheat production on one hectare of land). Much of the game predictably departed and the land of the chase claimed by the shareholders or sold by the king. 

The troubles continued with residents of Sykehouse taking Vermuyden to task over the flooding of their croplands caused by his scheme and Cornelius wasted his fortune making good the damage he had caused the commoners. This and other factors meant that by the time of his death he was a broken and penniless man. 

Hatfield & Thorne (facsimile). Mr Pye Books. Again treats the area of the historic Chase, but also details the earliest beginnings of its 2 principal towns. Contains many original records, notes, Acts and such as well as many fine etchings of the main buildings such as churches. The book deals with all the main families, indeed even lists the whole population at times and relates their businesses and all the main events. 

Taylor, Mike () Thorne Mere & The Old River Don The river Don was the principal river of the historic Hatfield Chace and had many branches. At least 3 arms passed south of Thorne and formed several meres here. In wetter months these meres all merged to form the Great Mere, which isolated Thorne and Hatfield and the waters had to be traversed by boat. Many people lost their lives, including a funeral party travelling to church, this made the inhabitants plea for a church at both towns to prevent any such happenings again. The River Don’s course was diverted north by Vermuyden via Dutch River, and the Great Mere ceased to be as the other arms were restrained and then split by the boating Dyke then the Canal and now by the M180 motorway into Thorne and Hatfield Moors. The author traces the exact course of the old rivers and the position and extent of the many meres and gymes (a pool washed out by tidal activity along a river), showing through old maps and photos how the area must once have looked. 

Bateman, M.D., Buckland, P.C., Frederick C.D. and Whitehouse N.J. (2001). The Quaternary of East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, Field Guide. Quaternary Research Association, London. Looks at the glacial and post glacial geological structure of the area. 

Buckland, P.C. (1979) Thorne Moors: a Palaeoecological Study of a Bronze Age Site. Insect remains discovered in the peat of the moors, added new species to the British list and increased the already huge list for the area (4,790 species, the third highest site count in Britain after the New Forest and Windsor Great Park). 



Birds 

del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. and Sargata, J. (1996) Handbook of the Birds of the World vols. 1-7 Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. Generally an excellent series, not yet complete. There are some bad parts in it most notably the plates for Tyrant Flycatchers from which it would be difficult to identify many species. Other poorly done plates are some Antpittas, notably Giant which is terribly inaccurate (I have seen them at least 4 times in the wild sometimes prolonged periods). The posture is wrong, the head is wrong, the bill and eyes are too small. Some other bad plates are done by the usually excellent Ian Lewington, namely the Laughing-Thrushes, the posture of which is wrong and often the bills look wrong. Other faults, I feel with the series is the fact the index and reference are included in each volume wasting space. To find a species in the series for which you do not know the volume you have to go through each index till you find it. How much more sensible it would have been to have one volume with all the indexes and references together! This together with the online index is all you need, since each volume has as well a contents page where you can easily find which family you need. 

Stattersfield, A.J., Crosby, M.J., Long, A.J. and Wege, D.C. (1998) Endemic Bird Areas of the World. A remarkable and much needed overview of the state of the world’s endemic birds and the areas in which they are found produced by BirdLife International. Using their criteria of 2 or more species in 50,000km area to denote an Endemic Bird Area (EBA) and one species for a secondary area all restricted range species were covered and mapped and the threats and safeguards present noted. It has found another life amongst world listers, as a site guide for restricted range species. Other threatened non-restricted range species are mentioned in the text. 

Cramp, S., Simmons K.E.L. and Perrins, C.M. (Eds.) (1980-1994) Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa. The Birds of the Western Palearctic vol. 1-9. Oxford University Press, Oxford. This was a landmark series setting the standard for all similar works to other major geographical regions of the world. None seems to have been as well done or as comprehensively, except the North American series which seems to have lost its way somewhat with its depth of detail. It is the definitive 9 volume series on birds of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. More information than you are likely to use, but very useful if studying any species in depth, or if looking up some unusual aspect, such as an odd food item or nesting place. All plumages shown including flight and all eggs (except Pallas’s/Lietchenstein’s Sandgrouse which seems to have been left out). Some of the plates were a little wanting but at least they were always rigorously accurate. The text included just about every work and every variation of the species, this could lead to contradictory insights and descriptions if not read with care. 

Snow, D.W. and Perrins, C.M. (Eds.) (1998) The Birds of the Western Palaearctic Concise Edition Vols. 1-2. Oxford University Press, Oxford. A condensed and updated 2 volume version of the above, with many more species added. Plates that were not so good in the large set have been completely redone and all are of a high standard. The text is more unified and readable without seeming contradictions, but still covers everything likely to be needed for accurate identification of any species. This is the best handbook about for our region and looks to remain so for a long time. 

Beaman, M. and Madge, S. (1998) The Handbook of Bird Identification. Helm, London. This one volume handbook tries to do all that the Concise BWP does and tries to be a field guide too. Unfortunately it does not quite succeed at either. It is just too heavy and bulky to actually carry in the field and being a handbook does not have the plates opposite the text as all modern fieldguides do. As a handbook it seems to have the information squashed a little too much, and the illustrations are often just too small. For many species all plumages are not shown, certainly not as many as the Concise BWP. The text is however good and it is a welcome addition to anyone’s shelf. 

Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D. and Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. Hyped as the best fieldguide about for Britain and Europe. Claims to cover all plumages, but does not for all species (Lesser Redpoll, no male) and many species are not shown in juvenile plumage or in flight. Some species are either badly drawn or refer to European clines, e.g. Redpoll, Sparrowhawk and Lesser Black-backed Gull. Seems somewhat squashed up in places and the maps are too small to be much use, and are in some cases inaccurate, e.g. Great Black-backed Gull, Common Crossbill, Tree Pipit, Goshawk and others. 

Lewington, I., Alstrom, P. and Colston, P. (1991) A Field Guide to the Rare Birds of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London. For more in depth treatment of rarer species this is a great book.

Harrison, C. and Castell, P. (1978) Collins Field Guide to the Bird Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London. Ever struggled to identify juvenile birds or an old nest or shell. This is an invaluable guide covering a usually neglected but very important aspect of bird life. 

Hollom, P.A.D., Porter, R.F., Christensen, S. and Willis, I. (1988) Birds of the Middle East and North Africa. T. and A.D. Poyser, London. An excellent guide to the region it covers, some species outside the Western Palaearctic, the limits of which are drawn somewhat variably and arbitrarily across this region. 

Harris, A. (1996) The Macmillan Birders Guide to European and Middle Eastern Birds. Macmillan, London. As above, but more species with less detail, because it includes Europe. 

Mammals 

Macdonald, D. and Barret, P. (1993) Collins Field Guide to Mammals of Britain and Europe. Harper Collins, London. The modern Harper Collins fieldguide series is hard to beat in many cases, and the mammals guide is probably the best all round fieldguide there is. 

Herptiles 

Arnold, E.N. (1992) Collins Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Britain and Europe. Collins, London. Another Harper Collins fieldguide that is hard to beat. 

Aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates 

Campbell A.C. (1979) The Hamlyn Guide to the Seashores and Shallow Seas of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn, London. Essential guide for walks along the shore, useful for educating kids when they are catching animals in rock pools. 

Fitter, R. and Manuel, R. (1986) Collins Field Guide to Freshwater Life. Collins, London. The book does the same job for freshwater as the Hamlyn guide does for the seashore. Did Hamlyn ever produce a freshwater guide? 

Clegg, J. (1974) The Observer's Book of Pond Life. Frederick Warne and Co Ltd. London. A good little pocket book, very useful for in the field. 

Maitland, P.S. (1977) Freshwater Fishes of Britain and Europe. Hamlyn, London. A comprehensive guide. 

McMillan, N.F. (1968) British Shells. Frederick Warne and Co Ltd, London. All British shells photographed and clearly labelled. 

Roberts, M.J. (1995) Collins Field Guide to Spiders of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins, London. Another Harper Collins fieldguide that leads the rest. Identification can often be difficult and involve dissection. 

Riehm, H.R. (1991) Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe. Crowood Press, London. This book shows that a photographic guide, which I prefer, if done well can be better than illustrations. 

Chinery, M. (1986) A Guide to the Insects of Britain and Western Europe. Collins, London. As a general introduction to the main families and commonest/most likely to be encountered species this book does the job really well. As an introduction to such a huge topic however, I feel they would have done better to have stuck to just British species. 

Hammond, C.O. (1977) The Dragonflies of Britain and Ireland. Curwen Press, London. This has been the benchmark for the group for a long time, though it is now expensive and equally good new guides have now been produced. 

Skinner, B. (1984) Colour Identification Guide to Moths of the British Isles. Viking, London. Long been the standard for identification of all British moths. Another excellent photographic guide, again showing the advantages of good photos over illustrations for some groups. Some people object to collecting and pinning moths etc, however I feel insects are not like vertebrates, often their flight stage is a final breeding stage in their life after which they die, and collecting of invertebrates is not likely to threaten a species since invertebrates invariably rely on mass production of young unlike most vertebrates. Mass losses are expected and collecting is just another small hazard. 

Lyneborg, L. (1976) Beetles in Colour. Blandford Press, Poole. There are not many fieldguides to British Beetles in colour produced for the layman, which is a pity, as if there were they could be as popular as Odonata or Lepidoptera. 

Plants 

Not so much a fieldguide as the main reference text, produced in association with the then English Nature. 

Rose, Francis, Wild Flower Key For a long time the main field guide for the serious amateur, and still little to fault it. Its comprehensive keys make identification more straightforward. 

Fitter, Flowers This guide uniquely has maps, the text and plates are all new and it covers every species in Britain, without including other species of Western Europe that do not occur here with which one may get confused. Probably sets the new standard. 

Butler, K.P. (1991) Field Guide to the Orchids of Britain and Europe. Crowood Press, Swindon. Another excellent photographic guide from Crowood. Very comprehensive, and again for Britain it is a pity so many species are included that do not occur here, the complexity I feel can put beginners off. 

Fitter, R. and A. (1984) Grasses, Rushes, Sedges and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe. Collins, London. A beautifully illustrated and comprehensive guide to some difficult species. 

Harris, E. and Harris, J. (1981) The Guinness Book of Trees. Guinness Superlatives Ltd, London. This small book is very useful in that it does not cover too many species, instead concentrating on British endemics and the commonest introductions. A very nice and useful book. 

Mitchell, A. (1978) Collins Field Guide to Trees of Britain and Northern Europe. Harper Collins, London. This is one of the most detailed fieldguide to trees there is. The illustrations are colourful, clear and accurate. 

Phillips, R. (1978) Trees in Britain, Europe and North America. Pan Books, London. Very comprehensive covering N. America too. 

Fungi 

Phillips, R. (1981) Mushrooms and other Fungi in Great Britain and Europe. Pan Books, London. Probably the best and most comprehensive guide at the moment. Again shows the advantages of a good photographic guide. 

Buczacki, S. (1989) Fungi of Britain and Europe. Collins, London. This book covers the most species, possibly making it more difficult for beginners. 

Grunert, H. and R. (1991) Field Guide to the Mushrooms of Britain and Europe. Crowood Press, Swindon. Another excellent photographic guide. 

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