Monthly Archives: July 2017

Four useful guides to specialist groups

A library for botanists…

Specialist groups

Some plants can be pretty difficult to pin down their identification and a specialist book can prove useful. For many groups there are few choices and the ones shown here are the standard works. All except the volume on ferns are paperback so eminently portable, not that anyone would take them into the field unless looking specifically at these groups of plants.

Charles Edward Hubbard specialised in the study of grasses and became Deputy Director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. His Grasses volume has been the standard reference work for decades

Charles Edward Hubbard specialised in the study of grasses and became Deputy Director of the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. His Grasses volume has been the standard reference work for decades. Drawings on a page facing the descriptive species text are always handy

Sample pages from the Collins guide to Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns

Sample pages from the Collins guide to Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns

Again, all except the ferns volume have keys that lead to informative species pages, but they can be difficult to work with if not familiar with both their intricacies and botanical terms. Grasses and British Sedges are especially good specialised and detailed guides, they may only contain line drawings, but these are accurate and work well.

If only a single volume is to be chosen, then the Collins guide is the one to have if you can’t afford the rather pricey but better Francis Rose guide. The drawings in the Collins guide are coloured (beware the accuracy of these) so it is a more attractive volume, but its vegetative key is pretty good too.

BSBI have produced a number of specialist guides to 'difficult' groups. All are good

Sedges, by Jermy and Tutin. BSBI have produced a number of specialist guides to ‘difficult’ groups. All are good

Probably the best photographic guide to the aforementioned 'difficult' groups is that produced by Roger Phillips. This book works brilliantly when combined with the other specialist guides mentioned

Probably the best photographic guide to the aforementioned ‘difficult’ groups is that by Roger Phillips. This large format book works brilliantly when combined with the other specialist guides mentioned

Books in featured image:

Guide to the Grasses, Sedges, Rushes and Ferns of Britain and Northern Europe, Richard Fitter, Alistair Fitter, illustrated by Ann Farrer. Collins, 1984. ISBN 0 00 219136 9

British Sedges, A.C. Jermy, T.G. Tutin. Botanical Society of the British Isles (BSBI), 1977 reprint, first published 1968.

British Ferns, Ron Freethy. The Crowood Press, 1987. ISBN 0 946284 33 4

Grasses, C.E. Hubbard, revised by J.C.E. Hubbard. Penguin, third edition 1984, first published 1954. 3579 10 864

Raptors- specialist guides

A library for ornithologists…

 

Raptors

When I used to go regular ‘Birding’ in the 1980s and 90s, there were few specialist guides generally available on one of the most exciting groups of birds to be seen- Raptors, or birds of prey.

My pals and I were especially taken with one particular volume- there had never before been anything like Flight Identification of European Raptors by Porter, Willis, Christensen and Nielsen and there was nothing else like it being produced either. Most guidebooks showed their raptors sitting on a branch, but that wasn’t how we saw them. Walking the North Kent marshes, the reedbeds and floodplains of southern England or the East Anglia coastline, it was invariably a Merlin skimming low over the ground, a Sparrowhawk shadowing a murmuration of Starlings, a Hen or Marsh Harrier quartering the phragmites or the sudden appearance of a Peregrine that put a thousand waders to flight, that was how we saw our raptors. The monthly journal British Birds is to be congratulated for having persuaded the authors to produce a series of eight articles on the identification of European Raptors, which subsequently formed the basis for the first edition of this book.

Birdwatching on the North Kent Marshes in winter meant fervent hope that a Rough Legged Buzzard may have wandered over from Scandinavia. Flight Identification of European Raptors was invaluable for pulling these birds out of the more commonly encountered Buzzard

Birdwatching on the North Kent Marshes in winter meant fervent hope that a Rough Legged Buzzard may have wandered over from Scandinavia. Flight Identification of European Raptors was invaluable for pulling these birds out of the more commonly encountered Buzzard, especially with the considerable variations in plumage encountered with the latter species

All of the bird monographs produced by Poyser are excellent, but I especially like those they published on raptors. The volume on population ecology puts to bed the nonsense spouted by those who persecute birds of prey, either for taking Grouse on the shooting moors, or the many idiots who blame the reduction in song birds numbers in their garden on the resident Sparrowhawk.

The Raptors of Europe and The Middle East by Dick Forsman is a momentous stepping stone in the publishing of effective field identification guides. Still containing good information on each species, the book is beginning to show its age with the photographs included

The Raptors of Europe and The Middle East by Dick Forsman was a momentous stepping stone in the publishing of effective field identification guides. Still containing good information on each species, the book is beginning to show its age with the photographs included

Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by Dick Forsman

Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East by Dick Forsman

In 1999, one of the leading raptor experts produced a new ‘definitive guide’. Dick Forsman included colour photographs in his The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East (above), a vast improvement on the fuzzy black and white photographs that accompanied the drawings in the previous book from Poyser, twenty-five years earlier. Forsman included a lot of perched birds, as well as in flight, in his book. Probably due to a lack of decent available sharp images.

Digital photography has changed everything though and seventeen years later, Forsman again approached the question of identification of raptors with his Flight Identification of Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East published as a Helm Identification Guide by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2016. This is a superb volume and, I believe for the first time, there is good coverage of sub-species too.

I never did get to Falsterbo or the Straits of Gibraltar to observe mass migration of birds over that narrow bit of sea but have continually missed having a decent flight I.D. guide to raptors every year when I holiday and walk on many of the islands in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. These various tomes are simply too heavy and bulky to cart along with me. Hence my moving slightly away from adding another volume to my bookshelf.

Three Points of the Compass purchased the Kindle edition of Dick Forsman's The Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and uploaded to my android phone. This also offers the facility to zoom in on images

Three Points of the Compass purchased the Kindle edition of Dick Forsman’s The Raptors of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East and uploaded it to my android phone. This also offers the facility to zoom in on images

 

 

Books in featured image:

The Kestrel, Andrew Village. T & A.D. Poyser, 1990. ISBN 0 85661 054 2

The Sparrowhawk, Ian Newton. T & A.D Poyser, 1986. ISBN 0 85661 041 0

The Peregrine Falcon, Derek Ratcliffe. T & A.D. Poyser, second edition 1993, first published 1980. ISBN 0 85661 060 7

The Population Ecology of Raptors, Ian Newton. T & A.D. Poyser, 1979. ISBN 0 85661 023 2

The Raptors of Europe and The Middle East, A Handbook of Field Identification. Dick Forsman. T & A.D. Poyser, 1999. ISBN 085661 098 4

Flight Identification of European Raptors, R.F.Porter, Ian Willis, Steen Christensen, Bent Pors Nielsen. T & A.D. Poyser. Third edition reprint 1992, first published 1974. ISBN 0 85661 027 5

Looking at my Z Packs Duplex tent

 

Three Points of the Compass had just a couple of hours over this weekend to put up the newly purchased Z Packs Duplex tent. As number one daughter was visiting, we took time out to visit mother/grandmother and put the tent up in her garden. Daughter climbed inside and pronounced the tent as ‘weird’. What does she know!

Duplex Tent from Z Packs is quick and easy to erect

Duplex Tent from Z Packs is quick and easy to erect

Z Packs say that trekking poles should be set to around 48 inches (122cm) to erect the tent, which is handy as that is the default length of my Pacer Poles for hiking. No zips are included on the two sets of doors, instead there is a toggle at half height and a small metal clip for fixing one or both doors to at the bottom. So, less weight and less to go wrong, combined with greater airflow to keep the condensation down.

One storm door rolled back, there is a lot of room in each vestibule and the bucket ground sheet rises up quite some height from the ground

One storm door rolled back, there is a lot of room in each vestibule and the bucket ground sheet rises up quite some height from the ground

The camo version I purchased is not too militaristic and seems to do a pretty good job of providing a little discreetness inside. This was something I had been slightly concerned with as I am likely to find myself using this tent frequently on public, family camp sites as well as stealth camping where privacy is of less concern.

Three Points of the Compass is a big chap and six feet tall (or long). There is plenty of room at both foot and head when lying on a full length Thermarest X-Therm

Three Points of the Compass is a big chap and six feet tall (or long). There is plenty of room at both foot and head when lying on a full length Thermarest X-Therm

The rainbow zippers on the mesh screens each side work well and the small size mesh looks more than adequate to deny the Scottish Midge entrance. As a first glance, I am very, very pleased with my Duplex. I am very much looking forward to trying it out ‘in anger’. This tent will be home for a great many nights on my long walk next year. The additional space offered is going to go some way preventing myself from going stir crazy if storm bound etc.

Having removed a small roll of repair tape included in the tent and a little paperwork that came with it. I have repacked the tent into a newly purchased cuben long, thin dry bag from Z Packs. Total weight, minus poles and pegs is 632g

Having removed a small roll of repair tape included in the tent and a little paperwork that came with it. I have repacked the tent into a newly purchased cuben, long, thin dry bag from Z Packs. Total weight, minus poles and pegs is 632g

 

 

Ranulph Fiennes, Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

A library for those who hike in the shadow of giants…

 

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know

The autobiography

Ranulph Fiennes

“The answer was obvious. The useless finger ends must be cut off at once, so they could no longer get in the way and hit things. I tried tentatively to cut though the smallest finger with a new pair of secateurs, but it hurt. So I purchased a set of fretsaw blades at the village shop, put the little finger in my Black & Decker folding table’s vice and gently sawed through the dead skin and bone just above the live skin line. The moment I felt pain or spotted blood, I moved the saw further into the dead zone. I also turned the finger around several times to cut it from different sides, like sawing a log. This worked well and the little finger’s end knuckle finally dropped off after two hours of work. Over the next week I removed the other three longer fingers, one each day, and finally the thumb, which took two days”

Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes OBE, 3rd Baronet, has been described by the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘World’s greatest living explorer‘. Above, he describes the time he removed the frost bitten fingers he sustained on a solo, unsupported attempt on the North Pole. He was the first person to travel to both poles on land, also the first to cross Antarctica on foot. He was also awarded the Polar Medal in 1986 and is the only person to hold a double clasp for that medal.

His adventures astound- he is the oldest Briton to have climbed Mount Everest and despite his fear of heights, ascended the north face of the Eiger. Four months after a heart attack and undergoing a double heart bypass, he completed seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Throughout this life of adventure, he has used his exploits to raise over £14 million for various charities. and was awarded an OBE in 1993 for ‘human endeavour and for charitable causes’.

Ranulph Fiennes often embarks on speaking tours and Three Points of the Compass was thrilled to sit amongst a captivated audience to hear, just a few, of his exploits. Fiennes also used this platform to passionately defend the reputation of Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Ranulph Fiennes often embarks on speaking tours and Three Points of the Compass was thrilled to sit amongst a captivated audience to hear, just a few, of his exploits, such as the first hovercraft expedition up the Nile, the discovery of the Lost City of Ubar and his 52,000 mile circumnavigation of the world via both poles. Fiennes also used this platform to passionately defend the reputation of Captain Robert Falcon Scott

Book in featured image:

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know, The autobiography. Ranulph Fiennes. Hodder & Stoughton, 2007. ISBN 9780 340 95168 2

Traditional Buildings of the English Countryside by Geoffrey R. Sharpe

A library for historians…

Traditional Buildings of the English Countryside

An Illustrated Guide

by Geoffrey R. Sharpe

Wander the paths and tracks of this crowded country for any length of time and you will stumble across buildings built for a multitude of purpose. This book is for anyone that has questions as to purpose and the lovely regional variations in building materials and styles. I include below just a handful of photographs that I have taken where this book proved useful to me in providing just a little more information to sate my curiosity.

Ightham Mote. This fortified house, now held by English Heritage, this magnificent building was passed on The London Countryway

Ightham Mote. Fortified house, now held by English Heritage. This magnificent building was passed by Three Points of the Compass on The London Countryway

Pages from Traditional Buildings of the English Countryside

Pages from ‘Traditional Buildings of the English Countryside’. Engine houses were encountered on the North Cornwall coast path

A mixture of farm buildings passed in the Lake District

A mixture of farm buildings passed in the Lake District. Sharpe includes a chapter on building materials in his book

Clock Tower, in the shadow of the Malvern Hills

Clock Tower, in the shadow of the Malvern Hills

Cley Mill was on the Norfolk Coast Path

Cley Mill was seen on the Norfolk Coast Path

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reculver Towers on the Viking Coastal Trail, part of the Kent Coast Path now subsumed by the England Coast Path

Reculver Towers on the Viking Coastal Trail, part of the Kent Coast Path now subsumed by the England Coast Path

My copy of this book has lost its dust jacket at some point. In its 228 pages, the author can only briefly cover a wide variety of buildings, but he has done a fine job in their selection. You can get a good idea on purpose, materials and the ‘why’ of most building types encountered on the trail in England, but not Scotland, so no Brochs!

Dovecot, walking the town walls, Chester

Dovecot, seen when walking the town walls, Chester

Walking the streets of London and passing the unmistakable wedding cake spire of St. Brides Church

Walking the streets of London and passing the unmistakable wedding cake spire of St. Brides Church

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My colour photographs can be seen in this blog, that is the about the only complaint I can level at this volume- it would have benefited from colour images, the photographs amongst the 131 illustrations could also have done with being sharper.

Pastoral splendour on The Ridgeway

Three Points of the Compass found pastoral splendour on The Ridgeway

Book in featured image:

Traditional Buildings of the English Countryside, an Illustrated Guide. Geoffrey R. Sharpe. I.B.Taurus. 2011. ISBN 978 84885 6141

Fossils- by the British Museum (Natural History)

A library for geologists…

‘Fossils’ series

by the British Museum (Natural History)

These three handbooks were issued by the (then) British Museum (Natural History) in the 1960s in response to calls for inexpensive, simple to understand, books to enable the identification of fossils found by the public.

Two pages from British Caenozoic Fossils

Two pages from British Caenozoic Fossils

Page from British Mesozoic Fossils

Page from British Mesozoic Fossils

It is remarkable that after half a century they still do their job very well. They don’t cover the subject of collecting or preserving, that was covered in a separate earlier volume. Instead, each volume concentrates on a particular geological era.

I have yet to encounter a modern volume that does the same job in a manner that renders these completely obsolete. The Natural History Museum has since published snappier looking up-to-date versions of the same three volumes but from what I can see, the content is still basically the same other than updated names being added.

Not particularly cheap, some earlier editions can be picked up for reasonable prices online if you are not too bothered about having the most up-to-date nomenclature. My three volumes cost between six shillings, and twelve shillings and sixpence when new, and no, I didn’t buy them at those prices.

Lets face it, for the great majority of us, the level of identification provided by these books is more than enough.

 

 

Two pages from British Palaeozoic Fossils

Two pages from British Palaeozoic Fossils

Books in featured image:

British Caenozoic Fossils, British Museum (Natural History). Second Edition- 1963

British Mesozoic Fossils, British Museum (Natural History). Third Edition- 1967

British Palaeozoic Fossils, British Museum (Natural History). Second Edition, 1966

Helm- The Natural History of...

A library for naturalists…

 

Mammal monographs

I am sure that most of have a favourite animal. The sort of thing that if we see in the field, just makes us feel all the more jauntier. For me, almost any mammal does it. Walking alone and silently through woodland and to come across a deer browsing the trees, to emerge from woods and set a startled hare off across the fields, to walk into the gloaming and happen across a newly emerged badger snuffling through the Ransoms, to suddenly awake in my tent and lie, listening to the bark of a fox… OK, so the last can be a little annoying. But still, I do like to learn a little more of those mammals I am likely, or even unlikely, to encounter on my travels.

Some content from the 'Shrews' monograph from Helm

Some content from the ‘Shrews‘ monograph from Helm

Sometimes a field guide is suffice, but to delve into the detail, then a mammal monograph is required. The Helm- The Natural History of… series is, or was, produced in association with The Mammal Society and are both accessible reading and authoritative. Not only are illustrative plates carefully chosen but the line drawings are invariably well executed. Note that the subjects of these volumes are not confined to the British Isles, for example, the ‘Wild Cats‘ volume covers all 37 species of the cat family.

This Helm monograph concentrates on the biology of Tree Squirrels. Not only does it cover the bevioural ecology of the animlas, but also explores the relationship between squirrels and man, covering the contentious issues of management, conservation and pest control

This Helm monograph concentrates on the biology of Tree Squirrels. Not only does it cover the behavioural ecology of the animals, but also explores the relationship between squirrels and man, covering the contentious issues of management, conservation and pest control

While the series of monographs produced by Helm are pretty almost excellent, there are equally as authoritative books to be found from other publishers. Many people are familiar with the excellent and immediately distinguishable bird monographs from T & AD Poyser Ltd (A & C Black) with their white dust wrappers and superb paintings. They have also produced a number of volumes covering mammal and other natural history subjects. Particularly of interest are their volumes that look at interaction with man and the history of colonisation.  A less in depth but more accessible set of volumes have also been published by Whittet, I shall take them from my bookshelf in a couple of weeks time to share with you.

Poyser have produced a number of monographs that explore a diverse range of natural history subjects

Poyser have produced a number of excellent monographs that explore a diverse range of natural history subjects

Books in featured image:

The Natural History of Hibernating Bats, Roger Ransome. Christopher Helm, 1990. ISBN 0-7470-2802-8

The Natural History of Squirrels, John Gurnell. Christopher Helm, 1987. ISBN 0-7470-1210-5

The Natural History of Weasels and Stoats, Carolyn King. Christopher Helm, 1989. ISBN 0-7470-1800-6

The Natural History of Seals, W. Nigel Bonner. Christopher Helm, 1989. ISBN 0-7470-0203-7

The Natural History of Shrews, Sara Churchfield. Christopher Helm, 1990. ISBN 0-7136-8012-1

The Natural History of Deer, Rory Putman. Christopher Helm, 1988. ISBN 0-7470-2603-3

The Natural History of Moles, Martyn L. Gorman and R. David Stone. Christopher Helm, 1990. ISBN 0-7470-1214-8

The Natural History of Badgers, Ernest Neal. Christopher Helm, 1986, 1990 reprint. ISBN 0-7470-2412- X

The Natural History of Otters, Paul Chanin. Christopher Helm, 1985, 1988 reprint. ISBN 0-7470-0423-4

The Natural History of the Wild Cats, Andrew Kitchener. Christopher Helm, 1991. ISBN 0-12-410570-X

The Natural History of Whales & Dolphins, Peter G. H. Evans. Christopher Helm, 1987. ISBN 0-7470-0800-0