Tag Archives: gear

Two very different books on the making of a landscape

A library for historians…

The  British Landscape

 “to care about a place, you must know its story”

Nicholas Crane

I could just have easily posted these books under my section- ‘a library for geologists…‘, but they are both as much, if not more, about the people that inhabit a landscape. The two volumes look at a similar subject but approach and share it with the reader in different ways.

The first is very much a scholarly work, but don’t let that put you off. Nicholas Crane is an excellent writer and communicator who may visit again in this series of books from my library. I thoroughly recommend The Making of the British Landscape to just about anyone. The author is proficient in explaining meticulously researched detail in an accessible manner. It is a hefty volume, and all the better for it. Sub-titled ‘From the Ice Age to the Present’, that is an ambitious target and the bigger picture is broken down in to the step-changes that have shaped this country and its people.

Page from The Making of the British Landscape

Page from The Making of the British Landscape

 

“Our country is like a historical onion: layers and layers of human endeavour, overlaid and overgrown, but still visible”

Mary-Ann Ochota

I was unaware of Mary-Ann Ochota’s writing before I came to her ‘Spotter’s Guide‘. I had seen her co-presenting of Channel 4’s ‘Time Team’ but it is mostly through reliance on her formal training in anthropology and archaeology that this book has been produced. It is a very accessible book that looks at big and noticeable features and then attempts to explain them, usually quite successfully in a series of chapters- Lumps and Bumps, Stones, Lines, and, In the Village.

A selection from Mary-Ann Ochota's chapter on Lines

A selection from Mary-Ann Ochota’s chapter on Lines in her book Hidden Histories

Books in featured image:

The Making of the British Landscape, From the Ice Age to the Present. Nicholas Crane. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2016. ISBN 978 0 297 85666 5

Hidden Histories, a spotter’s guide to the British Landscape. Mary-Ann Ochota. Francis Lincoln, 2016. ISBN 978 0 7112 3692 9

Three specialist books on waders

A library for ornithologists…

Waders

I have spent countless hundreds, probably thousands, of hours peering at mud. The tide comes in, the tide goes out, the mud is covered, the mud is revealed. Muddy fringes of dykes, muddy banks of lakes, mud edges of flood plains, anywhere there is mud. Some might call it sand, no, it is mud, and in that mud are millions upon millions of invertebrate life, and feeding on that larder of life, are waders…

Waders are a very popular group of birds for both dedicated birdwatchers and the merely interested. However, with their extremely variable plumage, waders are also one of the most challenging of birds when trying to separate quite similar species, or being confronted by a myriad of dull grey birds, all in winter plumage.

Three very different books from my bookshelf have helped me make sense of this rewarding and fascinating group of birds. Colston and Burton’s Waders has long been a favourite of mine. One of the few field guides to a specialist group of birds that has occasionally accompanied me into the field. The plates are superb. It is almost a shame that I choose to only show an example of these here as the species detail is also good- broken into Identification, Voice, Habitat, Distribution, Movements, Feeding, Social and breeding behaviour, Nest, eggs and young. The text is succinct and a surprising amount of detail is included in just 234 pages.

Detail from A Field Guide to the Waders of Britain and Europe. Phillip Burton is a skilled illustrator

Detail from A Field Guide to the Waders of Britain and Europe. Phillip Burton is a skilled illustrator

I have spoken before on the faults of photographic guides to birds, but used alongside a good field guide with well drawn plates, they can be very useful. North Atlantic Shorebirds includes a good selection of photographs usually showing at least- juvenile, adult summer and adult winter plumage. I think the species text is of less practical use but buried in the book are some species comparison details that are hard to find elsewhere. But if it is going to be found elsewhere, it is the next volume.

My final selection- Guide to the identification and ageing of Holartic Waders is not intended for easy bedtime reading. This is something practical, containing detail that has been ascertained from skins in museums and measurements , drawings and photographs of birds in the hand. If you are involved in trapping or ringing, this is indispensable. But help in sexing Avocets via the drawings of the respective curves to their bills can be useful to any birdwatcher sitting in a hide, such gems are throughout this authoritative volume.

Useful guide to separating seven Calidris species included in the BTO guide to Holarctic Waders

A useful guide to separating seven small Calidris species is included in the BTO guide to Holarctic Waders

Books in featured image:

A Field Guide to the Waders of Britain and Europe with North Africa and the Middle East. Peter Colston, Phillip Burton. Hodder & Stoughton, 1988. ISBN 0 340 39936 8

Guide to North Atlantic Shorebirds. Richard J. Chandler. Facts on File Inc. 1989. ISBN 0 333 45880 X

Guide to the identification and ageing of Holartic Waders, B.T.O. Guide 17A.J. Prater, J.H. Marchant, J. Vuorinen. British Trust for Ornithology, 1977

 

Castles

A library for historians…

Castles and Hillforts

If there is one thing the United Kingdom abounds in, it is castles and hillforts. While they may not be encountered on most walks, many a long distance trail will likely be passing close to one, or former location of one. Don’t believe me? Look at your map. Over a thousand castles were built in the century following the Norman Conquest and in 1962 the Ordnance Survey recorded some 1366 hillforts and associated earthworks.

My tiny little 66 page book from HMSO is a good, if old, introduction to the salient points of castles

My tiny little 66 page book from HMSO is a good, if old, introduction to the salient points of castles

These two books in the Shire Archaeology Series concentrate on fortifications outside those already mentioned

These two books in the Shire Archaeology Series concentrate on fortifications outside those already mentioned

I only have a handful of reference books to castles and forts on my bookshelves, but they stand me in good stead when combined with local information and what can be found online. I have slipped a lovely little volume on Hillforts by James Dyer into this post as, in my mind at least, they fulfilled a similar function to the castles that followed.

The Shire Archaeology book on Roman Forts by David J Breeze looks at forts, fortresses, fortlets, watch-towers and signal towers from the first to the fourth century. A book from the same series by J N G Ritchie concentrates on those strange iron age brochs found in north and west Scotland.

But if you really want the detail on medieval castles, then the A-Z reference book from Sutton Publishing is where to go. It is no book to read cover to cover, more to dip in to. Particularly useful is how the detail is put into historical context.

Author James Dyer really knows his subject. A lecturer in archaeology, he has studied hillforts and includes detail on two personally excavated by him in this handy little volume

Author James Dyer really knows his subject. A lecturer in archaeology, he has studied hillforts and includes detail on two personally excavated by him in this handy little volume

Passing through Barbury Castle, an Iron Age Hillfort, on the Ridgeway

Three Points of the Compass passed through Barbury Castle, an Iron Age Hillfort, when walking the Ridgeway

Detail from Stephen Friars book on castles

Detail from Stephen Friars book on castles

Three Points of the Compass beginning the 'Long Walk' to Windsor Castle on the London Countryway

Three Points of the Compass beginning the ‘Long Walk’ to Windsor Castle on the London Countryway

 

 

 

Books in featured image:

The Sutton Companion to Castles, Stephen Friar. Sutton Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0 7509 2744 5

Castles, an introduction to the castles of England and Wales, B.H.St. JO’Neil. HMSO. Ninth impression 1971, first published 1954

Hillforts of England and Wales, James Dyer. Shire Publications, 2003. ISBN 0 7478 0180 0

 

AIDGAP Keys

A library for naturalists…

AIDGAP guides

The AIDGAP guides, or Aid to Identification in Difficult Groups of Animals and Plants, are produced by the Field Studies Council specifically for use by non-specialists. They are often the only accessible key available for some taxa.

 I do not own many of the available titles, those I possess are shown above. Sadly, I did have a couple more but again, lent to ‘friends’ they have not returned. The keys in these publications have been thoroughly tested by sixth-form students and above, as a consequence they are invariably quite easy to use. If you have only the slightest interest in one of the many little groups that these publications cover, then treat yourself to a copy as they are quite inexpensive.

Be aware, these guides seldom go down to species level, being more aimed at the higher level, taxa etc. If you are a specialist or want to go further down the identification path, then one of the volumes- Synopses of British Fauna, may suit you better.

A page from the AIDGAP guide to major groups of British Terrestrial Invertebrates

A page from the AIDGAP guide to major groups of British Terrestrial Invertebrates

Books in featured image:

A key to the major groups of Freshwater Invertebrates, 181, P.S. Croft. Field Studies Council. Reprinted from Field Studies, Vol. 6 No. 3, 1986. ISBN 1 85153 181 6

A key to the Families of British Beetles, 166, D.M. Unwin. Field Studies Council. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 6 No. 1 1984. ISBN 1 85153 166 X

A key to the major groups of British Terrestrial Invertebrates, 187, S.M. Tilling. Field Studies Council. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 6 No. 4 1987. ISBN 1 85153 187 5

A key to the Woodlice of Britain and Ireland, 204, Stephen Hopkin. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 7 No. 4 1991, ISBN 1 85153 204 8

Keys to the families of British Spiders, 197, L.M. Jones-Walters. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 7 No. 2 1989, ISBN 1 85153 197 1

A key to the Families of British Diptera, 143, D.M. Unwin. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 5 No. 3 1981, third reprint 1992.

Bees, Ants and Wasps, a key to genera of the British Aculeates, 7, Pat Willmer. Field Studies Council, 1993, first published 1985. ISBN 1 85153 807 1

A key to the major groups of British marine invertebrates, John Crothers. Reprinted from Field Studies Vol. 9 No. 1 1997. ISBN 1 85153 200 5

 

The Wealden District- British Geological Survey

A library for geologists…

British Regional Geology

The Wealden District

by British Geological Survey

A personal library is just that, personal. I live in the South East of England so make a point of having a geological guide specific to my region as it is over this ground that I most frequently hike.

The first edition of The Wealden District was written in 1934 and it was only following resurveying of the region by the Geological Survey that additional information and important, newly learnt, detail (partly resulting from oil exploration) that rewritten and revised editions followed.

The Geological Survey has undertaken considerable survey work in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and a noteworthy series of publications has been a part result. Some are now POD (Print On Demand) while others are still available as the original published works.

Sample page from The Wealden District by British Regional Geology

Sample page from The Wealden District by British Geological Survey

Containing maps, diagrams, sections and photographs, all of these guides give a comprehensive description of their respective regions and can only add to an understanding of the terrain through which we travel. Useful geological summaries are also available to download. Three Points of the Compass is going to find these incredibly useful as crib sheets on next years Long Walk.

Book shown in featured image:

British Regional Geology, The Wealden District. R.W. Gallois et. al., British Geological Survey. Fourth impression 1992, Fourth edition 1965, First published 1935. ISBN 0-11-884078-9

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