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Bird Books

The first book on birds that I was given was The Observer’s Book  of British Birds.  Inside there is a dedication, the giver quoting from the poem To a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

I don’t recall looking at this book all that much.  I’d much have preferred the latest Enid Blyton when I was nine years old.  But the Enid Blyton books are long gone (all except one or two favourites) and this little book, bearing the battle scars of 64 years is still here.  That’s what is lovely about small books – Ladybird books, Observer’s books – they have a habit of remaining, sneaking into corners of desks, lurking at the back of shelves.  I simply can’t part with this book now, even if the information mightn’t be as up-to-date as once it was, but as I’m no ornithologist, I have no idea whether the information is accurate or not.

Somehow, for someone who isn’t a bird watcher (or a twitcher as the most dedicated are known) I’ve managed to acquire quite a number of bird books.  I bought them for their lovely paintings, some of which husband has copied in watercolours and they are framed and three of them hang in our summerhouse.

One of the earliest bird books I bought was Thorburn’s Birds, an edition by Book Club Associates from 1974.  Our second son was then about a year old, we visited the library regularly, but I wanted to start to collect books for ourselves, and chose from this book club those which I thought would be educational as well as attractive and interesting.

Archibald Thorburn (1860-1935), a Scot born in Midlothian near Edinburgh, is now recognised as an outstanding illustrator of animals and in particular of birds of Western Europe.  The text of the book has been written by James Fisher, but it is the paintings that I enjoy seeing.

John Gould’s  (1804-1881) book, Tropical Birds, published in 1948, was one that my late mother had in her book collection.   There’s not a sparrow nor a robin amongst them!

The following book, Birds of Prey by Philip Burton and illustrated by Trevor Boyer, Malcolm Ellis and David Thelwell, was published in 1989 and features all kinds of birds of prey, from Vultures to the Secretary Bird, the Osprey to Falcons.

The paintings are stunningly beautiful  and show the birds in their natural habitats.

As my husband enjoyed copying paintings of birds, one book has been a favourite of his …

And I am sure that those readers in Australia might have seen some of these birds …

 Or even these …

But one artist above all others is a favourite of both myself and my husband.  He is Basil Ede.  Basil died a year ago, aged 85, and was noted for his ornithological precision in his paintings.  In his obituary it says that from an early age he loved drawing and observing birds and wildfowl.  After school in Leatherhead, aged 16, he enrolled at Kingston School of Art but after only 6 months was called up for National Service in the Army.  At the end of his military service (which, for most, lasted two years, for some, three years) he joined the merchant navy.  While working for Cunard he designed menu cards for the First Class restaurants in Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary, featuring birds in watercolour.  His first book was Birds of Town and Village

and this was followed by …

which was published in 1980.  Sadly, at the age of 58 he suffered a severe stroke which caused him to lose the use of his right hand.  But, a determined man, he trained himself to use his left hand for painting, but he then painted in oils because he could paint over mistakes.  Each of these painters has his own individual style, but it’s Basil Ede’s paintings that husband and I love the best.

And to close, my Ladybird bird books …

Featured here are just some of my bird books; I have others, but none of them has such vibrant and exceptionally beautiful illustrations as all these above.  Honestly, you’d think with so many bird books I’d know a chaffinch from a sparrow, wouldn’t you?  But the plain and simple answer is that I don’t.  We all have our blind spots!   But I just enjoy looking at this wonderful paintings.

Until next time.

About Margaret Powling

Margaret Powling
Margaret’s main interests are her husband and family, her friends, her home, her garden, writing, literature, architecture, décor, social history, photography, historic houses and gardens, and towns, villages and the countryside. She writes about the things she enjoys: flowers, scent, fine soap, monthly style magazines, and other such small indulgences, such as afternoon tea or simply enjoying her summerhouse with a book. She invites you to enjoy this virtual visit to South Devon, England.

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  1. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Thankyou for showing part of your collecting Margaret as you know I love birds, I am always amazed at beautiful paintings, I can’t even draw, such talent. What beautiful books and images, I have just put the Basil Ede ones in my Amazon wish list they have some which can be bought for a few pennies with postage, I do love Amazon, I started to collect ladybird books this year but haven’t come across any bird ones just yet. I only have 5 bird books to date, but I won’t be parting with them. My favourite garden bird is the Robin, I had one following me around this afternoon whilst doing the weeding, beautiful creatures.

    • Margaret Powling

      Robins are such characters, but I’ve heard they can be bullies to other birds, not as cute and charming as at first they appear. I don’t have a favourite bird but I’m not keen on the magpies which are aggressive where other birds are concerned, even hounding the pigeons who attempt to build nests in our tree and make a total lash up of it! Amazon is wonderful – having the ability to search for books world-wide (through Amazon and Abe) it is now possible to build a collection inexpensively and quickly. The illustrations in the Ladybird books are lovely, too. My favourites, though, are the What to Look for In Spring … Summer … Autumn … and Winter.

  2. another lovely and interesting post, Margaret. the paintings are simply beautiful. Perhaps that is one feature that is missing in books produced these days: beautiful illustrations.

    • Margaret Powling

      I really don’t know about the books being produced today, Ratnamurti, as I’ve not seen any featuring birds, but a lot of the older books certainly had the most gorgeous illustrations. I think today publishers rely more heavily on photographs. They might be more accurate when showing animals, birds and fish, but they are not as interesting, I don’t think. Glad you have enjoyed this post.

  3. Yes this Australian recognised some of those birds ! I’m not a twitcher but do enjoy hearing the many birds with which we share our surrounds. They are particularly songful (I know that’s not a word but I’m having a mental blank) at dawn and dusk. All of those pictures are beautiful. I love some birds for their looks, some for their size eg wrens, finches and pardalotes), some for their smarts (eg. butcherbirds and magpies), some for their clumsiness on land but grace in waster (such as pelicans, penguins) and those which hit the water at high speed (eg terns). Birds of prey such a sea eagles, hawks and ospreys are magnificent. Husband and I saw a bird show in Arizona USA some years ago and the condor left me speechless.

    I, too, used to fear magpies when I lived in the city but since moving to a regional town I’ve developed a love for them. Perhaps as there is less competition for habitat and food, the adults are not as territorial as their big- city cousins. Magpies are excellent parents with the young equal in stature but with grey mottle plumage and very awkward, like gangly teenagers. We have many around us who patrol the gardens and nature strips of the neighbourhood…… maybe I am a twitcher after all ???

    • Margaret Powling

      How lovely you see those wonderful birds which are so colourful! And “songful” is a lovely expression – some of our birds have a lovely song, such as the blackbird but some just squawk, such as magpies, and made a dreadful noise. Yes, dawn and dusk is the time for singing. We call the ‘singing’ in the morning “the dawn chorus” and it’s lovely. It doesn’t go on for many weeks, once they have found a mate I believe that the singing ceases. How lovely that you saw a condor in Arizona at the bird show! I did ‘shadow’ a falconer for a day once, going with doing her daily duties, feeding the birds and flying them, and that was wonderful (I did this so that I could write about it).
      Thank you for telling me more about magpies. Perhaps if I knew more of their habits, I might learn to like them a little more. But they’ve always been so aggressive to the poor old pigeons. Do you know, I’ve never seen a young magpie in grey plumage – they are just back and white by the time we see them. Yes, you are beginning to sound a bit like a twitcher, ha ha!

  4. Thank you for showing us your collection of bird books Margaret, what wonderful illustrations.
    Two of my favourite sounds of summer are the skylarks above the field next to the house and the keening of the buzzards as they ride the thermals up high, I do love watching the birds and we are lucky enough to have a good variety of visitors to the garden.
    My favourite has to be the little wren, elusive but we do get the occasional glimpse of one in the hedge.

    • Margaret Powling

      Do you know, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a little wren, Britain’s smallest bird! But how lovely you can see the buzzards from where you live. I think they are wonderful birds, so still and yet they can see their prey from such a great height.

  5. A wonderful collection of bird books Margaret. Where do you find room for them all? Or do you regularly cull or even practice “one in, one out”? I ask because I went through two out of four bookcases yesterday (thoroughly cleaning in the process!) and only managed to fill one carrier bag for my local NT secondhand book shop. Anyway, back to bird books and I just have the Observer book of birds on my small, fifth bookcase which was my husband’s childhood bookcase. I keep all my very small books here such as my leather bound, gold-tooled and extremely battered editions of Shakespeare’s plays and some microscopic print pocket-sized editions of Dickens’ novels. You do not mention Bewick’s book of birds, the book Jane Eyre used to escape with. Have you ever come across a copy I wonder? Unbelievably I see there is a hardcover edition on sale for 57p! Not the original 18th century edition of course, but still …

    • Margaret Powling

      Ah, there’s the problem, Sarah: lack of space, too many books, always a problem! All the non-fiction is here in the study, with overflow in the guest bedroom (where there is the tail end of the hardback fiction, such as the Ws, Marcia Willett and Jacqueline Winspear. I do cull the books (or rather “weed” them) and they go to the charity shops. Books are in all the rooms with the exception of the kitchen and our bedroom (and of course, the bathrooms). I always have a pile by the bedside. I tend to sort that out but I’m afraid it has a tendency to grow! My pocket books the small Edwardian volumes often in leather with good tooling, are in the bookcase in the sitting room (these were on my post the other day when I took them in early morning sunlight).
      How on earth could I have forgotten Thomas Bewick!!! I have a Folio edition in it slip case of his autobiography, My Life, with some of his lovely paintings and engravings. It is a very handsome edition, in a lemon yellow with brown spine and gold tooling, but the only reason I think I forgot to mention it is that it is with my country books rather than my bird books. I don’t have his book of birds, though.

  6. Eloise. (thisissixty.blog)

    Some of these illustrations are nothing less that brilliant. I am always amazed by the capacity and talent of people who can produce something which looks like a photograph.
    Like you I am no ornithologist but I do like to see birds in the garden and spot the more unusual varieties when out and about. When we were in the Lake District earlier this year I was fascinated by the woodpecker and spent a considerable time watching him.
    Ladybird books have long been a great source of basic information about so much – a great introduction to all manner of subjects. I used to regularly buy them for my children.

    • Margaret Powling

      Yes, our lads loved the Ladybird books, but used them for book tumbling rather than reading! I think woodpeckers are amazing, fancy using a beak to bore holes into wood – we’d need a drill, and possibly an electric one on some hardwoods!

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