Sunday, 29 July 2012


What stimulates an interest in Nature?

My first memorable moment was when I was four or five and my parents caught someones pet Jackdaw and shut it in the coal shed so that the owner could collect it.

I was fascinated by this bird and, when the man came to retrieve his bird, he placed it on my shoulder... so for a few minutes I was eye to steely blue eye with a tame Jackdaw. I've had a very soft spot for these smart and intelligent beasts ever since. That was '54 or '55.

Then there were the books that I was allowed to look at once I could read properly. Among these were my father's old schoolday "Rambler" books...

Yes... I've still got them!!
... with easy script and attractive pictures.... but informative. Then I was bought volumes 2 & 3 of the Nature Field Series by H. Trevor Jones, a Warnes series published in 1952, and full of reasonably accurate but heavily precised information.... with pictures of some of the creatures, but not all.... and missing, amongst others, the Kestrel in volume 2 "Birds and Wild Animals".
Volume 3, my other copy was "Insects and Spiders".

The Field Series and page 55 in detail
There followed copies from, perhaps, the most famous Warnes series of books... The Observer's Series...I had the Book of Insects, [also as a set of cards in a folder.... which might actually be in a box in the barn, somewhere], then the Book of Wild Flowers and the Book of Birds.... and then there was the I-Spy Series.... all stimulating....especially the latter with challenges to go and find, rather than being solely an identification aid.

When I visited my Grandfather's house, he had a series of six nature books from the turn of the 20th Century.... these are now mine. The have informative articles on different aspects of Natural History.... and a 'fold-out' dissection in the front of each book!! These were opened carefully for me to look at.... NOT TOUCH! Which is why they are in such good condition now. My father's "Spring" Rambler book has had the black & white line drawings "coloured" by someone using wax crayons.... most probably me!! [Not too badly most of them... but the Larch is a right mess!!]

The spine of Vol 6 and the fold out Swallowtail
And now folded out.... but there is more!
Now the "dissections" are folded open.

Perhaps though the nail in the coffin.... or should that be the icing on the cake, was the boxed copy of Fabre's Book of Insects.
Fabre's writing and observation, carefully translated into English along with some beautiful illustrations, has kept my interest alive throughout the intervening years.... I dip in and out as the mood takes me.

Two of the illustrations are shown here as is the little biography mentioned below.
I was fortunate enough to spot a small biography of Fabre on a stall at the Fête de la Confiture at Abilly in 2011.... this now lives in the box as well!

Then I was bought a membership of the RSPB.... the badge that came with it I still possess and wear.... and my first equipment.... an old pair of opera glasses [magnification x3] and a large lens of around x4 that folded inside a leather case; these in a shoulder bag that had room for a book. No pencil, no notepad.... no one encouraged me to take notes or make sketches.... rather, I was encouraged to remember and describe. But describe "without using the hands".... perhaps paper was expensive in the late 50's... perhaps it was just Dad's way?

But, hey! The sun is shining at last and there is a Kestrel hovering over our potager.... now, where are my "macronoculars"?


GaynorB said...

A super post, Tim! Thank you

Really interesting and an insight into where your love of nature began.

What a wonderful fold out of the swallowtail. Lucky you to have and have looked after so well such brilliant source material.

Colin and Elizabeth said...

Great post Tim... You have inspired us to do a similar post in the coming weeks/months (We need to go back to the UK first for photos and info.)

Susan said...

Those Nature Books are fantastic! No one would publish in that style now - I can't think of anywhere you get that level of detail for the amateur general interest even on the internet. The closest would be a full on scientific monograph with drawings of genitalia and key characters.

For anyone who is interested in Fabre, all his works are available online, translated into English, at

My interest started because my father and his best mate were birdwatchers. His best mate's dad was also the first permanent secretary of the Department of the Environment in Australia and his mother, who lived with us for a time, was a published bird illustrator. His godfather was Sir Peter Scott. As a consequence I was also into conservation at a very early age - I can remember being laughed at by a teacher when I chose to do a project on Lake Pedder in the early 70s.

Tim said...

Gaynor, you'll be able to see the others if you remind me.

Colin & Elizabeth... glad to have!

Susan, I think that series of Nature Books was a subscription series even then in the early 1900s!
There is no obvious "end" to the articles and it is possible that the subscription money ran out after volume Six.
NB: You had good influences, too!
And... more fool teachers who laugh at their pupils... it will very often backfire.