“Rook, read from your book”

Bodleian crow
Crow, from an illuminated manuscript in the Bodleian Library

Mark Cocker Crow Country:
a Meditation on Birds, Landscape and Nature

Vintage 2016 (2007)

A long ellipse of shapes, ragged and playful, strung out across the valley for perhaps half a kilometre, rides the uplift from the north wind directly towards my location. The birds, rooks and jackdaws heading to their evening roost, don’t materialise gradually — a vague blur slowly taking shape — they tunnel into view as if suddenly breaking through a membrane. One moment they aren’t visible. Then they are, and I track their course to the great skirt of stubble flowing down below me …

A short paragraph from near the beginning of this ‘meditation’ includes much of what I loved about this book: the prose poetry in the language, the evocation of a moment in time and the willingness to share a worthy obsession. Mark Cocker describes himself as author, naturalist and environmental activist (in that order) but I liked the way he melded all those roles into a seamless whole in producing the eighteen chapters of this book. There’s some autobiography here, there’s also travel writing, science, historical perspective, literary allusions, potted biographies of contemporaries and predecessors who have laboured in this field. And yet he wears much of this learning and experience lightly, inviting the reader into the warm glow of campfire anecdotes mingling with facts and figures.

Continue reading ““Rook, read from your book””

Fluttering by

buddleiaCharles A Hall Know Your Butterflies
Richard Ward Illustrator
A & C Black Publishers Ltd 1970

In late August the two buddleia on the south side of the house are thronged with butterflies, fluttering by and supping with relish, and it’s easy to understand why this plant is usually referred to as the ‘butterfly bush’. Especially plentiful are Red Admirals, Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshell. I always thought Red Admirals were so called because of their stripes but I may have been mistaken, because elsewhere I’ve read that they were originally called ‘Admirable’ because of their bright colours; in fact in most of the ones we see the reds are closer to a deep orange. The Peacock is aptly named due to its distinctive eye-spots while the Small Tortoiseshell has alternating light and dark stripes on the leading edge of the wings, though it never stops long enough for me to spy the blue half-rounds on the trailing edges. Continue reading “Fluttering by”