Newsletter 13: Spring 2008
Chairman's Introduction | Highland Branch News | Pale Brindled Beauty
Books, Hatches & Dispatches
We are bombarded with so many “Planet Earth” type programmes on TV these days it seems you can learn anything about natural history by just gazing at the screen.
And we are getting a plethora of books to match, from simple guides full of stunning photography to in-depth tours of our planet in extraordinary detail.
Previously – I’m talking about last century – the choice was limited. The “New Naturalist” series launched by Collins in the 1950’s included Pocket Guides to Birds, Wild Flowers, Nests & Eggs, and Seashore, but not as I am aware, Insects. This series was replaced by Collins New Generation Guides, including Birds, Wild Flowers, Fungi, and Butterflies and Insects (1989).
Another earlier series, “Wayside and Woodland” published by Warne included Richard South’s landmark works “Butterflies of the British Isles” and “Moths of the British Isles” (2 volumes) illustrated by pen and ink drawings and colour plates, all of mounted specimens, but how else could he show them?
There is no publication date in Warne’s books, but South refers to collectors’ records only up to the early 1900’s! They were an amazing achievement for that day and age, and one wonders how the great collections were accessed without the Web or e-mail.
We now get a wide choice of both field guides, area studies, with biodiversity being the name of the game, and studies of individual species such as those presented by Butterefly Conservation.
Two books which deserve mention from 2006-07 are the Scottish Mountaineering Trust’s “Hostile Habitats” and Scottish Natural Heritage’s massive “Nature of the Cairngorms: Diversity in a Changing Environment.” “Hostile Habitats” has 20 pages on Invertebrate life and identification with a separate account for each species. These do include e.g. the Highland midge and the large black slug, but some caterpillars, moths and butterflies are beautifully illustrated and there are nuggets of information for instance the heights at which a species occurs, the Northern Dart above 450m., the Scotch Argus up to 500m. and the Mountain Ringlet between 350m. and 900m. This confirmed for me a possible identification of a Ringlet halfway up a buttress on the Buchaille in Glencoe at about 800m. Strong fliers such as Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals can even access mountain summits: I once met a migratory swarm of 50 plus red admirals on a Munro in Glenfinnan in early May (over 900 m.).
As the title “Hostile Habitats” implies, each montane habitat is thoroughly researched and described, with a good indication of which species you are likely to encounter. It is also reasonably priced at £15. The “Nature of the Cairngorms” is a weighty reference tome and one you need to keep for dipping into. Nomenclature is meticulously recorded so you can find those species frequently met with on Highland Butterfly Group outings which only have Latin names. The most useful aspect for Cairngorm lovers is the division of the area (for Invertebrates anyway) into 22 areas from Craigellachie to Kinveachy, and the listings of what you are likely to find in each one. A bit more pricey at £20 but perhaps you can put on your “Wanted Presents” list.
I hope this will convince people that there is plenty of reading matter to keep us all occupied whilst waiting for next summer’s sun.
Addendum to “Books, Hatches”, etc.
Since writing the above I have unearthed another treasure from the family library – W.E. Kirby’s “Butterflies and Moths”, published by Routledge, undated but probably before World War I.
Seventy beautiful colour plates illustrate ‘Butterflies and Larger Moths” (Macrolepidoptera) and “Small Moths” (Microlepidoptera). The colours are delightful and include real silver washes on the fritillaries. Illustrations of larva and chrysalids are placed alongside the adult insects, which could help to identify some of the many small green items we find when poking about in long grasses!
Many species must now be lost to the UK. What about the “Old Lady” or the “Alchemist”? Are there still White Admirals in the New Forest? – or the double-brooded “Clifden Blue” - “the most brilliant of the British Blues”?
Janet King, January 2008.
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