Wednesday, 10 February 2010

In Bed with Lady Amherst!

B + R Mearns Titles

Look, if Boulmer Birder can use suggestive titles, so can I. ;-)

In fact I did have Lady Amherst in bed with me last night, although I have to say she was only on the printed page. I’m interested in the naming of birds and I was re-reading a chapter on the Lady A last night. I hadn’t picked up before that as well as having kept pheasants and bringing a pair back to England with her, she had also sent the seeds of plants back to England during her stay in India. One of these plants had been Japanes Anemone Anemone vitifolia. I probably wouldn’t have given this much though had I not seen this anemone for sale at our RSPB celebration last year. I thought them very attractive plants and was given one which I subsequently planted. It looked a lonely figure alone in the garden, so I shall have to get my hands on a few more

I suspect many birders don’t pay too much attention to the names of birds, and to be honest I didn’t during my earlier birding days. I became interested, at least in part by accident, when I used to take part in an internet quiz set by a fellow birder. He used to set question about historical characters who had birds named after them and whilst most of the quiz answers were not too hard to find on the internet, the character questions and dates asked for often tripped people up. I found out, again partly accidently, which book he was using and found a copy so the questions became rather straight forward for me.;-) It perhaps earned me a little street credit as good at googling, if nothing else.

The book I managed to get my hands on was a second-hand copy of Biographies for Birdwatchers B + R Mearns. It covers Western Palaearctic names. No longer in print it wasn’t that easy to get a hold of, but it was well worth a read. I later managed to find a pbk version of Mearns Audubon to Xantus, which covers North American names. Barbara and Richard Mearns live in Dumfries now and are both involved in ecology and wildlife in one way or another. The Bird Collectors is another of their books and another which has a place on my shelf for ‘special books’ is titled John Kirk Townsend…Collector of Audubon’s Western Birds and Mammals. The later book was a great read and has some great colour illustrations. I get the immpression that Townsend and his like did much of the work and Audubon took much of the credit. That sounds like what happened where I used to work.

You just have to look through a bird guide such as Collin’s to come across a host of common names of birds, which on some research takes you to some interesting histories. Name such as Bonaparte, Audouin, Pallas, Ross, Sabine and Franklin. That’s just the gulls! Then you can get into the scientific names too, and of course to keep it local we have Bewick and Tristram.
There’s a good amount of information about the books here

Now someone has just e-mailed me to say that they think my anemone was in fact anemone japonica and not anemone vitifolia and mentioning hybrid this and hybrid that! Don't these gardeners take things very seriously? They're worse than birders! Anyway they are both Japanese anemone and look the same to me, so I'm sticking to my story. I'm not having my tale spoilt. ;-)


  1. The Bird Collectors is one of my current faves. I've read it several times and never get sick of the stories of the old timers. They had it really tough...

  2. Yes, an excellent book Stewart and one I need to have another look at. Certainly interesting times were had, and all without twitter and other assorted communication systems.:-)