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Desert Island Books

 
Keith Betton
BOU member and world birder
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Portrait of a Wilderness: The story of the Coto Doñana Expeditions

Guy Mountfort (Hutchinson, 1958)
 
This book always awakens the restless traveller that is inside me. It is an account of the adventures of three scientific expeditions to Coto Doñana in Andalucía in 1952, 1956 and 1957. Guy Mountfort was an impressive organiser, gathering around him the leading birdwatchers of the 1950s.
 

An Eye for a Bird

Eric Hosking (Hutchinson, 1972)
 
It is a sad fact that many of today’s birders have never heard of Eric Hosking. He was the first professional photographer to make a living from photographing birds. He lost an eye to an angry Tawny Owl in 1937 but never let this stop him from finding new birds to photograph. There are few real pioneers in birding – but he was one.

Cutting Away: The Linocuts of Robert Gillmor

Robert Gillmor (Langford Press, 2006)
 
For sheer enjoyment and to be able to marvel at the skill of Britain’s most successful bird artist I often choose this book. A linocut is a printmaking technique not unlike a woodcut, but way more impressive to me. Perhaps unusually Robert only really allowed his linocut skills to be acknowledged after a career that was based around watercolours and gouache.

Birds of the Mediterranean and Alps

Lars Jonsson (Croom Helm, 1982)
 
This is a short read, but evokes good memories from my early birding trips to Europe. Before this time, field guides kept to the standard format where the birds all face the same way. However, this book allows the birds to roam around the page, and they’re actively doing things in the way that you see them in the field.

Birds in Norfolk

Andy Brown, illustrated by James McCallum. (Langford Press, 2016)
 
I regularly visited Norfolk as a teenager thinking I was always going to strike lucky with a mega-rare bird and I grew to love Norfolk. This book is more about population changes than rarities, but every time I pick it up I feel the urge to create a book like this for my county of Hampshire.

A Dictionary of Birds

Edited by Bruce Campbell and Elizabeth Lack (Poyser, 1985)
 
This was actually compiled on behalf of the BOU. It is thorough – as you would expect – and every aspect of bird behaviour and ecology is covered plus everything from plumage to poetry. If you don’t learn something new from each page then you are unique!

Handbook of Birds of the World – any volume!

Edited by Josep del Hoyo et al (Lynx, 1992 to 2013).
 
Can I take them all? This fantastic series has thorough and readable texts on each family and the artwork is brilliant. Sadly I access them online these days and my copies are rarely opened. If I had to take one it would be Volume 1. When I opened it in 1992 I knew my birding life was going to change forever.

Biographies for Birdwatchers

Barbara and Richard Mearns (Academic Press, 1988)
 
On a desert island I would want to read about people. People are interesting, and in this book are the stories of incredible suffering, endurance and perseverance. Even if I am having a difficult time these stories will make me realise that other people suffered more in their search of birds.
 
 
Finally, I’m allowed to take three other items with me to my desert island and these would be an MP3 player or similar (with headphones) with a selection of the best hits by The Damned; ear plugs … I never go anywhere without them as clicking insects can be a right pain at night!; and a scale model of an Aston Martin DBS V8 (Bahama Yellow colour – as used in The Persuaders TV series)
 
 

About the author

Keith Betton is a keen world birder having seen over 8,300 species in more than 100 countries. He has a particular passion for Africa, having been Chairman of the African Bird Club for 7 years, and now its Vice President. In the UK he is heavily involved in bird monitoring in Hampshire, where he is County Recorder. He has been a Council Member of both the RSPB and the BTO, and is currently Vice President of the latter. He joined the BOU when he was 18, back in 1978.
 

Tell us about your desert island books!

We’d love to hear about the books you’d take with you to your desert island. Format exactly as above. So send us your eight books (title, author(s), publisher, year; max. 50 words on each book; your three ‘other’ items (excluding your binoculars and people), a short biography (max. 100 words) and a head and shoulders photo of yourself. We’ll
source the cover images. Email your contributions to the
BOU Office. Contributions from BOU members will be
considered for our BOU member newsletter.
 

Blog posts express the views of the individual author(s) and not those of the BOU.

 

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