A GOOD naturalist is primarily dependent on his eyes and ears, but some well-chosen equipment for observing or recording what he finds will gready add to the value and interest of what he is doing. The simplest equipment is best to start with, then as experience is gained progress can be made with more elaborate and expensive items.
ITEMS OF EQUIPMENT
The smaller items include notebooks (best with one side of the page unlined, for drawing), pencils, a recording board made of hardboard with a bulldog clip, to hold paper in the field, large-scale maps and a compass for extended field work, and a torch fitted with a red filter if any night work is to be undertaken. Small tins, plastic boxes and bags, nets for pond work and insect sweeping, and plastic bottles, may be required by the collector, although other forms of recording are recommended by the conservationist. Paints, coloured pencils, and chalks, and perhaps plasticine for modelling, are available in great variety. A thermometer is often useful, as changes or differences in temperature often explain things seen. For looking at the detail of specimens, a hand magnifying glass will do to start with. A three-in-one set of lenses, with magnifications of different strengths, is the most compact, and a watchmaker’s lens leaving the hands free is a useful gadget. All these are obtainable for a few shillings.
After this, a bigger item to think about is a camera. The simplest possible box type is adequate for a beginning, especially for landscape, trees, and plants. The cheapest Kodak ‘Instamatic’ 25 camera for about three pounds, or others of the same simple kind, will take excellent black and white still photographs. The Tn-stamatic’ range includes more elaborate models, some with built-in flash and automatic exposure accuracy. Before you consider buying anything more elaborate, you need to think out just what you hope to do with it. Bird photography has its special fascination, but also its special dangers; until you are thoroughly experienced, and understand the ways of birds, particularly on the nest, you may do a great deal of damage by concentrating too much attention on the birds – frightening sitting birds away from their eggs, disclosing the position of their nests to predators (cats are very observant) or preventing parent birds flying freely to their nests to feed their young. In the case of many wild birds wilful disturbance of them while nesting is a punishable offence. Moreover, the truly expert bird photographer needs very expensive equipment indeed, such as a 35 mm. single lens reflex camera, with a telephoto lens, or a cine camera. But a simple ordinary camera does permit some very interesting work, and the use of it trains the eye to see. If you took regular photographs at different seasons, for instance, of specimen trees in streets or parks, you would soon have a dossier of unique information about their habit or growth, the patterns of their branches, and their seasonable development, and you would soon find yourself noticing these things wherever you go.
Many people would put field glasses before a camera, as they are wonderful both for looking at distant birds and animals and also for observing detail in those nearby. Again, to begin with, a simple type of not very high magnification is more useful than one of very high magnification, and is much easier and quicker to use. For ordinary purposes, 8×30 is a useful size. A telescope is also a fascinating tool, but is cumbersome and often difficult to focus quickly.
The range of microscopes available is enormous, but a student model may be obtained for five pounds or less, and this is quite sufficient for some very interesting work. The best beginner’s guide to its use is The Microscope and What You See (Transworld, How and Why Wonder books). An entirely different set of possibilities is opened up with the possession of a tape recorder. Of course a tape recorder is really an expensive luxury for you, but the price of the smaller ones has fallen a great deal, and just as the use of a camera, if you can afford it, trains the eye, so the use of a sound recorder trains the ear to listen more carefully to the sounds of nature. Bird song, animal sounds, insect movements, can all make first-rate subjects – the Wildlife Sound Recording
Society once gave a prize for a recording of beetles eating dung! A lightweight portable model may be recommended, being both light to carry and easy to use. Before making one’s own recordings, study of other people’s is very helpful. There are a number of first-class bird song records. The best single record is perhaps A Tapestry of Bird Song, E.M.I. CLP1723. At the other end of the scale there is a set of twelve records from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and other smaller sets produced by them. The Sound Guide to British Birds, from them, gives the calls and songs of 194 species on two 12’ double-sided LP records, with a 120 page book on the identification of birds by their song. Other equally interesting sets are by E.M.I., and the B.B.C.
For illustrationand identification, 8 excellent bird charts are available, in two sizes, from the R.S.P.B. Another method is to build up your own collection of illustrations, either one of your own photographs or drawings, or a scrapbook using any sources available -colour supplements, magazines, or even Christmas cards. Every year beautiful Christmas cards illustrating different aspects of natural history are produced by the R.S.P.B., the various County Naturalists’ Trusts, and other similar bodies. Notelets with excellent illustrations are also to be obtained, and there are some first-class postcards.
For bird gardening equipment, see The Bird Table book, by Tony Sopcr (Pan books), which gives a useful list of suppliers of bird food, nest boxes, and other devices for attracting birds to the garden, and recipes for bird cakes and puddings. A very wide range is obtainable from Greenrigg (Birdcraft), at Rainham, Essex, and well-made equipment is sold by the Royal Society for the Blind (Scotland). Suppliers of apparatus and stock for butterfly farming include Worldwide
Butterflies Ltd, Over Compton, near Sherborne, Dorset, and L. Christie, 137 Gleneldon Road, Streatham, London, S.W.16 .
BOOKS FOR THE NATURALIST
Books for the naturalist may be numbered in thousands, at every level of knowledge, age, and expense. A beautiful series for younger children is the Ladybird series (Wills and Hepworth), on birds, trees, the weather, the seasons, and wild flowers. Also for very young children, the new Storychair book (Transworld) includes four very attractively written, illustrated by Vera Croxford, on animals during the four seasons of the year. The Hamlyn all-colour paperbacks include several first-class volumes on natural history, three of these being Bird Behaviour, Natural History Collecting, and a Guide to the Seashore, all with excellent illustrations. Another first-class series of introductory books for older children are the Clue books, (Oxford University Press), including volumes on birds, flowers, trees and insects. These are very much more than picture books, and form by far the best introduction to the serious study of the subjects treated. The Stand and Stare books, published by Methuen, have an engaging small format for children, and are well illustrated; titles include insects and small animals. Six volumes in The Private Lives of Animals series (Warne) are much larger and more expensive, but are superbly illustrated.
Other deservedly well-known series are The Observers’ books (Warne) on a comprehensive list of subjects, and the Wayside and Woodland Series also by Warne, these being authoritative works of reference for the specialist as well as the beginner. The Young Specialist books published by Burke can also be recommended, particularly for the informative diagrams they contain. Pond-Life and Fungi in this series are useful.
Thoseof the Collins Field and Pocket Guides that deal with natural history in Britain and Europe are in a class by themselves. They are not only a best buy but an absolute must as soon as the reader is ready for them, being both authoritative and comprehensive. Recommended:
A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe
Nest and Eggs
Mushrooms and Toadstools all in this series.
Four books the enthusiast will find it hard to resist are the volumes on Wild Flowers, Birds, Flowerless Plants, and Insects published by the Oxford University Press, all well laid out and beautifully illustrated. Two other five star books are the A.A. book of British Birds (Drive Publications for the Reader’s Digest) and The Concise British Flora in Colour, by W. Keble Martin (Ebury Press).
Useful approaches to field work are suggested in some of the following books:
Adams, G. V. A. Nature is My Hobby (Wheaton).
Fitter, R. S. R. Wildlife in Britain (Penguin).
Knight, M. The Young Field Naturalists’ Guide (Bell).
Knight, M. Field Work for Young Naturalists (Bell).
Leutscher, A. Tracks and Signs of British Wild Animals (Clever-Hulme).
Reade, W. and Stuttard, R. M. A Handbook for Naturalists (Evans).
Watson, G. G. Fun with Ecology (Kaye and Ward).
On conservation, the outstanding publication is Nature Conservation in Britain, by Sir Dudley Stamp (Collins). Two different aspects are dealt with in The Vanishing Wild Life of Britain, by B. Vesey-Fitzgerald (MacGibbon and Kee), and Britain’s Nature Reserves, by E. M. Nicholson. Conservation on a world scale is dealt with in: Nature’s Network, by Keith Reid, Conservation, by J. A. Lauwerys, and Man’s Impact on Nature, by Joyce Joffe, all published by Aldus. A newer bookto be recommended is Conservation of Nature, by E. Duffey (Collins International Library).
Much the best simple introduction to ecology as a general subject is Understanding Ecology, by Elizabeth T. Billington (Kaye and Ward, Ltd).
Most strongly recommended on the theme of the world-wide threat to wild life and to man himself are Before Nature Dies, by Professor Jean Dorst (Collins) and Wild Harvest, by Clive Roots (Lutterworth). Two great books on species in danger are The Red book (Wild Life in Danger) (Collins), and Wildlife Crisis, by H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh and James Fisher (World Wildlife Fund, Hamish Hamilton).
Pollution in Britain is dealt with in Pesticides and Pollution, by Kenneth Mellanby (Collins), and the threat of modern tendencies to the whole of the environment is strikingly but elaborately dealt with in Population: Resources: Environment, by Paul and Anne Ehrlich (Freeman).
Finally, the fully-fledged advanced naturalist will find endless pleasure in the New Naturalist Series published by Collins. Over seventy volumes have been published, the books being roughly divided into three headings. One group deals with the background of natural history, such as Britain’s Structure and Scenery (Sir Dudley Stamp), British Plant Life (W. B. Turrill), and Climate and the British Scene (G. Manley). The second group describes groups of animals or plants, examples being Wild Flowers (J.Gilmour and M. Walters), British Mammals (L. Harrison Matthews), and Insect Natural History (A. D. Imms). The third group concentrates on single areas – Dartmoor (L. A. Harvey and D. St. Leger-Gordon), or The Broads (E. A. Ellis) – or habitats such as The Sea Shore (C. M. Yonge) and Mountains and Moorlands (W. H. Pearsall). A separate series of monographs includes volumes on the badger, squirrel, rabbit, redstart, wren, greenshank, fulmar, herring gull, heron, hawfinch, house sparrow, salmon, wood-pigeon, and mole.