We love looking at birds. We get up early to do it, and go out before the horns and motors start up, and we can hear the bird calls on the breeze. It is a fine way to focus—literally, through binoculars. Over the years, we have learned to recognize their voices and know their habits.
It wasn’t always so. I grew up bird-illiterate. I didn’t know a bluebird from a blue jay. Sometime in the last century, I acquired in the course of my work a nineteenth-century illustrated catalogue of British birds, with lithograph plates colored in by hand showing each species posed in a lifelike setting. The pictures captivated me. I pored over them for hours, fascinated by their beauty and their detail. Only then did I look up from the page and begin to see real birds that were themselves full of detail and distinction.
We were in the city then, and the basic sidewalk birds were so-called English sparrows, starlings, grackles, and house finches, but that was enough for me! I acquired binoculars and watched them for hours. Birds and binoculars became a prominent part of my life.
So we always like to have a few bird books, as well as insect books, flower books, tree books, mammal books, books on plant taxonomy, all of that is interesting still. On a good day, you can search our inventory and find the English version of Francis Willughby’s Ornithology (London, 1678) with its extraordinary full-page engravings.
There are first editions and early editions of Thomas Bewick’s groundbreaking books on British birds and quadrupeds, where Bewick perfected the technique of wood-engraving:
Where there are birds, there you will find us. In the Arctic: