Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

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#StevesLibrary: Crow Country

As many as you can probably understand, I am very much missing my fieldsite at the moment, sent on the border between the Norfolk Brecks and Broads – it is an oasis for wildlife. I’ve been wanting to know more about the area. Despite spending some time in Norfolk, I know very little of the of natural history of the county. Then along came Crow Country. With the high frequency of pig farms within close proximity to my fieldsite, there certainly are a number of corvids – although they are mainly jackdaws. I’m one of the many people that is happy with the increasing number of excellent natural history publications out there. We’ve seen a surge in both the quality of the content and the story involved in recent years and Crow Country is now exception.

Let’s take a step back and see why this book makes so much sense. As a nation, we’ve always loved birds. Gone are the days of the gentlemen naturalists, bird watching is open to all as binoculars and other bird watching equipment becomes cheaper and more accessible. We partake in national surveys conducted by the RSPB and BTO in order to assess the health of bird populations up and down the country. At a time when we are distancing ourselves from nature, more and more people are joining such organisations to help them reconnect with nature and to understand the birds they see flying around the concrete jungles we have erected where forests once stood.

Next the subject of the book: crows. They’re a species of bird that have never really captured the imagination of the public. They’re not as majestic as their larger cousins the raven and are usually associated with death or being an omen of bad luck. What’s so interesting about a drab black bird that likes to hang out with the dead? Crows have never really earned this reputation and are unfortunately persecuted as a result of uninformed views and opinions on their right to live. In the scientific literature crows have been overlooked (until relatively recently) leaving amateurs and twitchers to fill in the gaps.

Mark Cocker’s ability to show the humble crow in a new light is inspiring, showing how someone with the right level of expertise and information can transform a mundane species into a superstar. I wonder who will be the first to achieve a similar feat for common toads. Both species are widespread and misunderstood, probably in part due to their presence in folklore and the association with witchcraft. Despite the somewhat narrow title, Cocker’s book covers all seven representatives of the corvid family that occur in Britain. I suspect the title was a case of alliteration, although ‘Corvid Country’ would have worked too but not everyone may have understood especially if they encountered the book in the current climate.

As the book develops we fly all across Norfolk, following the birds as well as swooping down on a small number of tangents. Of course, as we visit some of the other corvids found in the UK, we also have to journey there too (as not all are found in Norfolk). All of this in sake of passionate inquiry and providing the best summary of corvids possible, whilst also being honest and true. It’s a joy to read from beginning to end and although I learned a lot, I am still on my quest to learn more about the natural history of Norfolk.

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