A Year of Birdsong & A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs – Review

A Year of Birdsong & A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs by Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton Review (1)

By Elizabeth Stanforth-Sharpe

In these early days of a new springtime when the chorus of birds is slowly swelling and creatures of every variety are appearing from their winter hideaways, two engaging books are commendable companions for discovering and identifying the wildlife in our gardens and further afield.

A Year of Birdsong – 52 stories of songbirds, written by bird expert and natural history journalist, Dominic Couzens, is illustrated with pen and ink bird drawings by award winning artist, Madelaine Floyd, so full of character that they look ready to fly off from the pages. Couzens takes one bird for every week in the year, chosen for a wide variety of reasons, and relays stories of the species, folklore that has become attached to it, or incidences of where it has been featured in literature, art, or history

Most are birds familiar to European readers, but there are also gorgeous encounters with those that most of us are unlikely to ever see. QR codes are included on every page, for those who wish to listen to the birdsong, perhaps as an aid to identification, but the truly clever part is that Couzens is aware that some of his readers do not have the capacity, for whatever reason, to hear actual birdsong, so he scatters the text with phrases and word descriptions that give clues as to what the individual birds sound like, meaning that the work is just as accessible and delightful for those without hearing. There is information about bird vocalisations, the differences between ‘songs’ and ‘calls’, territory, and seasonal behaviour (who knew that ‘flight songs’ and ‘song flights’ had such very different meanings?) but it is all so delightfully wrapped in flowing storytelling prose that it lifts the spirits.

A Year of Birdsong & A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs by Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton Review (2)

“Books for all who love the continuum of nature”

For A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs – 52 stories of intriguing insects, Dominic Couzens teams up with entomologist and naturalist Gail Ashton, whom he also worked with on Garden Insects of Britain, to take readers on a journey through the seasons to discover 52 minibeasts from around the world. Week by week, the book reveals what is happening in the insect world, in our gardens, backyards, window boxes, and hidden corners of our homes. There’s the daily task of the house spider building a new web every morning, the low hum of the queen bumblebee announcing her hunt for food and shelter, and the surprising suggestion as to how the seven spotted ladybird got its name. As with ‘A Year of Birdsong’, the descriptions are elegantly prosed, and there are QR codes to follow for even more information. The illustrations are provided by watercolour artist Lesley Buckingham, displaying the entrancing beauty of the entomological world.

These are books for all who love the continuum of nature, all who have ever listened to a bird singing and wondered what variety it was or have marvelled at the iridescent wings of a dragonfly. These are books for all who cherish the changing seasons, and all who desire to understand the reasons, the histories, and the legends. They are books to give as gifts, and books to treasure for oneself, and whether sat in a cosy armchair in the coldest weather, or reading in the garden on the sunniest of days, A Year of Birdsong and A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs will bring alive an astonishing natural world, often hidden away, waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

‘A Year of Birdsong’ by Dominic Couzens & ‘A Year of Garden Bees and Bugs’ by Dominic Couzens and Gail Ashton, are published by Batsford Books


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