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by W.H. Hudson

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I. Birds at their Best 1
II. Birds and Man 37
III. Daws in the West Country 58
IV. Early Spring in Savernake Forest




I. Birds at their Best 1
II. Birds and Man 37
III. Daws in the West Country 58
IV. Early Spring in Savernake Forest 79
V. A Wood Wren at Wells 101
VI. The Secret of the Willow Wren 117
VII. Secret of the Charm of Flowers 133
VIII. Ravens in Somerset 159
IX. Owls in a Village 173
X. The Strange and Beautiful Sheldrake 187
XI. Geese: an Appreciation and a Memory 199
XII. The Dartford Warbler 222
XIII. Vert--Vert; or Parrot Gossip 249
XIV. Something Pretty in a Glass Case 269
XV. Selborne 283
Index 303




_By Way of Introduction_

Years ago, in a chapter concerning eyes in a book of Patagonian
memories, I spoke of the unpleasant sensations produced in me by the
sight of stuffed birds. Not bird skins in the drawers of a cabinet, it
will be understood, these being indispensable to the ornithologist, and
very useful to the larger class of persons who without being
ornithologists yet take an intelligent interest in birds. The
unpleasantness was at the sight of skins stuffed with wool and set up on
their legs in imitation of the living bird, sometimes (oh, mockery!) in
their "natural surroundings." These "surroundings" are as a rule
constructed or composed of a few handfuls of earth to form the floor of
the glass case--sand, rock, clay, chalk, or gravel; whatever the
material may be it invariably has, like all "matter out of place," a
grimy and depressing appearance. On the floor are planted grasses,
sedges, and miniature bushes, made of tin or zinc and then dipped in a
bucket of green paint. In the chapter referred to it was said, "When the
eye closes in death, the bird, except to the naturalist, becomes a mere
bundle of dead feathers; crystal globes may be put into the empty
sockets, and a bold life-imitating attitude given to the stuffed
specimen, but the vitreous orbs shoot forth no life-like glances: the
'passion and the life whose fountains are within' have vanished, and the
best work of the taxidermist, who has given a life to his bastard art,
produces in the mind only sensations of irritation and disgust."

That, in the last clause, was wrongly writ. It should have been _my_
mind, and the minds of those who, knowing living birds intimately as I
do, have the same feeling about them.

This, then, being my feeling about stuffed birds, set up in their
"natural surroundings," I very naturally avoid the places where they are
exhibited. At Brighton, for instance, on many occasions when I have
visited and stayed in that town, there was no inclination to see the
Booth Collection, which is supposed to be an ideal collection of British
birds; and we know it was the life-work of a zealous ornithologist who
was also a wealthy man, and who spared no pains to make it perfect of
its kind. About eighteen months ago I passed a night in the house of a
friend close to the Dyke Road, and next morning, having a couple of
hours to get rid of, I strolled into the museum. It was painfully
disappointing, for though no actual pleasure had been expected, the
distress experienced was more than I had bargained for. It happened that
a short time before, I had been watching the living Dartford warbler, at
a time when the sight of this small elusive creature is loveliest, for
not only was the bird in his brightest feathers, but his surroundings
were then most perfect--

The whin was frankincense and flame.

His appearance, as I saw him then and on many other occasions in
the furze-flowering season, is fully described in a chapter in
this book; but on this particular occasion while watching my bird
I saw it in a new and unexpected aspect, and in my surprise and
delight I exclaimed mentally, "Now I have seen the furze wren at
his very best!"

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