The Natural History Museum in South Meadow Lane was built to hold the largest collection of stuffed birds in Victorian Britain. Much of that collection is still in the Museum, over 160 years later! It also explains why, if you look on the outside of the building, you will see that there are carvings of hawks, peacocks, owls and doves all over it.
Curiously, the first book on birds ever to include photos was written by a 16-year-old Eton boy in 1868 called Alexander W. M. Clark Kennedy. It was entitled the Birds of Berkshire and Buckinghamshire and also happened to be the first book specifically on the birds of Berkshire.
Just before Christmas, I was lucky enough to go to Reading Museum for the launch of the most recent book on local birds, The Berkshire Bird Atlas. Eton College kindly sponsored the publication so that a copy of the book could be delivered to each and every school in Berkshire, a great way of encouraging the next generation of bird watchers.
It is a superb book, full colour throughout its five hundred or so pages, with superb photography and original line drawings of each species and highly recommended. There is a wonderful chapter on where to watch birds in Berkshire and it has given me my New Year’s resolution, namely to get out more and appreciate the biodiversity which is all around us, despite the flight path of Heathrow and the never ending M4 traffic. The great thing is that so many of these sites are local to us in East Berkshire, with Bray Gravel Pits and the Jubilee River and the reservoirs around Heathrow being the most immediate.
In a little over a decade, the slow-flowing Jubilee River has become popular with waterfowl and this is especially so when nearby lakes freeze over this time of year. Species such as Goldeneye, Smew and Goosander and even rarer species like Ruddy Ducks and Red-crested Pochards can be seen. The Dorney Wetlands were designed as a wildlife refuge and are easily reached from the car park in Lake End Road, Dorney, not far from the Pineapple Pub.Bitterns, Bearded Tits and Water Rails have overwintered there since the site was established and in the summer there are numerous Reed and Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings.
A map and brief details of Dorney Wetlands appears on the website www.birds ofberkshire.co.uk where you can also find details of the excellent Atlas!
George Fussey, Curator