James Fleming

Talking about the birds and the bees

Were I swimming for my life with these four books between my teeth and were I to be tried more sorely, the first to go would be Parrot. It has three gems: that Warren Hastings, who died (from starvation) in 1818, owned a parrot that was still alive in Swindon in the 1920s; that Charlotte,

Best of friends | 27 August 2005

Birds are our pals. They awaken us, sing us happy songs and delight us with their plumage colours. In the garden they are undemanding visitors, not inferior to neighbours or family. The migrating species perform feats of navigation that in a human would have that person crowned upon landfall. They can fly at great speed

Of fulmars and fleams

Kathleen Jamie is a poet. This might be described as her occasional book, in the sense of being a record of what she saw, smelt, heard or felt during these various experiences and expeditions. Most are concerned, loosely, with natural history —ospreys, wild salmon, corncrakes, whales; all of them pertain to Scotland (of which she

Goui and phooey

The Wolof call it a goui, the Tswana a moana, the French the calabash tree and all Australia the boab. Welcome to the strange world of the baobab tree, the subject of Thomas Pakenham’s excellent new book. The tree was discovered for Europe in 1749 by a 21-year-old Frenchman, Michel Adanson, after whom it has,

Sweet water and bitter

‘Naturalist-in-charge’ was Shel-ton’s title as fisheries expert on board the Tellina, a research vessel. It holds good throughout this excellent memoir, which contains much pertinent information and few idle sentences. By page 30 I’d learned that apple wood makes the best catapult, about the guanine crystals in fish scales, about lampreys, the names of his

Can you forgive him?

The story is a good one. Lady Anne was born in 1837 and died, in Egypt, in 1917. Her mother, Ada, who was connected with Babbage and his prototype computer, was Byron’s only legitimate child. Aged 32 and wealthy, Lady Anne was plucked off the shelf by the poet and philanderer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt. After