Aeons ago, at about the time that the eminent Charles Darwin was thinking that a trip around the world studying wildlife might be a jolly neat idea, I bought a copy of A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe, published by Collins. Actually, it’s a 1980 edition and has stood me in good stead, giving me a fighting chance of identifying foreign species that we might come across in France for the last 30 years. I’d be driving across France and spot a butterfly, slam on the brakes, leap athletically from the car and chase said butterfly, even more athletically, across several fields in an attempt to see its distinguishing features. I was young in 1980, you see. Then I spend hours leafing through the aforementioned butterfly guide failing to find it.
The book’s main armoury is a series of colour paintings by Brian Hargreaves which looked very impressive as Darwin set sail for the Galapagos. Now, however, one or two don’t seem to match specimen photographs particularly closely and, believe me, when it comes to trying to distinguish between the almost countless continental fritillaries, for example, precision id paramount.
Neither is it the most convenient of books to use. All the illustrations are grouped together in a series of 63 colour-plates in the centre of the book. The words describing each species in detail, the main content of the book for propeller heads, are arranged in about two hundred pages, one hundred each either side of the illustrations. A series of small, black-and-white distribution maps are grouped together at the end of the book in a third section immediately before the indexes. The result is that identifications requires that you:
- look in the colour plates for a likely candidate – the entry references the words page;
- refer to the write-up to check flight season – this entry also provides the reference to the relevant distribution map;
- flick to the back of the book to see if your candidate might occur in the relevant area.
So Just recently, probably spurred on by the excellent illustrations by Richard Lewington in my Field Guide to the Dragonflies of Britain and Europe, I’d been looking for a replacement. Unfortunately, I’d seen a few disparaging remarks about the latest incarnation of the Collins butterfly field guide (errors in a few distribution maps, for example) so I was sceptical. I did, however, receive a recommendation for a French book, Guide des Papillons d’Europe et d’Afrique du Nord. I saw a copy of this in the flesh on our spring 2011 trip to France but didn’t buy it – probably dissuaded by the advanced French. 😉
I should have. Once back at home, I began regretting my decision not to purchase the French book and feared that I’d miss out on a copy. Since good ol’ Amazon still had it available so I listened to my heart and ordered it.
It’s here. It seems very sturdy (it’s a hardback) and very well produced with good binding, good quality paper and excellent Lewington illustrations. All relevant information – colour plate, description, flight period (période de vol) and distribution – is grouped together, so that looks easier to use. The French words will be an interesting challenge and I’ll end up having to cross-reference the scientific/binomial name to other sources to get a common/English name (where one exists) for the species but it looks promising so far.
I won’t really know until I try it in the field, though.