Press release from Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club

An account of the Birds of the Huddersfield District was written in 1915 by Huddersfield man Seth Lister Mosley and is one of the most important books in the history of local and national ornithology. However, it is very rare and little known outside specialist circles, but is full of interest for a present day public. Now Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club brings it to life again in digital form for the benefit of a modern day audience. And it is available to download free of charge as an ‘eBook’.

Seth Lister Mosley (1847 – 1929) published his Account of the Birds of the Huddersfield District in 1915, during his time as curator of the museum at Huddersfield Technical College. After devoting himself to the study of natural history for over 60 years, he had become an expert on many of its aspects. He must have been a remarkable character, incredibly industrious and passionate about instilling an interest in natural history in the people of Huddersfield. He was also a very active contributor to the study of natural history in Yorkshire and nationally.

Originally, the ‘book’ was issued in 20 instalments costing 6d each to subscribers. It is thought as few as 40 complete sets were made, of which only about 25 still exist, largely in museums and universities, with a few in private collections. As a result, copies can command thousands of pounds.

It is a remarkable book and its author Mosley was ahead of his time:

  • It covers all 186 species known to have occurred in the area at the time.
  • It is thought to be the first local avifauna anywhere to include maps of their distribution across an area. The next serious local avifauna to include such maps was not until the 1950s and for Huddersfield not until 2000 (by Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club).
  • It includes many hand-coloured illustrations of birds by Mosley himself, on which he comments: “if anyone should consider these commendable and wish to know the secret it is no flesh, no intoxicants and no tobacco”.
  • He was damning of the fact that so much study was of birds that had been shot and wrote: “I regret that the book is a record of murder and plunder from beginning to end. I do hope the time will come when men will respect bird life…” Surely, he would be as critical now of the dreadful persecution of many of our birds of prey in much of our countryside.
  • It is an important snapshot in time of the mix and distribution of birds in the Huddersfield area from which to compare how much this has changed in 100 years.
  • It also sheds light on a local landmark, as Mosley says “There is a large stone with a pointed top between West Nab and the Isle of Skye road, on which a cock grouse is said to perch every morning to crow; it is known as the Cock-crowing-stone.” A hundred years later this stone has been painted with those very words.
  • It covers all 186 species known to have occurred in the area at the time.
  • It is thought to be the first local avifauna anywhere to include maps of their distribution across an area. The next serious local avifauna to include such maps was not until the 1950s and for Huddersfield not until 2000 (by Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club).
  • It includes many hand-coloured illustrations of birds by Mosley himself, on which he comments: “if anyone should consider these commendable and wish to know the secret it is no flesh, no intoxicants and no tobacco”.
  • He was damning of the fact that so much study was of birds that had been shot and wrote: “I regret that the book is a record of murder and plunder from beginning to end. I do hope the time will come when men will respect bird life…” Surely, he would be as critical now of the dreadful persecution of many of our birds of prey in much of our countryside.
  • It is an important snapshot in time of the mix and distribution of birds in the Huddersfield area from which to compare how much this has changed in 100 years.
  • It also sheds light on a local landmark, as Mosley says “There is a large stone with a pointed top between West Nab and the Isle of Skye road, on which a cock grouse is said to perch every morning to crow; it is known as the Cock-crowing-stone.” A hundred years later this stone has been painted with those very words.

ENDS

Mark writes: these old accounts are fascinating, and this one is no exception.  I tend to move straight to the farmland birds which have declined so much in so many places and wonder what ornithologists such as Mosley would have made of their general declines in abundance.

Have a look at Corn Bunting, Black Grouse, Corncrake and Pallas’s Sandgrouse for some interesting comments but the book is replete with fascinating insights.

Of course I did have a look at the entry for Hen Harrier:

Hen Harrier

It has been reported from the Penistone Moors, Hebden Bridge, and
Blackstone Edge (Hx. Nat. 1900, p. 86), all places only a short distance
beyond our boundary, in different directions.

Birds of the Huddersfield District by S. L. Mosley, 1915.

Well done to the Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club for making this volume freely and widely available.

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3 Replies to “Press release from Huddersfield Birdwatchers’ Club”

  1. The Red Grouse account is also worth a read. You could get sent to prison for a month, with hard labour, and flogging if you set fire to the moors between 22 February and 24 June.

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  2. Fascinating stuff - thanks for sharing!

    I particularly enjoyed the reference to "gamekeepers and petty gunners" in the Sparrowhawk entry.
    I assume Alfred Beaumont, who gets several mentions, was a local landowner or man of standing. He sounded quite a "character" as exemplified by the following from the Ring Ouzel entry:

    "When the late Alfred Beaumont had the shooting right over Slaithwaite Moor it was very numerous there, and he shot a great many as they set the grouse up by their alarm-note".

    How quaint to shoot them - if only he'd had rail traps back then!

    http://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/b/investigations/archive/2018/11/05/rspb-concerns-over-rail-traps-and-ring-ouzels.aspx

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