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A Passion for Birds


A Passion for Birds

I turned the page. [...] “I have amazing news for you – and indeed for every bird-lover in the country,” he whispered. [...] It was my first day at Junior school and I had picked a book from the library shelves to read. An adventure story about Bee-eaters. It was September 1957.

Fast forward around six decades and from Bath to North Wales ...

Idly browsing books at an Antiques Fair last year, I came across a book that nagged at my memory. It couldn’t be could it! The self same book. Well probably not exactly the same book but - Hooray Hurrah!

found again
a long-lost book
my childhood

[...] “As I suspected, the birds you saw and which I have been watching for fifteen minutes are Bee-eater.” [...]

I have never, ever, seen a Bee-eater 1. But it was these birds or at least this story about them that kindled a lifelong passion for birds. The book was ‘The Fourth Key’ the last of the Michael and Mary stories 2 by Malcolm Saville.

Like many of his stories, this one had a basis in fact. For he describes in his foreword how three friends came across Bee-eaters “a mile or two from the South Downs” in Sussex at the end of July 1955: It was hard to keep the birds from being worried by enthusiastic bird-watchers during the next few weeks, and although the secret was fairly well kept volunteers helped to keep curious crowds away from the nesting-sites until the baby birds had flown.

While the book was the beginning of a lifelong (selfish) passion for birds, my new-found passion, of writing haiku about them, is perhaps, really the beginning - of something I was always meant to do. I’m only sorry (well a little bit) that it’s taken so long ...

Though one day I’d still love to see a Bee-eater!

Author Notes

Leonard Malcolm Saville (1901-1982) was an English author born in Hastings, Sussex. He is best known for the Lone Pine series of children’s books, many of which are set in Shropshire. His work emphasises location, and the books including many vivid descriptions of English countryside, villages and sometimes towns.


  1. There’s hope yet - last year a flock of 13 colourful Bee-eaters were spotted on the Llyn Peninsula - only a short drive from home
  2. Michael and Mary live with their widowed mother and her brother. It is set in Sussex where the family have moved. They befriend a lonely young girl, help to protect a rare nesting pair of birds, and discover hidden treasure.
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March 1, 2021 3:18 pm

As a devout bird watcher, this book must have been a real find for you. I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Sounds like a good one

March 1, 2021 4:38 pm

Sounds like a great series! When I discovered my passion for birds, I felt that I’d uncovered my true self. Also, I’m so grateful that you write haiku!

Josie Holford
March 1, 2021 6:42 pm

I read those Malcolm Saville Lone Pine books too. I remember lapwings featuring somewhere, but not bee-eaters.

Colin Blundell
Colin Blundell
Reply to  Clive Bennett
March 6, 2021 10:48 am

The Gay Dolphin Adventure on Children’s Hour! Before your time I imagine, Clive! It was a long series by which was captivated

March 1, 2021 7:47 pm

Now I don’t remember those books Clive but my favourite Manchester aunt used to visit us here in NI and it was because of her that I found a love of birds. I give thanks to all the birds who sing every day, who I may never see, but who lift my spirits with their songs.

Deborah Vass
March 2, 2021 8:47 am

What a wonderful, happy discovery! Some years ago I discovered a childhood book that I had been trying to identify for years and remember the thrill of finding the elusive author. It is amazing the impact these early loves have. I have never read him, but will now seek him out. I am very glad too that you have now turned to haiku. I love how the weight of “my childhood” falls on the last line.

March 2, 2021 12:34 pm

Ah Clive, I very recently tracked down this book. It’s set in my old stomping ground and I used to love Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine books as a child. But what had me seeking this one out was the bee-eaters. I have been lucky enough to see them in S Africa; beautiful birds!

March 3, 2021 3:28 pm

These books must have passed me by and such a shame as they sound right up my street plus the fact some of them are apparently set in parts of Shropshire I’ve come to know such as Long Mynd and the Stiperstones, also Suffolk and Sussex! I was very much a Blyton girl in my day, amongst other 1950s and 60s books inherited from older siblings, and I always loved a good outdoorsy adventure story. I also love reminiscing about the way some of those early stories coloured my imagination, very-much impacting the person I am now, as you say. The artwork on some of them can take you straight back there, into the very feeling of picking a book up and getting lost inside its pages. What a great stroke of luck coming across that book.

Last edited 1 year ago by Helen
March 4, 2021 12:16 pm

What a connection! I loved the Lone Pine series but do not remember this one. We see bee eaters at certain times on our finca in Spain, usually end of summer as they gather together and feed up before their African journey. But nowadays their nests seem few as once it used to be common along the road banks. I found some old Animals magazines I used to cut up and use pictures from. So much has changed on our watch for wildlife.

Tish Farrell
Tish Farrell
March 4, 2021 8:51 pm

Oh, I so loved Malcolm Saville books – at least the ones that were set on home turf in Shropshire. That image posted now feels like a perfect piece of time-travelling. Ah! A la recherche…

Andrea Stephenson
March 21, 2021 4:52 pm

It’s lovely to get those reminders of warm times from childhood. As for time not spent writing haiku, I’m a believer that we do things when we’re meant to do them.