Stuffed with interesting things. In Tring.

I confess that I am an addicted to Springwatch.
I only knew this on Sunday evening, as we had been catching up with the instalments we recorded during the week in an intensive festival of baby bird drama. Now, I know that I could watch the cameras online, but it is not the same without the quirky commentary, especially from Chris Packham who is delightfully weird. Now there is a man enjoying his job.
But we were left bereft. I guess part of it is my largely latent zoologist tendencies, which were further reconnected by a weekend visit to the marvellous Natural History Museum outpost at Tring ( ).
It is an amazing place, always full of small children gasping at the size of a stuffed polar bear. I have been many times now and still find what is basically a massive collection of largely Victorian stuffed animals fascinating – not at all what you would expect. But the fact is that there are some aspects that make this collection unique.
First there is the odd stuff, the rare things. The extinct animals like the passenger pigeon and a personal favourite (can you have a favourite extinct animal? I guess so) the Thylacine (or Tasmanian Tiger)… the oddities such as some rare crossbreed animals and then the famous ones – you have to pay your respects to Mick The Miller, who for a stuffed champion Greyhound is not looking as, ahem, dog eared as some of his compatriots. Does anyone else remember him turning up in gloriously static form on “They Think It’s All Over” in the Feel the Sportsman round (and amazingly David Gower guessing his identity correctly)? Oh dear, it is just me again.
Anyway, you can’t mock a dog that won as many races as he did in his short career.
With my zoologist hat on however, the real joy of this collection is scale. Not only getting close to some massive creatures – I am very happy the collection’s polar bear is very dead. But being able to get close means you can see just how big a fully grown tiger is; or how small a hummingbird can be, which I don’t believe you can when you see it on screen, no matter how good the BBC are at bring Nature’s wonders into the living room.
Also, they have nicely grouped the displays so creatures from the same group are displayed close together. So you can compare the size of an adult lion and its various big feline relatives in a way you never could in a life situation. One of the best cases has the various British birds of prey. A lot of people see buzzards and are impressed by their size (and sometimes in an over excited moment think they are seeing an eagle) but once you have seen a buzzard next a golden eagle, as you can in Tring, you realise that you would know if you had really seen an eagle – the golden eagle is about four times bigger and frankly, very scary. There are times you are glad you are not a rabbit.
But I cannot talk about getting enthusiastic. When you look out in the garden and see a bird of prey – exciting enough – you would rather it was a Goshawk or maybe a Merlin rather than a Sparrow hawk. Chances are it is really a pigeon. But there is also a lot of amusement to be gotten out of pigeons, especially as the attempt to try and get food off our birdfeeder in increasingly desperate ways.
On the train down from St Albans today I swore I saw an egret at the side of the rails just outside West Hampstead. Of course, on a second glance, it was just a white plastic bag caught on some long grass and fluttering in the wind.
Maybe I should not watch next week? Not a chance. I’m happy to see any number of false alarms or disappointments because if you keep your eyes open long enough sooner or later I’ll look out the window and the waxwings will be occupying our apple tree.