Willoughby Verner is undoubtedly best known for his classic work My Life Among the Wild Birds in Spain which was publishedin 1909. He enjoyed the reputation of being a committed “hunter-naturalist” as well as a hardened soldier, achieving the rank of Colonel in the Rifle Brigade and experiencing at first hand active service in Africa. Indeed, he was severely wounded at Graspan in South Africa, the effect of which was to be long lasting. But his association with the Rifle Brigade continued long after he formally retired from the regiment in 1904. For part of each year he subsequently took up residence in Spain, where he died in 1922 and was interred in Gibraltar.
Born in 1852, the diaries of which this book is comprised cover the period 1867-1890 and take one back to his early years, when as a youth he collected birds' eggs and ornithological specimens along the southern coast of England, primarily in Sussex. Family connections in Ireland also provided opportunities for shooting wildfowl over bogs and rough country.
On joining the Rifle Brigade in 1874, his military career took him to Gibraltar on several occasions, where his interest in collecting and shooting – for "the pot" as well as taxonomy – blossomed.
Periods of winter leave were spent wildfowling on Tiree in the Western Isles of Scotland, his shooting companion on occasion being Howard Irby, author of The Ornithology of the Straits of Gibraltar. He also came to know the Dungeness area of Kent intimately, where in spring he sought the nests of common and little terns breeding on the extensive shingle beds. Gf particular interest are his accounts of Kentish plovers' nests at Dungeness, as are his references to the populations of stone curlew (the "great plover") in the same area.
Whereas his attitude to "the gun" may not be in keeping with present day perceptions, it must be borne in mind that Willoughby Verner was a man of his time – and, indeed, some of his specimens were at the behest of the British Museum. Attitudes in the l9th century tended to revolve around the convictions that "What is hit is history, what is missed is mystery!"