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Today, August 25, 2016, is the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. The best way to celebrate, of course, is to get out there and, as the park service puts it, Find Your Park. (This weekend is a particularly good time to do so, as all parks are fee-free August 25 through August 28.) But, just as with birding, if you can’t be out there, you can always read about it. Here are a few of my favorite books on America’s national parks:

  • Your Guide to the National Parks: The Complete Guide to all 58 National Parks
    by Michael Joseph Oswald

    This is the best guidebook to all of the capital-N, capital-P National Parks (with the exception of Pinnacles, which was “upgraded” to National Park status after the book was published). It provides brief summaries of the parks and their history and personal recommendations of the “to do” activities. Before you buy, though, just be aware that there is a second edition set to be published January 1, 2017, which will include Pinnacles, new photos, and other small changes.

  • The National Parks: An Illustrated History
    by Kim Heacox and National Geographic

    This is an excellent overview of the history of the national parks, illustrated with tons of photographs.

  • The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks
    by Terry Tempest Williams

    Of the many books about the national parks published this year, this one stands out. In it, Williams writes about a selection of parks that have made an impact on her. It’s an excellent read.

  • A Thinking Person’s Guide To America’s National Parks
    by various

    Don’t let the title put you off – this is an excellent book for any fan of the national parks. It’s a series of essays on various park-related topics – from conservation to how to engage the next generation. It’s a nice variety of topics, and a good introduction to many of the lesser-known units in the park service.

  • The National Parks: America’s Best Idea
    by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan

    You may have seen this on PBS. But if not – and even if you have, actually – having it on blu-ray or DVD is a good idea so that you can watch it whenever the mood hits. And this series is so good that could be very often, indeed. Alternatively, Amazon Prime members can watch for free

by Nick Athanas and Paul J. Greenfield

Fantastic photographs highlight this useful new field guide.

Read the full review »

Sorry for the lack of reviews lately – I just haven’t seemed to have much time for writing, or even reading, this summer. Work, family vacations, the usual excuses. I’m working on a review of Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year (spoiler: it’s a great read), and am in the middle of reading The Genius of Birds (a very informative survey of bird “smarts”). But in the meantime (tomorrow, to be precise), you’ll be treated to Frank Lambert’s review of Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide.

If you’re looking for something good to read, there have been several excellent books published in the last few months. Besides the ones I’ve already reviewed or mentioned here, a couple excellent choices are Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific and One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives.

Phillipps' Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and their EcologyPhillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan
by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps

From Princeton University Press:

This is the most comprehensive, up-to-date, and easily accessible field guide to the mammals of Borneo–the ideal travel companion for anyone visiting this region of the world. Covering Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan, the book provides essential information on 277 species of land and marine mammals and features 141 breathtaking color plates. Detailed facing-page species accounts describe taxonomy, size, range, distribution, habits, and status. This unique at-a-glance guide also includes distribution maps, habitat plates, regional maps, fast-find graphic indexes, top mammal sites, and a complete overview of the vegetation, climate, and ecology of Borneo.

  • Covers 277 species–from orangutans and clouded leopards to otters and other marine mammals
  • Features 141 superb color plates
  • Includes facing-page species accounts, distribution maps, fast-find graphic indexes, and more
  • Describes Borneo’s vegetation, climate, and ecology


I don’t often cover non-bird field guides, but I have to make an exception for this one. The Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, from the same authors, is one of my favorite field guides because of how it integrates ecology and natural history without sacrificing utility in identification or much in the way of space. This new companion guide to mammals does the same – it not only will help you ID these creatures, in the process you will learn much about them and the island of Borneo itself. It even includes extensive information on where to find these animals as well. Altogether, this is a guide you would definitely want with you.


Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Mammals of Borneo and Their Ecology: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei, and Kalimantan
by Quentin Phillipps and Karen Phillipps
Paperback; 400 pages
Princeton University Press; May 10, 2016
ISBN: 9780691169415

Nightingales in November: A Year in the Lives of Twelve British BirdsNightingales in November: A Year in the Lives of Twelve British Birds
by Mike Dilger

From Bloomsbury:

Have you ever wondered what British birds get up to when they’re not pinching peanuts, pilfering pyracantha berries, or nesting under the eaves? The One Show’s natural history star, Mike Dilger, offers answers in Nightingales in November.

This beautifully illustrated almanac tells the different stories of twelve well-known birds we deign to call “British.” Through a lyrical narrative, Nightingales in November showcases amazing avian facts gleaned over decades by birdwatchers, ringers, and nest and migration recorders. The perfect “dip-into” book, any inquiring naturalist will be able to find out such facts as where British breeding swallows spend Christmas Day, when to look out for juvenile tawny owls, or when to listen for nightingales.

By using a combination of cutting-edge satellite technology and millions of ringing records, Nightingales in November reveals the mysteries of migration, tracking the regular movements of, for example, cuckoos for the eight months they’re not in the UK, or divulging why not all robins are the “stay-at-home” territorial types they were once imagined to be.

Illustrated throughout by Christina Holvey, the birds featured include a rich mix of resident birds, summer visitors, winter visitors, and passage migrants. Nightingales in November is a great read for both novice and avid birders alike.


This looks like an interesting book for British birders, or anyone who wants to learn more about their birds. The birds included are: Bewick’s Swan, Peregrine, Lapwing, Puffin, Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, Kingfisher, Swallow, Robin, Nightingale, Waxwing, and Blue Tit.


Nightingales in November: A Year in the Lives of Twelve British Birds
by Mike Dilger
Hardcover; 368 pages
Bloomsbury; July 19, 2016
ISBN: 9781472915351

Birds of MontanaBirds of Montana
by Jeffrey S. Marks, Paul Hendricks, and Daniel Casey

From Buteo Books:

Accounts for each of the 433 species of birds documented in Montana between statehood in 1889 and January 1, 2016.

Birds of Montana is the first comprehensive reference on the state’s birds since Saunders published A Distributional List of the Birds of Montana in 1921, and it is the only work that provides a thorough review of the status, distribution, relative abundance, ecology, and conservation of the 433 bird species that have been found in the state since Montana entered the Union in 1889.

Introductory chapters describe Montana’s geography, topography, and habitat types; thoroughly review the vast historical literature on the state’s birds beginning with the journals of Lewis and Clark; and summarize conservation issues and actions that will affect the health of bird populations for decades to come. Detailed species accounts provide a range map for selected species and summarize information under the subheadings Status and Occurrence, Habitat, Conservation, Historical Notes, Contemporary Work, and Banded Birds.

A modern account of the status, biology, and conservation of Montana’s birds is long overdue. Birds of Montana fills that need and will be a valuable reference that will increase the public’s knowledge of the state’s birds, enhance awareness of conservation issues affecting birds and their habitats, and establish a benchmark against which changes in Montana’s bird populations can be measured in the future.

155 color range maps, 73 original illustrations of individual species, and 16 full-color habitat photos.


Quite simply, this is a treasure trove for birders under the Big Sky. Visiting birders will find some interesting information – I particularly enjoy the historical notes – but a bird-finding guide this is not. Residents, however, will find it indispensable.


Birds of Montana
by Jeffrey S. Marks, Paul Hendricks, and Daniel Casey
Hardcover; 672 pages
Buteo Books; July, 2016
ISBN: 9780931130199

Birds of Peru appThe Birds of Peru

From Birdseye Nature Apps:

This is the interactive mobile field guide version of Birds of Peru by Schulenberg, Stotz, Lane, O’Neill & Parker. Like the paper edition, it is the most complete and authoritative field guide to this diverse neotropical landscape, featuring every one of Peru’s 1,817 bird species. Every distinct plumage is covered in superb, high-quality color illustrations. This mobile version includes all of the same excellent content of the print edition plus audio for 1,510 species and “Smart Search” by color, size and habitat. It has been updated to reflect the current eBird/Clements taxonomy.

Peru’s overwhelming diversity of birds has never been easier to navigate with the new Birds of Peru mobile field guide. Created from a collaboration between the Princeton Field Guides and BirdsEye Nature Apps, this application is loaded with in-depth descriptions and easy to use interactive features, including:

  • Detailed species accounts for all of Peru’s +1800 bird species
  • Range maps showing species distribution in Peru.
  • Songs and/or calls for 1510 species
  • Gorgeous illustrations for every species, many with multiple plumages or geographic variation
  • Interactive Smart Search tool helps narrow down birds by region, color, size and/or habitat
  • Integrated listing to easily track your sightings as you go


Field guide apps are not cheap, but they certainly are convenient. The print version of this is an excellent field guide, hopefully the app version will be just as good. This is just for iOS devices right now. Birdseye asks: Please let us know if you would like us to keep you updated on the status of the Android version.

In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History and Dangerous Lore of the World's Most Hated PlantIn Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History and Dangerous Lore of the World’s Most Hated Plant
by Anita Sanchez

From Taylor Trade Publishing:

Deadly. Powerful. Beautiful. The much-hated plant called poison ivy is all of these—and more.

Poison ivy has long irritated humans, but the astounding paradox is that poison ivy is a plant of immense ecological value. In Praise of Poison Ivy explores the vices and virtues of a plant with a dramatic history and a rosy future. Once planted in gardens from Versailles to Monticello, poison ivy now has a crucial role in the American landscape. The detested plant is a lens through which to observe the changes and challenges that face our planet.

For centuries, poison ivy has bedeviled, inconvenienced, and downright tortured the human race. This book covers the unique history of the plant, starting with the brash and adventurous explorer Captain John Smith, who “discovered” poison ivy the hard way in 1607. Despite its irritating qualities, the magnificent scarlet-and-gold autumn foliage lured Virginia entrepreneurs to export the vine to Europe, making it one of the earliest documented New World plants to cross the Atlantic, and its meteoric rise to fame as–of all unlikely things—a garden plant. Showcased in the pleasure grounds of emperors and kings, poison ivy was displayed like a captive tiger, admired by Thomas Jefferson, Marie Antoinette, and Josephine Bonaparte.

Today, poison ivy is valued by environmentalists and native plant enthusiasts who name it one of our most important plants for wildlife as well as for soil conservation. In Praise of Poison Ivy will reveal why, in its native American habitat, poison ivy is a plant of astonishing ecological value. Poison ivy leaves are an important wildlife food, and the berries are a crucial source of winter nutrition for beloved bird species like robins, bluebirds and cardinals. On a national listing of hundreds of native plants that are of value to wildlife, poison ivy ranks seventh in importance.

In Praise of Poison Ivy also explores the question of why this plant is apparently on a mission to give us humans grief, from itchy ankles to life-threatening medical emergencies. The book will examine why poison ivy targets humans, but no other species, and explain the mystery of why a privileged few are immune to its itchy consequences.


I hate poison ivy, why would I ever want to read a book about it? I wouldn’t blame you for thinking such thoughts – I would have too, before I read the description of this book. But it sounds really interesting. And – this being a website about bird books, after all – it is relevant because poison ivy is an important food source for birds. That I knew, but I’ve always been curious how birds could eat it. It turns out the answer is right there in the press release – poison ivy only affects humans. Naturally, my next question is why would that be? I guess I’ll have to read the book…


In Praise of Poison Ivy: The Secret Virtues, Astonishing History and Dangerous Lore of the World’s Most Hated Plant
by Anita Sanchez
Hardcover; 208 pages
Taylor Trade Publishing; April 1, 2016
ISBN: 9781630761318

Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic GuideBirds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide
by Nick Athanas and Paul J. Greenfield

From Princeton University Press:

Western Ecuador is famed for its astonishingly diverse birdlife, from colorful hummingbirds and outrageous toucans to more difficult groups like raptors, flycatchers, and ovenbirds. Here is the ultimate photographic guide to the spectacular birds of this region. Featuring nearly 1,500 stunning color photos of 946 species, this richly detailed and taxonomically sophisticated field guide will help you with even the toughest identification challenges. Species accounts, photos, and color distribution maps appear side by side, making it easier than ever to find what you are looking for, whether you are in the field or preparing for your trip.

  • Features nearly 1,500 photos of 946 species
  • Includes facing-page species accounts, photos, and maps
  • Provides photos of multiple plumages for many species
  • Helps you to differentiate between similar species


Despite covering half of a small country, this photo guide is roughly the size and weight of the “big” Sibley guide. That’s because it features 946 species (which is more than Sibley) with relatively large photographs. You probably won’t be using this in the field, but it should make a nice reference that you can keep in your vehicle or room.

For more “behind the scenes” information on this guide, here’s a nice interview with the authors.


Birds of Western Ecuador: A Photographic Guide
by Nick Athanas and Paul J. Greenfield
Paperback; 448 pages
Princeton University Press; June 14, 2016
ISBN: 9780691157801

by Tim Birkhead

An excellent, highly readable, introduction to bird eggs.

Read the full review »