Book News

Wild Notes: Observations over time about birds and other fleeting thingsWild Notes: Observations over time about birds and other fleeting things
by Mike Lubow

From Mike Lubow:

Wild Notes chronicles several year’s worth of daily observations written in a logbook style by a regular guy who happens to be a bird watcher, among other things. In the tradition of wilderness junkies like Ed Abbey, Annie Dillard and even that odd old hermit, Thoreau, the author is hooked on the elemental kick that starts with an easy-going interest in birds and goes beyond to an interest in all fleeting things. Bird watching, once considered a gentle hobby, is now known to be a wilderness adventure enjoyed by rough and ready men and women of all ages. Hard-muscled, hard-bitten, bug-bitten explorers who bushwhack trackless wilds. Or ordinary folk who stalk neighborhood nature trails. Whichever kind you are, you’re out to find animals that are not only accessible, but entirely wild. They could be avian migrants newly arrived from a South American jungle to spend summer with you. Or winter vagrants that flew across a thousand-mile tundra to visit your neck of the woods. Birds, like uninhibited thoughts, go where they want. From them you can acquire a “life list” of sightings, but you can also get insights that would never have occurred if you hadn’t lost yourself in the woods for a bit to stalk things that fly in and out of your life. Throughout Wild Notes, the date shown on the left page indicates a true moment in time. The right page explains what happened then: what was seen, thought about and what was worth sharing with you.

 

Mike Lubow writes online at the Two-fisted Birdwatcher, where I’ve long enjoyed his missives. Check out his website and read a few entries (they’re short!). If you enjoy them, then get this book – you’ll enjoy it as well.

 

Wild Notes: Observations over time about birds and other fleeting things
by Mike Lubow
Paperback; 166 pages
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; September 14, 2015
ISBN: 9781499624465
$11.99

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: BirdsUltimate Explorer Field Guide: Birds
by Julie Beer

From National Geographic:

This fun, photo-filled, and fact-packed bird guide will make kids Stop! Look! and Listen! to find the feathered friends right in their own backyards. From ducks to hawks, sparrows to sandpipers, kids will learn how, where, and when to spot birds all over the United States. With tons of info and interactivity prompts, it’s the perfect companion for backyard or field trip, camping or vacation. Durable and portable, it’s just right for pocket or backpack.

 

This is a small guide for kids to 175 North American birds. It has photos, illustrations from the “big” National Geographic field guide, and lots of information (although the sidebars labeled “Be a Bird Nerd!” rub me the wrong way).

 

Ultimate Explorer Field Guide: Birds
by Julie Beer
Flexbound; 160 pages
National Geographic Children’s Books; February 9, 2016
ISBN: 9781426322990
$12.99

Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the PacificListening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific
by Donald Kroodsma

From Princeton University Press:

Join birdsong expert Donald Kroodsma on a ten-week, ten-state bicycle journey as he travels with his son from the Atlantic to the Pacific, lingering and listening to our continent sing as no one has before. On remote country roads, over terrain vast and spectacular, from dawn to dusk and sometimes through the night, you will gain a deep appreciation for the natural symphony of birdsong many of us take for granted. Come along and marvel at how expressive these creatures are as Kroodsma leads you west across nearly five thousand miles–at a leisurely pace that enables a deep listen.

Listening to a Continent Sing is also a guided tour through the history of a young nation and the geology of an ancient landscape, and an invitation to set aside the bustle of everyday life to follow one’s dreams. It is a celebration of flowers and trees, rocks and rivers, mountains and prairies, clouds and sky, headwinds and calm, and of local voices and the people you will meet along the way. It is also the story of a father and son deepening their bond as they travel the slow road together from coast to coast.

Beautifully illustrated throughout with drawings of birds and scenes and featuring QR codes that link to audio birdsong, this poignant and insightful book takes you on a travel adventure unlike any other–accompanied on every leg of your journey by birdsong.

 

Donald Kroodsma knows how to listen to birds and, more importantly for us, can communicate that brilliantly through the written word. His The Singing Life of Birds will open up bird song to you in a way that you never thought possible. This book, in which he travels from one side of the country to the other listening to birds, promises to be a great read as well. Through the companion website, which you can easily access via QR codes throughout the book, the reader can listen in and experience the soundscape along with Kroodsma.

 

Listening to a Continent Sing: Birdsong by Bicycle from the Atlantic to the Pacific
by Donald Kroodsma
Hardcover; 336 pages
Princeton University Press; May 3, 2016
ISBN: 9780691166810
$29.95

Feather Brained: My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder and Find a Rare Bird on My OwnFeather Brained: My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder and Find a Rare Bird on My Own
by Bob Tarte

From University of Michigan:

For much of his life, the closest Bob Tarte got to a nature walk was the stroll from parking lot to picnic table on family outings. But then a chance sighting of a dazzling rose-breasted grosbeak in wife-to-be Linda’s backyard prompts a fascination with birds, which he had never cared about before in the least. Soon he is obsessed with spotting more and more of them-the rarer the better-and embarks on a bumpy journey to improve his bumbling birding skills. Along the way, Tarte offers readers a droll look at the pleasures and pitfalls he encounters, introduces a colorful cast of fellow birders from across the country, and travels to some of the premier birding sites in the Midwest, including Point Pelee, Magee Marsh, Tawas Point State Park, and even Muskegon Wastewater System. This funny, heartfelt memoir will appeal to birders of all skill levels as well as to anyone who knows and loves a birder.

 

Birder memoirs such as this are hit or miss. I don’t know which this one is yet, having only read a couple pages so far, but based on the ratings of the author’s previous books I’m hoping for the former.

 

Feather Brained: My Bumbling Quest to Become a Birder and Find a Rare Bird on My Own
by Bob Tarte
Hardcover; 216 pages
University of Michigan; April 13, 2016
ISBN: 9780472119868
$22.95

Audubon: America's Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to LabradorAudubon: America’s Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador
by Peter B. Logan

From Ashbryn Press:

The Birds of America. One man’s dream to illustrate and publish a work depicting all the birds of North America. Midway through the nearly twelve-year project, the French-American painter and naturalist John James Audubon was beset by obstacles and began to doubt if he could complete it. This overlooked chapter in his life comes alive in this volume, as Audubon faces a difficult test while the fate of his Great Work hangs in the balance.

By the spring of 1833, after six years of serial publication, not even half of the four hundred promised prints had been issued to his subscribers. Audubon still needed to find and paint scores of additional species before he could lay aside his brush.

The uncharted shores of Labrador beckoned with rumors of rare birds, but an expedition to the north would be a severe trial. It was a desolate land, and its brief summer would afford him little time to accomplish his mission. At the age of forty-eight, he questioned how much longer he could maintain the punishing pace his project demanded. His wife, Lucy, feared for his health. Audubon was undaunted.

As he sailed from Eastport, Maine, in early June, developments abroad threatened to undo his work. Robert Havell Jr., the brilliant London engraver and printer who had brought Audubon’s vision to life, was ready to quit. At the same time, the naturalist’s harshest critic in England had just unleashed an attack on him in Britain s foremost natural-history journal. Half a world away, Audubon was unable to respond.

Through the lens of this heretofore unwritten tale, Audubon scholar Peter B. Logan offers a beautifully textured narrative for historians and Audubon lovers alike. Meticulously researched, using many previously unknown sources, this groundbreaking book portrays the panoramic sweep of Audubon s remarkable life, from his illegitimate birth through his aimless early years as a frontier storekeeper to his decision to launch a daring enterprise from which he would emerge as America s greatest naturalist. At the heart of this saga lies the Labrador expedition. With the reader alongside during the most critical point in his career, Audubon is revealed as his closest friends knew him dynamic, gregarious, and utterly indomitable, while simultaneously insecure, egotistical, and not beyond stretching the truth.

Addressing historical errors made by previous biographers and supplemented with numerous maps and illustrations, as well as an appendix of never-before-published documents, Audubon: America’s Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador rewrites the unforgettable story of the iconic American Woodsman, whose passion and purpose produced an enduring monument to natural history that has never been equaled.

 

This thick book (although around half of it is appendices, notes, and index) tells of a man we’re all familiar with, but hopefully does so in a way that is new and meaningful. I look forward to finding out if that’s the case, as Audubon is someone I can’t read enough about.

 

Audubon: America’s Greatest Naturalist and His Voyage of Discovery to Labrador
by Peter B. Logan
Hardcover; 816 pages
Ashbryn Press; April 26, 2016
ISBN: 9780997228212
$40.00

Birds in TroubleBirds in Trouble
by Lynn E. Barber

From Texas A&M University Press:

As oil was washing up on the shores of Louisiana, covering shorebirds and their nests and eggs after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Lynn Barber decided to write this book to heighten awareness, not only of the plight of bird species that are declining in numbers every year, but also of the ways in which the birds we see every day may also face the same fate.

First explaining the idea of birds “in trouble”—and what that means in terms of population, conservation status, and national and international designations—the book then turns to the habitats that are important to birds, how they are affected by changes in these habitats, and what ordinary people can do to help counter those negative effects. Barber then profiles forty-two species that are in trouble in the United States, discussing the likely reasons why and what, if anything, we can do to improve their situations. Illustrated throughout with the author’s signature bird art, the book closes with a reminder about what we can do to ensure that the birds we see every day in our yards, parks, and communities will remain with us.

 

The author’s delightful illustrations and personal notes highlight the accounts of 42 in-trouble birds. This is an accessible introduction to problems that birds face and what can be done to help them.

 

Birds in Trouble
by Lynn E. Barber
Flexbound; 220 pages
Texas A&M University Press; April 1, 2016
ISBN: 9781623493592
$29.95

Feathers: Displays of Brilliant PlumageFeathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage
by Robert Clark

From Chronicle Books:

Exquisite images from award-winning National Geographic photographer Robert Clark offer a captivating perspective on the vast beauty and myriad functions of a seemingly simple thing: the bird feather. Each detailed close-up is paired with informative text about the utility and evolution of the feather it depicts, making this handsome marriage of art and science the ideal gift for bird lovers, natural history buffs, and photography enthusiasts.

 

Gorgeous photos of all kinds of bird feathers are the highlight of this book. There is some information on the feathers and the birds from which they are taken, but not as much as I’d like.

 

Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage
by Robert Clark
Hardcover; 176 pages
Chronicle Books; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9781452139890
$29.95

One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual LivesOne Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives
by Bernd Heinrich

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

In his modern classics One Man’s Owl and Mind of the Raven, Bernd Heinrich has written memorably about his relationships with wild ravens and a great horned owl.

In One Wild Bird at a Time, Heinrich returns to his great love: close, day-to-day observations of individual wild birds. There are countless books on bird behavior, but Heinrich argues that some of the most amazing bird behaviors fall below the radar of what most birds do in aggregate. Heinrich’s “passionate observations [that] superbly mix memoir and science” (New York Times Book Review) lead to fascinating questions — and sometimes startling discoveries. A great crested flycatcher, while bringing food to the young in their nest, is attacked by the other flycatcher nearby. Why? A pair of Northern flickers hammering their nest-hole into the side of Heinrich’s cabin deliver the opportunity to observe the feeding competition between siblings, and to make a related discovery about nest-cleaning. One of a clutch of redstart warbler babies fledges out of the nest from twenty feet above the ground, and lands on the grass below. It can’t fly. What will happen next?

 

Can I make a confession, at the risk of losing any and all credibility? I’ve never read a Bernd Heinrich book. Oh, I have several on my shelves; I just haven’t gotten around to reading them. But this one I’m making time for. I’m only a couple chapters into it, but already have realized that I absolutely have to go back and read his other works as well. Heinrich’s observations of these particular, individual birds are fascinating, and a nice counterpoint to just about every other bird book out there.

 

One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives
by Bernd Heinrich
Hardcover; 224 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9780544387638
$28.00

Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other StoriesGorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories
by Sue Ellis

From Austin Macauley Publishers:

Gwendolen Goose is best friends with Katie, who lives on the farm next to her pond. She is so grateful when Katie brings her bread after school. When Katie’s mum hurts her leg whilst out walking, Gwendolen must fly out to help!

In Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories, Sue Ellis presents six tales from a bird’s eye view’. She hopes to inspire children to overcome adversity and become the best version of themselves.

 

This children’s book, targeted at ages 4-10, was published a little while ago, but I just recently became aware of it. I’ll be reading it with my kids.

 

Gorgeous Gwendolen Goose and Other Stories
by Sue Ellis
Paperback; 49 pages
Austin Macauley Publishers; October 30, 2015
ISBN: 9781784555719
$13.95

The Genius of BirdsThe Genius of Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman

From Penguin Press:

Birds are astonishingly intelligent creatures. In fact, according to revolutionary new research, some birds rival primates and even humans in their remarkable forms of intelligence. Like humans, many birds have enormous brains relative to their size. Although small, bird brains are packed with neurons that allow them to punch well above their weight.

In The Genius of Birds, acclaimed author Jennifer Ackerman explores the newly discovered brilliance of birds and how it came about. As she travels around the world to the most cutting-edge frontiers of research— the distant laboratories of Barbados and New Caledonia, the great tit communities of the United Kingdom and the bowerbird habitats of Australia, the ravaged mid-Atlantic coast after Hurricane Sandy and the warming mountains of central Virginia and the western states—Ackerman not only tells the story of the recently uncovered genius of birds but also delves deeply into the latest findings about the bird brain itself that are revolutionizing our view of what it means to be intelligent.

Consider, as Ackerman does, the Clark’s nutcracker, a bird that can hide as many as 30,000 seeds over dozens of square miles and remember where it put them several months later; the mockingbirds and thrashers, species that can store 200 to 2,000 different songs in a brain a thousand times smaller than ours; the well-known pigeon, which knows where it’s going, even thousands of miles from familiar territory; and the New Caledonian crow, an impressive bird that makes its own tools.

But beyond highlighting how birds use their unique genius in technical ways, Ackerman points out the impressive social smarts of birds. They deceive and manipulate. They eavesdrop. They display a strong sense of fairness. They give gifts. They play keep-away and tug-of-war. They tease. They share. They cultivate social networks. They vie for status. They kiss to console one another. They teach their young. They blackmail their parents. They alert one another to danger. They summon witnesses to the death of a peer. They may even grieve.

This elegant scientific investigation and travelogue weaves personal anecdotes with fascinating science. Ackerman delivers an extraordinary story that will both give readers a new appreciation for the exceptional talents of birds and let them discover what birds can reveal about our changing world. Incredibly informative and beautifully written, The Genius of Birds richly celebrates the triumphs of these surprising and fiercely intelligent creatures.

 

Birders should be the last to be surprised by the intelligence of birds. And yet, the more I read about them, the more surprised I get. I’ve yet to read beyond this book’s introduction, but it looks like a good starting point for anyone who’s not familiar with the amazing capabilities possessed by birds.

 

The Genius of Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman
Hardcover; 352 pages
Penguin Press; April 12, 2016
ISBN: 9781594205217
$28.00