Book News

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
$24.95

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
$45.00

Hummingbirds: Volume 1Hummingbirds: Volume 1 (North America, Central America & Caribbean)
by John C. Arvin

From Gorgas Science Foundation:

As the distinguished ornithologist Alfred Newton noted in 1881, “There is hardly a precious stone ruby, amethyst, sapphire, emerald, or topaz the name of which may not fitly, and without any exaggeration, be employed in regard to hummingbirds.”

For thousands of years, these dazzling little birds have captivated and inspired mankind. Hummingbird symbols and impressions can be found in prehistoric petroglyphs, deities, totems, costumes, pottery, and more.

From the world s smallest bird, the Cuban Bee Hummingbird, which weighs less than a penny, to the South American Sword-billed Hummingbird, the only bird which has a bill longer than the length of its own body, hummingbirds have adapted to live and thrive in an incredible assortment of habitats. Found only in the Americas, over 370 species range from Canada to Chile and the Caribbean islands.

In celebration of these flying jewels, Gorgas Science Foundation has worked for years to publish volume one of a two volume set of large format, fine-art books which showcase the remarkable beauty and diversity of hummingbirds. Every species of hummingbird has been illustrated in a manner that showcases both male and female, an aspect of their behavior, and a glimpse into their natural environment.

Measuring in at 12 x 16 inches in size, 216 pages in length, and containing 100 full color plates, which feature 127 species of hummingbird, this book is big, bold, and beautiful!

The first of a two volume set, this first volume showcases the 127 species of hummingbird found throughout North America, Central America, and the Caribbean Islands.

Proceeds from the sale of this volume will help go towards the production and publication of volume 2.

 

Wow. If you thought the days of the old-school family monograph were gone, then think again. As you can see, this book is huge and quite pleasing to the eye (here’s a more in-depth look inside, but trust me, the images on the web don’t do the art justice!). If you like hummingbirds – or large, gorgeous bird books – this is a bargain.

comparison of Hummingbirds Volume 1 and the Sibley Guide hummingbird plate comparison

 

Hummingbirds: Volume 1
by John C. Arvin
Hardcover; 216 pages
Gorgas Science Foundation; June 12, 2016
ISBN: 9781615845149
$60.00

New Book: Soar

June 28, 2016 | Comments (0)

SoarSoar
by Tracy Edward Wymer

From Aladdin (Simon & Schuster):

Seventh grader Eddie is determined to honor his father’s legacy and win the school science fair in this fun and quirky debut novel.

Eddie learned everything there is to know about birding from his dad, including the legend of the Golden Eagle, which Dad claimed he saw once down near Miss Dorothy’s pond. According to his dad, the Golden Eagle had wings wider than a creek and talons the size of bulldozer claws. But when Eddie was in sixth grade, Dad “flew away” for good, leaving Eddie on his own to await the return of the elusive raptor.

Now Eddie is starting seventh grade and trying to impress Gabriella, the new girl in town. The annual seventh grade Science Symposium (which Dad famously won) is looming, and Eddie is determined to claim the blue ribbon for himself. With Mr. Dover, the science teacher who was Dad’s birding rival, seemingly against him, and with Mouton, the class bully, making his life miserable on all fronts, Eddie is determined to overcome everything and live up to Dad’s memory. Can Eddie soar and make his dream take flight?

 

This is a rare birding-related novel for elementary to middle schoolers (approximately 8-12 year olds).

 

Soar
by Tracy Edward Wymer
Hardcover; 288 pages
Aladdin; July 5, 2016
ISBN: 9781481447119
$17.99

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big YearLost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year
by Neil Hayward

From Bloomsbury:

Early in 2013 Neil Hayward was at a crossroads. He didn’t want to open a bakery or whatever else executives do when they quit a lucrative but unfulfilling job. He didn’t want to think about his failed relationship with “the one” or his potential for ruining a new relationship with “the next one.” And he almost certainly didn’t want to think about turning forty. And so instead he went birding.

Birding was a lifelong passion. It was only among the birds that Neil found a calm that had eluded him in the confusing world of humans. But this time he also found competition. His growing list of species reluctantly catapulted him into a Big Year–a race to find the most birds in one year. His peregrinations across twenty-eight states and six provinces in search of exotic species took him to a hoarfrost-covered forest in Massachusetts to find a Fieldfare; to Lake Havasu, Arizona, to see a rare Nutting’s Flycatcher; and to Vancouver for the Red-flanked Bluetail. Neil’s Big Year was as unplanned as it was accidental: It was the perfect distraction to life.

Neil shocked the birding world by finding 749 species of bird and breaking the long-standing Big Year record. He also surprised himself: During his time among the hummingbirds, tanagers, and boobies, he found a renewed sense of confidence and hope about the world and his place in it.

 

Yes, another big year book. This one has plenty of birds, Hayward did break the ABA record after all (sorry, but I don’t consider that a spoiler since the publisher mentions it above). But it also has a great story outside of the birds, which makes this a good read even if you aren’t a fan of the big-year-type book.

 

Lost Among the Birds: Accidentally Finding Myself in One Very Big Year
by Neil Hayward
Hardcover; 416 pages
Bloomsbury; June 7, 2016
ISBN: 9781632865793
$28.00

Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Atlantic Forest of Southeast BrazilWildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Atlantic Forest of Southeast Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro
by Robert S. Ridgely, John A. Gwynne, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel

From Cornell University Press:

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world and is one of the planet’s richest places for bird diversity, especially when it comes to the number of endemic species. Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region is one of the most dazzling of all. Immediately surrounding São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, this area of Brazil is also a relatively accessible area to birders from around the world.

In the Birds of Brazil Field Guides, the Wildlife Conservation Society brings together a top international team to do justice to the incredible diversity of Brazilian birds. This second guide presents 927 bird species, 863 illustrated, that occur in just the southeastern Atlantic Forest biome (Mata Atlântica in Portuguese). Of these species, 140 are endemic and 105 near endemic to just this region; 83 of these are threatened. Modern and compact, this field guide provides illustrations of unparalleled quality, key field marks, and regional range maps to facilitate easy recognition of all species normally occurring in this vibrant and critically important area of Brazil.

 

The first field guide in this series – for The Pantanal and Cerrado of Central Brazil – was published six years ago, so I’ve been concerned that the series wouldn’t continue. That would’ve been a shame, as these guides highlight regions and ecosystems in great peril. The Atlantic Forest covered here is one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. For that reason alone, I’m happy to see this published. Plus, even though I’ve yet to see this guide in person, I have every expectation that it is just as good as the previous WCS Birds of Brazil guide.

 

Wildlife Conservation Society Birds of Brazil: The Atlantic Forest of Southeast Brazil, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro
by Robert S. Ridgely, John A. Gwynne, Guy Tudor, and Martha Argel
Paperback; 432 pages
Cornell University Press (Comstock Publishing Associates); June 14, 2016
ISBN: 9781501704536
$35.00

Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North AmericaPeterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America
by Stephen A. Shunk

From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt:

A complete guide to the natural history, ecology, and conservation of North America’s 23 woodpecker species.

From the iconic Woody Woodpecker to the ubiquitous Northern Flicker, woodpeckers have long captivated our attention. Their astonishing anatomy makes them one of the most specialized bird families in the world, and their keystone ecological roles in our forests and woodlands makes them some of the most important birds on the continent.

This comprehensive and authoritative guide to the natural history, ecology, and conservation of North America’s 23 woodpecker species goes far beyond identification. It explores their unique anatomy and their fascinating and often comical behaviors; it covers each species’ North American conservation status; and it showcases over 250 stunning photographs of woodpeckers in their natural habitats, plus easy-to-read figures and range maps. This reference guide is an essential addition to every birder’s library.

 

Woodpeckers are awesome. If you’d like to know more about them – or just see some incredible photos – this is an excellent place to start.

 

Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America
by Stephen A. Shunk
Hardcover; 320 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 10, 2016
ISBN: 9780618739950
$35.00

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