The sound is like nothing else on earth.
I was sound asleep, breathing in the fresh, clean air of the Berkshire countryside that drifted into my room through an open window near the bed, when I was jerked into consciousness by what I at first thought was a woman screaming. As I lay there in the dark, asking myself just what it was that I heard, another scream burst through the midnight silence, followed quickly by two more. By that time it was clear to me that it wasn’t a human scream, but for the life of me I couldn’t find anything in my brain to which it might be connected. More mammalian than avian, I finally drifted back off to sleep after some time, puzzling over the just what it might have been.
It was a fox – a Red Fox, Vulpes vulpes to be precise.
All those to whom I described the sound the next morning identified it immediately. Some said they found it unnerving; frightening even. Others thought it to be an integral part of the background to life in the English countryside. As for me, growing up in the Pacific Northwest where Gray Fox, Urocyon cineroargenteus, are far more common than Red Fox, it was my first encounter – albeit only auditory – with one. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
It was with no small amount of wholly unintentional irony that I began reading Mark Essig’s Lesser Beasts; A Snout-to-Tail History of the Humble Pig while eating a ham sandwich. Such is the ubiquity of pigs. Yet for all the many ways the lives of modern humans have and to this day continue to intersect with the domesticated version of Sus scrofa, the European Wild Boar, most of us – even those who count ourselves naturalists – give little, if indeed any, thought to the natural history of the pig. Just as we do with most of the other creatures both wild and domestic that have long lived in close proximity to us, we too often fail to perceive just how much or for how long pigs have played important roles in the collective life of our own species. Perhaps that is why I found Essig’s book so utterly engrossing; it not only brought to my attention a wealth of information previously unknown to me, it helped me to understand just what amazing creatures pigs are. Keep reading…
Merriam Webster defines taxonomy as
1: the study of the general principles of scientific classification: systematics
2: classification; especially: orderly classification of plants and animals according to their presumed natural relationships
Many people, including a sizable portion of naturalists, might add a third definition:
3: the seemingly random attachment of names to plants and animals in a language no one speaks anymore; see also impenetrable, confusing Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
One only need look at the breath-taking close-up photo adorning the cover of Rupert Soskin’s new Metamorphosis; Astonishing Insect Transformations from Bloomsbury to immediately assume that this is going to be quite a remarkable book.
As more and more of the American population moves from the countryside into the cites and suburbs, the expansion of those cities and suburbs into what was once the countryside frequently brings humans into contact with the wildlife that is trying to adapt to the new conditions brought about by the proximity of large numbers of people.
More than most any animal other than the kangaroo, the Dingo is synonymous with the Australian outback. But just as with so many creatures that have come into conflict with humans, the Dingo has gotten a bit of a bad rap. However when their history is examined and thoughtfully considered, they are actually quite fascinating.
Kudos indeed to the folks at Bloomsbury Sigma for thinking of The Well-read Naturalist when rolling out the advance notices for Kathryn Harkup’s new book A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie. After all, what if not ingenious distillations of the natural world – as well as important clues to the identity of the culprit – were the classic poisons featured in Dame Agatha’s famous mystery novels?
Come September, Alvaro Jaramillo and Brian E. Small’s Field Guide to Birds of California will become the newest addition to the American Birding Association’s state field guide series from Scott & Nix.
With my preparations getting in to full swing for my upcoming journey to England and the Birdfair, it was fortuitous indeed that a copy of Mark Avery and Keith Betton’s “Behind the Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers” arrived from Pelagic Publishing.
Sitting comfortably with a friend in two ancient chairs by the window at The Fox & Hounds in the Berkshire village of Theale, waiting for the rain to stop in order that we might continue with our plans of having a look at the waterfowl on Hosehill Lake, my friend casually declared “That’s the second time they’ve been up there.”
The Well-equipped Naturalist
For as long as I’ve ventured afield in search of whatever nature might wish to show me, I’ve gone fully vested. That is to say, I’ve worn a field vest. Not that I have anything against day packs or shoulder bags, mind you; I just find that vests (or as my British friends call them, waistcoats) allow me to carry what I need in a way that allows me easy access to all of it while still letting me move about with a feeling of being unencumbered.
Most every hunter or angler I ever met had every bit as deep an interest in one area of natural history of another as any other naturalist of my acquaintance. Indeed, were it not for such famous hunters and anglers of years past, we would not have some of the important collections in natural history museums that we do today.
While each episode of Palaeocast is a delightful sojourn in itself into the world of paleontology, I was particularly happy to discover that Episode 18: Trilobites devotes the better part of an hour to an interview with none other than Professor Richard Fortey of the Natural History Museum.