It’s widely known among bird watchers as well as general naturalists – both amateur and professional alike – that for as long as humans have been making scientific studies of bird populations, there has been a marked decline in the numbers of many species and an outright disappearance of far more than might be thought ecologically healthy for the planet. However what is not nearly as well known are the circumstances surrounding many of these declines and extinctions. For one thing, contrary to what might commonly be assumed, not all of them are directly the result of human activity, nor are they always irreversible.
As increasing attention has been paid by the popular press to the health of bird populations, the number of books taking up the subject – particularly over the past decade – has not surprisingly also increased. Many of these have included both dire warnings and stirring calls to action, however few have done what has really been needed for a wider public understanding of the subject to be achieved – an honest facing up to the true challenges of bird conservation, both in general as well as in regard to some of the field’s most difficult cases. Which is why Facing Extinction; the World’s Rarest Birds and the Race to Save Them is such a very welcome book indeed. Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
For as many books as Robert Michael Pyle has written, for all the poems of his I’ve read in various periodicals – as well as those I’ve heard him weave into the many talks I’ve heard him deliver, I was astonished to learn that until the publication of Evolution of the Genus Iris his name had not graced the cover of a book dedicated entirely to his poems. Not that he hasn’t written sufficient verses to fill an entire bookshelf with such tomes… Indeed, many – including myself – would argue that his prose often approaches poetry in its lyrical playfulness. Keep reading…
The many ways in which Galápagos Islands are extraordinary is a subject that has been taken up by naturalists, novelists, and explorers for centuries. From Darwin and Melville to William Beebe to the Grants, various aspects of the islands’ geology, flora, and fauna have been chronicled, often with superb skill and profound insight, in different forms and for diverse purposes. However what has, it may be argued, been given too little attention in any one single book is the overall natural history of the islands that comprise the Galápagos archipelago; which is why Henry Nicholls’ recently published book The Galápagos; A Natural History is such a very welcome addition to the corpus of works pertaining to the islands. Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
With a publication date timed to coincide with the 125th anniversary of its namesake organization, the fourth edition of the RSPB Handbook of British Birds by Peter Holden and Tim Cleeves includes detailed profiles of the 270 most common bird species found in Britain and Ireland as well as slightly shorter entries addressing 26 additional(…)
Like any good naturalist, whenever I go traveling, or even when I’m just strolling around my own hometown, I often find myself examining the flora and fauna surrounding me. However when visiting large cities, this can sometimes be tricky, particularly in the flora category as so many different species – both native and non-native –(…)
As with any species that finds itself competing with humans for food, habitat, or any other of life’s necessities, the Double-crested Cormorant is often seen as a pest. However when their life history is closely examined and explained, as it is in The Double-Crested Cormorant; Plight of a Feathered Pariah by Linda R. Wires, they may(…)
With summer in full swing, many people are heading off for vacation. For those of us in the Pacific Northwest, that often means Vancouver Island, particularly beautiful Victoria and its surroundings.
Just about the time I was beginning to become concerned that I hadn’t recently heard of a new book by Robert Michael Pyle, news reached me of the publication of Evolution of the Genus Iris, his first book of poetry.
Two new books on natural history subjects are being released this week from Princeton University Press: The Amazing World of Flyingfish by Steve N. G. Howell, and A Sparrowhawk’s Lament: How British Breeding Birds of Prey Are Faring by David Cobham with Bruce Pearson and a foreword by Chris Packham.
Fascinating as the 1,300-odd species of sharks, skates, rays, and chimaeras are, they are still unfortunately among the most popularly misunderstood creatures on the planet. Television and movies, far from harnessing those powerful media’s immense communicative power to help alleviate this problem generally only make it worse.
From a footnote to the article “Homage to Santa Rosalia or Why Are There So Many Kinds of Animals?” by G. E. Hutchinson as published May-June, 1959 edition of The American Naturalist:
The Well-equipped Naturalist
One of the best aspects of cultivating a passion in any of the activities classifiable under the general category of natural history is that one is never bored. Irrespective of wherever you may be – from mountain meadow to shopping mall parking lot – there is almost certainly some item of the natural world that calls out (sometimes even literally) to be examined more closely and pondered. Keep reading…
When I first learned of the Wingscapes AutoFeeder, I’ll admit – I was a bit skeptical. After all, I’d fed birds in my back garden for years using traditional feeders and, aside from having to refill them a bit too often when the winter irruptions of Pine Siskins came through and cleaning the gunk out of the bottom of the seed chamber when the rains beat down heavy enough for water to get into them, they worked as well as I would have expected. So what possible benefits could a time-based dispensing feeder give me? As it turns out, quite a lot of them actually. Keep reading…
As I hoisted my tripod and spotting scope up onto my shoulder, it occurred to me that it had been well over a year since I had last done so. My life had taken somewhat of a downward detour and I had ceased doing many of the things that I had for so long loved doing. They just didn’t seem important anymore – and besides, I had other more important things troubling my mind. My business had for all practical purposes failed due to uncollected customer debt, my search for more stable employment had yielded nothing but rejections, and my family life had become increasingly stressful with the progression of my daughter into her teen years and my mother into old age. Taking the time to go bird watching just seemed trivial; a waste of time. Keep reading…
“I got into bird watching because I discovered I could be on a murder scene and there’d be birds. So I got these little binoculars I’d carry in my pocket because I had to have some connection to the natural world – or the sane world – if I was going to do this.”