Featured Review

Birds Both Beautiful and Bewildering

Birds Both Beautiful and Bewildering

When it comes to bird families whose members are tricky to learn to identify, gulls and warblers would likely be near the top of most any bird watcher’s list. However while gulls do present the challenges of multi-year plumage cycles and frequent identity-confounding hybridizations, they are fairly large, often lethargic birds that can commonly be approached and observed for lengthy periods of time. Warblers, on the other hand, are very small feathered darts that even when they do perch to glean are rarely stationary for more than a second or two. Yet while a number of books have been published on learning to identify gulls, warblers have generally been treated as simply another family to puzzle out like the rest included in field guides.

Which is why bird watchers in the U.S. and Canada should be exceptionally glad to learn of the publication of The Warbler Guide from Princeton University Press. Written by Tom Stephenson and Scott Whittle – both accomplished birders as well as highly respected birding guides – and illustrated by Catherine Hamilton, this new 560 page tome is wholly dedicated to the identification of the 56 species of warblers that it is possible to see in mainland North America north of the U.S. – Mexico border. Keep reading…

Recent Book Reviews

Borrowing Against the Future

Borrowing Against the Future

When Charles Bowden’s Killing the Hidden Waters was first published in 1977, the population of Arizona – the U.S. state in which he was then living and part of the region in which so much of his narrative takes place – was a little under two-and-a-half million people. In 2003, the year in which his new introduction “What I Learned Watching the Wells Go Down” was added to the fifth paperback printing of the book, the state’s population had risen to over five million. Most who read it thought it both inspired and brilliant, but according to his opening words in the new introduction, he “went wrong:”

The faucet in the kitchen always becomes the reality we believe, and the periodic droughts, one of which for much of the nineties as savaged the West, remain a fantasy. This happens each and every day as the water roars from the faucet and the skies remain dangerously blue. We believe in the immediate moment and decide the future can and will magically take care of itself.

Keep reading…

All Your Shark Questions Answered

All Your Shark Questions Answered

Few if any creatures that swim in the sea loom larger in the popular imagination than sharks. Unfortunately, the images they call to mind in far too many people are those of terror and bloodshed. While some species are indeed fear-inspiring in appearance and – in regard to other sea creatures – feeding habits, a far larger number are far more fascinating than fearsome. And when the facts about their physiology, life history, and behavior are known, even those most commonly popularly depicted as man-eating monsters lose their nightmarish aura and become the complex, superbly evolved and ecologically important creatures that they truly are. Keep reading…

Newly Noted Books

Sharks, Rays, and Chimeras of California

Sharks, Rays, and Chimeras of California

All those who have an interest in the natural history of California will be delighted to know – if they don’t already – that volume seventy-one in the superb California Natural History Guides series from the University of California Press is devoted to the Sharks, Rays, and Chimeras of California.

Sharks of the World

Sharks of the World

Those who know sharks know not just how fascinating they are but also how remarkably diverse they are from species to species as well. To come to understand this for yourself, it’s best to consult a comprehensive field guide – and when it comes to field guides to sharks, none can compare to the Princeton Field Guides series volume Sharks of the World.

RSPB Handbook of British Birds, Fourth Edition

RSPB Handbook of British Birds, Fourth Edition

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(…)

Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City

Field Guide to the Street Trees of New York City

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 –(…)

The Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant

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(…)

Nature Guide to the Victoria Region

Nature Guide to the Victoria Region

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.

Evolution of the Genus Iris

Evolution of the Genus Iris

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 From Princeton University Press

Two From Princeton University Press

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.

Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide

Sharks: The Animal Answer Guide

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.

The Well-equipped Naturalist

Opticron BGA Classic 7x36mm Binocular

Opticron BGA Classic 7x36mm Binocular

Smaller than a conventional full sized binocular but larger than both compact and the increasingly ubiquitous 32mm objective “mid-sized” models, the BGA Classic 7x36mm breaks from both the magnification and objective diameter conventions to provide a highly versatile binocular that is well-suited as both a primary a well as a “sidekick” model.

The Leica Monovid 8x20mm

The Leica Monovid 8x20mm

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(…)

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Afield

Resurrection

Resurrection

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…

Marginalia

On the Importance of Nature to Mental Health

On the Importance of Nature to Mental Health

“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.”

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