Many of my fondest childhood memories involve the sea and its myriad fishes. My father was commercial fisherman. His father was a commercial fisherman. My mother worked in the offices of Bumble Bee Seafoods. Many of my aunts, uncles and cousins either caught fish or worked in fish canneries for their livings. We all lived in a small town on the Oregon coast where fishing was the trade of most of our neighbors. The mascot of my high school was even a fisherman. It would not be wrong at all to say that I grew up surrounded by fish. Which is probably why as a young naturalist the first field guide I more or less memorized was not the Peterson Field Guide to Western Birds but rather the Golden Guide to Fishes.
I would spend hour after hour pouring over the pages of that book, reading about all the fascinating creatures to be found below the waves, earnestly hoping I would once day see some of them either come over the stern of our boat in the nets or in the catches from other boats being sorted down at the docks. The now well-worn volume still holds pride of place on my bookshelves today as a reminder that regardless of how wide my natural history interests may range, they all, just as we all and everything around us did, began in the sea.
Recent Book Reviews
Just what would you do for a pet fish? Would you pay $100 for one? $1000? $10,000? Would you lie? Cheat? Steal? Would you kidnap another person? Would you kill for one?
While this may seem hyperbolic, when it comes to the Asian Arowana, the subject of Emily Voigt’s The Dragon Behind the Glass; A True Story of Power, Obsession, and the World’s Most Coveted Fish, none of it is even slightly exaggerated. With prices that can reach into six figures and an international trade network that includes an exceptionally colorful assortment of fish enthusiasts, aquaculturists, entrepreneurs, government officials, and organized criminals, the story of the “dragon fish” is one that was ripe to be told; something Ms. Voigt does in a way that is both compelling and illuminating. Keep reading…
It usually begins in a similar manner each time. From the upstairs bathroom comes my daughter’s voice, “Papa!” From my wife in the living room, “Sweetheart – come in here please!” From the stairwell leading to her ground-floor apartment in the house we all share, my mother’s urgent inquiry “Where’s John?” Each of these calls generally mean one thing: a previously unknown resident of, or unexpected visitor to, the house has made an appearance. From firebrats and spiders to centipedes and even, during one fortnight a few years back, mice, I have caught and released – well, generally, firebrats are absurdly fragile – a wide variety of small creatures that were declared “undesirables” by a majority consensus of the humans inhabiting the residence (and even I agreed that the mice had to go). Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
This coming December, Dr. Fortey’s most recent book, “The Wood for the Trees; One Man’s Long View of Nature,” will see publication in the U.S. This new book sees the author describing what he has found on his four acres in the Chiltern Hills of Oxfordshire and what can be interpreted about the larger ecological systems of our planet from these discoveries.
In 1921, the journal Pacific Coast Avifauna published “A Distributional List of the Birds of Montana with Notes on the Migration and Nesting of the Better Known Species” by Aretas A. Saunders. Since that time it has remained the only comprehensive reference book to the bird species of that state – until now.
Whenever I am bound for some far-off destination, at least one of the books I stuff into my already over-stuffed bag will be a relevant volume of the Princeton Field Guides or Princeton Pocket Guides series. I make it a point of maintaining an extensive collection of them for just such purposes.
For such an iconic species, it is surprising to discover that prior to Alan Newsome’s pioneering studies of it, little was known about the ecological history of the Red Kangaroo. Now, thanks to decades of Dr. Newsome’s research and the additional work of his son Dr. Thomas Newsome, CSIRO Publishing has now brought out The Red Kangaroo in Central Australia; An Early Account by A. E. Newsome.
For all those who have ventured – or about to venture – into the tropics of the Americas, Cornell University Press has recently published a new book that should go far in fostering an understanding of the seemingly bewildering assortment of arthropods possible to encounter there: Insects and Other Arthropods of Tropical America by Paul E. Hanson and Kenji Nishida.
“As a people we have the right and the duty, second to none other but the right and duty of obeying the moral law, of requiring and doing justice, to protect ourselves and our children against the wasteful development of our natural resources, whether that waste is caused by the actual destruction of such resources or by making them impossible of development hereafter.”
Unlike James Taylor, I will soon be going to California not only in my mind but in an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737. I’ll be there for a week to attend to some business for Celestron in Los Angeles and to speak at the San Diego Bird Festival. Thus in keeping with my preferred practice of taking along a book or two with relevance to my destination, I’m planning to pack copies of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of California by Alvaro Jaramillo and the recently published third edition of Insects of the L.A. Basin by Charles L. Hogue and James N. Hogue in my shoulder bag.
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.
Recently, when I downloaded the latest Quirks & Quarks podcast, to my great delight I learned that Dr. Roland Kays was to be discussing his work with camera traps as well as his recently published book on the subject “Candid Creatures; How Camera Traps Reveal the Mysteries of Nature” from Johns Hopkins University Press.
For those who, like me, place great value in Oxford University Press’ brilliant Very Short Introductions volumes not only for the consistently high quality of the information they contain but also for their perfectly pocketable size (you’ll never find my beloved old Harris tweed sport coat lacking one in its lower left-hand pocket), I am happy to report that 2016 will see a number of new natural history related titles added to the series’ expanding roster.