When it comes to states, few are more difficult to approach from a natural history perspective than California. Its long, narrow shape combined with a Pacific Ocean-facing coastline running the entire length of one side join with a variety of eco-regions that range from desert to sub-alpine to create a level of diversity that’s seen in almost no other U.S. or Mexican state, or Canadian province. Indeed, it’s no wonder that California is the only U.S. state to have an entire series of books running to over one hundred volumes solely dedicated to the various facets of its own natural history. The official California bird list alone totals 662 species – the highest number of any U.S. state.
Which is why when Alvaro Jaramillo and Brian E. Small set out to write the new American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of California, they had quite a job ahead of them. As the series of field guides in which it is now included is intended not to be comprehensive but rather to be oriented toward the more commonly seen species, which of the 662 were to be left out to bring the final included total down to a much more manageable 308? Keep reading…
Recent Book Reviews
A friend of mine once asked “why don’t people watch insects the same way they watch birds?” It’s a fair question. After all, many insects – such as butterflies and a good many beetles – are distinctively patterned or colored in such a way that an amateur could learn to identify them on sight – and in truth, butterfly watching does indeed have a certain number of devotees. But then as I began to explain to him that while there are a “manageable” variety of birds to be seen most regions, the number of insect species found in similarly sized areas would be positively bewildering. Add to this the fact that many insects are cryptic in their habits, and that depending on the family – or even the order in some cases – a good number are only minimally described or for that matter even distinguishable from one another by anyone with less than an entomology degree, and the answer becomes obvious. Keep reading…
As one who not only grew up in a rural area where hunting is as much a normal part of life as going to school, having a job, or raising a family, but who also spent a decade working for one of the world’s most well known hunting equipment companies – Leupold – I likely have a somewhat different perspective on it than many modern naturalists. However on the other hand, I likely also have a perspective on hunting that may be a bit more recognizable to the naturalists of yore whose tools often included a shotgun or rifle. Yet be that as it all may, I have one fairly basic rule that I learned from my father when I was a boy that I apply when assessing any type of hunting: are you going to eat what you shoot? Keep reading…
Newly Noted Books
When you really come right down to it, it’s the little things that matter most; the small, too easily overlooked details that are the foundation upon which so much ultimately depends. In the oceans it’s the myriad forms of plankton that form the foundation of the food chains upon which so much of the life there depends, and on land it’s the mosses, fungi, lichen, and plants that live along the ground in the boundary layer between the earth and the atmosphere that likewise keep so many ecological systems running.
If you have a favorite member of the genus Capra, then José R. Castelló has most certainly got your goat in his forthcoming book Bovids of the World; Antelopes, Gazelles, Cattle, Goats, Sheep, and Relatives from Princeton University Press. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist – and I suspect neither could you given the chance.)
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, that was itself covered by a larger rock, you likely already know that Baby Birds : An Artist Looks into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose was officially published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt today.
When I initially opened the package containing the advance reading copy of Peter B. Logan’s Audubon; America’s Greatest Naturalist and His Journey of Discovery to Labrador that had been sent to me from Ashbryn Press, I must admit that I had not previously heard of Ashbryn Press, or Peter B. Logan for that matter. However…
What with so many of the local fruit trees either in or coming in to bloom right now, I took down a copy of a Johns Hopkins University Press backlist book, William Kerrigan’s Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard; A Cultural History, that was sent to me last year in a shipment of new review copies from that fine publishing house. In it was a note saying “Thought you might be interested in this as well.” Indeed, I remember thinking that it did seem interesting, but what with all the new books needing attention, I never quite got to it.
Peterson Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians of Eastern and Central North America, Fourth Edition
As all good herpetologists – be they amateur or professional – likely know, it’s been roughly twenty years since the third edition of “A Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America” was published. And as might be assumed, quite a lot has changed in the field since that time.
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.
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.
Those who enjoyed Mark Witton’s brilliant book Pterosaurs: Natural History, Evolution, Anatomy will be no doubt interested to learn – if they didn’t know it already – that he gave a fascinating interview to Liz Martin of Palaeocast. Of course, if you haven’t yet read his book I most heartily encourage you to listen to the interview at your earliest convenience, but be warned – it will have you making a bee line for your nearest book shop to secure a copy of Pterosaurs for yourself.