Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.
How to Be a Better Birder, Derek Lovitch, Princeton University Press, 2012, soft cover 192 pages with illustrations and maps.
This book actually can help you be a better birder. Lovitch assumes you know something about birding (but you needn't), then seeks to sharpen and add to your skills with useful information clearly and cleanly presented.
Lovitch will help you better understand the importance to your success of habitat, geography, weather, birding at night, vagrants, birding with a purpose, and more. The publisher calls it, correctly, a crash course in advanced birding combining old-fashioned observation skills with the new technology that has so changed the birding experience.
Lovitch owns Freeport Wild Bird Supply in Maine. He has worked on various birding research and education projects in the United States, and has written for birding magazines. He comes at his subjects more or less as casual birders might, to the benefit of the reader.
When it comes to information, we live in a bite-sized world. Think Twitter, life reduced to a handful of key strokes. Or the format of so many magazines: pages filled with bits and blurbs of information, highlighted with color and borders. Ditto Web pages. Long is out. Brief is in.
So, Jonathan Alderfer's new book from National Geographic -- "Bird Watcher's Bible" fits perfectly today. Alderfer, his co-authors, his editors and designers have created an impressively informative book that makes the facts and stories about all aspects of birds and their lives exceptionally available. Brief is in.
The book also is entertaining in the way we seem to approach much entertainment these days -- quick takes presented in visually exciting ways.
Open this book to any page.There will be two or three or four items to catch your eye, feed your curiosity about birds, answer your questions. Page 147, opened at random: Photo of flamingo and its chick (there is a photo or two or a graphic on each of the book's 390 pages), text continuing a succinct explanation of eggs; and a boxed 27-word explanation of the source of the word "duck." The latter is a surprising and simply unexpected treat.
There is of course a plan for all of this, order in the usual book fashion -- chapters, index, suggestions for further reading, bios of Alderfer and his three co-contributors. There also are 48 brief (of course) birdographies of a wide range of birds, chickadee to dodo, a bonus.
Hundreds of artists and photographers are represented here. Their work is exceptional. Paging through the book for illustrations alone would be rewarding. The designers, people whose work on books often is unnoticed for simplicity and blandness, are an active part of this effort. They have given book's contents beautiful and functional lives. Typography might not be your thing, but you will appreciate the work seen here.
The book is $40, hardcover, sewn binding, an effort meant to last. It would be a wonderful gift for a friend, loved one, or yourself. It easily ranks with the top three or four bird books published in 2012. It certainly makes the best all-encompassing effort.
You can see from the illustration that the copy I used for this review came from the Hennepin County library.
We often see cormorants perched low above or near water with their wings spread. The common belief, endorsed many times in birding books and publications, is that cormorants have no oil gland.
All birds have an oil gland at the base of their tail, the uropygial gland. Using their bills, birds take oil and spread it over their feathers as maintenance. The oil has a waterproofing quality. If cormorants had no oil gland, they certainly would need to dry out. Soaking wet is not conducive to flight.
In a new and wonderful book, “Rare Encounters with Ordinary Birds,” author Lyanda Lynn Haupt discusses this erroneous view of cormorant biology, among many other delightfully interesting subjects.
This is not a biology book. This is not a facts-only book to supplement your field guides. This is a special collection of very well written stories and observations about the fascinating behaviors common birds offer if only we stop and watch.
Haupt watched cormorants, then did some research. She tells us that cormorants indeed have an oil gland. How could a diving bird, similar in behavior to loons and grebes and some duck species, evolve with such an obvious missing part?
Well, they didn’t. The gland is there, but cormorant feathers have evolved to be wettable.
Feathers lock together with edges of barbules and hooklets that zip up, providing protection from the elements. Cormorants’ feathers zip less tightly, allowing some water to enter. This gives the bird more weight, diminishing buoyancy, easing the effort of diving. For the same reason cormorant bones are more dense than bones of other birds.
The cormorant common to Minnesota, our much-aligned Double-crested Cormorant, does indeed spread it wings to dry. In the Pacific Northwest, were Haupt lives, Pelagic Cormorants do the wing-spread thing now and then, while Brandt’s Cormorant does it rarely.
Haupt’s book is driven by curiosity and an understanding that simply taking the time to look, even at or particularly at common birds, is a rewarding way to bird. There is more to it than meets the eye if you make the effort to look closely.
Other chapters in her book visit listing, Varied Thrushes, woodpeckers pounding on your house, making two bird species (or more!) from one, grouse, swifts, Winter Wren, sparrows, crows, and migration. She writes with grace, catching in these stories the same flashes of iridescence that sometimes burst from feathers.
I found this book at the Hennepin County Library. Published several years ago by Sasquastch Books in Seattle in soft-cover book with 191 pages the book is available from Amazon (as of Oct. 12) for $10.36. It is one of the best birding books I’ve read in a long time. It will make birding more interesting for you or a friend.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is offering a glimpse of recent work recording on film and video the 39 species of Birds of Paradise. This is in anticipation of publication of a book about these amazing and unique creatures. The video is worth a look, maybe two. There is nothing else in the bird world -- the entire world -- like Birds of Paradise. Other short bird videos also are available on the site.
“The Last of the Curlews is a wonderful book about birds. It’s a fictionalized account of the lives of the last pair of Eskimo Curlews, last as in a species about to be gone forever. It was published in 1955, selling over three million copies. Its author, Canadian Fred Bodsworth, died Sept. 15. His book remains in print (Amazon, $10.17 Thursday morning). It’s a classic in birding literature, one of the finest fiction accounts of natural history. What we lose when a species goes extinct is made clear.
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