Monday, November 23, 2015
1) Hoch, Greg. Booming from the Mists of Nowhere: The Story of the Greater Prairie-Chicken. 2015. University of Iowa Press. Paperback: 126 pages. Price: $19.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: For ten months of the year, the prairie-chicken’s drab colors allow it to disappear into the landscape. However, in April and May this grouse is one of the most outrageously flamboyant birds in North America. Competing with each other for the attention of females, males gather before dawn in an explosion of sights and sounds—“booming from the mists of nowhere,” as Aldo Leopold wrote decades ago. There’s nothing else like it, and it is perilously close to being lost. In this book, ecologist Greg Hoch shows that we can ensure that this iconic bird flourishes once again.
Skillfully interweaving lyrical accounts from early settlers, hunters, and pioneer naturalists with recent scientific research on the grouse and its favored grasslands, Hoch reveals that the prairie-chicken played a key role in the American settlement of the Midwest. Many hungry pioneers regularly shot and ate the bird, as well as trapping hundreds of thousands, shipping them eastward by the trainload for coastal suppers. As a result of both hunting and habitat loss, the bird’s numbers plummeted to extinction across 90 percent of its original habitat. Iowa, whose tallgrass prairies formed the very center of the greater prairie-chicken’s range, no longer supports a native population of the bird most symbolic of prairie habitat.
The steep decline in the prairie-chicken population is one of the great tragedies of twentieth-century wildlife management and agricultural practices. However, Hoch gives us reason for optimism. These birds can thrive in agriculturally productive grasslands. Careful grazing, reduced use of pesticides, well-placed wildlife corridors, planned burning, higher plant, animal, and insect diversity: these are the keys. If enough blocks of healthy grasslands are scattered over the midwestern landscape, there will be prairie-chickens—and many of their fellow creatures of the tall grasses. Farmers, ranchers, conservationists, and citizens can reverse the decline of grassland birds and insure that future generations will hear the booming of the prairie-chicken.
RECOMMENDATION: A readable introduction to the species.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
1) Wilson, Joseph S. and Olivia J. Messinger Carril. The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees. 2015. Princeton University Press. Paperback: 288 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The Bees in Your Backyard provides an engaging introduction to the roughly 4,000 different bee species found in the United States and Canada, dispelling common myths about bees while offering essential tips for telling them apart in the field.
The book features more than 900 stunning color photos of the bees living all around us—in our gardens and parks, along nature trails, and in the wild spaces between. It describes their natural history, including where they live, how they gather food, their role as pollinators, and even how to attract them to your own backyard. Ideal for amateur naturalists and experts alike, it gives detailed accounts of every bee family and genus in North America, describing key identification features, distributions, diets, nesting habits, and more.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for those with a serious interest in the bees of the region.
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
1) Hancock, Peter & Ingrid Weiersbye. Birds of Botswana. 2015. Princeton University Press. Paperback: 398 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Here is the ultimate field guide to Botswana’s stunningly diverse birdlife. Covering all 597 species recorded to date, Birds of Botswana features more than 1,200 superb color illustrations, detailed species accounts, seasonality and breeding bars, and a color distribution map for each species. Drawing on the latest regional and national data, the book highlights the best birding areas in Botswana, provides helpful tips on where and when to see key species, and depicts special races and morphs specific to Botswana. This is the first birding guide written by a Botswana-based ornithologist and the only one dedicated specifically to Botswana.
Portable and easy to use, Birds of Botswana is the essential travel companion for anyone visiting this remarkable country.
RECOMMENDATION: A must have for anyone with an interest in the birds of Botswana.
Friday, November 13, 2015
1) Forshaw, Joseph and William Cooper. Pigeons and Doves in Australia. 2015. CSIRO Publishing. Hardbound: 332 pages. Price: $185.00 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Possibly the most successful urban birds, pigeons and doves in the Order Columbiformes are one of the most easily recognised groups. They are an ancient and very successful group with an almost worldwide distribution and are most strongly represented in tropical and subtropical regions, including Australia. In most species simple plumage patterns feature mainly grey and brown with black, white or dull reddish markings, but the highly colourful fruit-doves include some of the most beautiful of all birds.
From dense rainforests of north Queensland, where brilliantly plumaged Superb Fruit-Doves Ptilinopus superbus are heard more easily than seen, to cold, windswept heathlands of Tasmania, where Brush Bronzewings Phaps elegans are locally common, most regions of Australia are frequented by one or more species. For more than a century after arrival of the First Fleet, interest in these birds focused on the eating qualities of larger species. In addition to contributing to declines of local populations in some parts of Australia, excessive hunting brought about the extinction of two species on Lord Howe Island and another species on Norfolk Island.
In Pigeons and Doves in Australia, Joseph Forshaw and William Cooper have summarised our current knowledge of all species, including those occurring on Christmas, Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands, and with superb artwork have given readers a visual appreciation of the birds in their natural habitats. Historical accounts of extinct species are also included. Detailed information on management practices for all species is presented, ensuring that Pigeons and Doves in Australia will become the standard reference work on these birds for ornithologists and aviculturists.
RECOMMENDATION: A MUST have for anyone who's a fan of Cooper's artwork. Also for anyone that collects bird family monographs or has a serious interest in the birds of Australia.
2) Lish, James W.. Winter's Hawk: Red-tails on the Southern Plains. 2015. University of Oklahoma Press. Paperback: 166 pages. Price: $24.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Every autumn, thousands of migrating Red-tailed Hawks arrive on the southern Great Plains to spend the winter, and Oklahoma is one of the best places to observe this amazing phenomenon. Above the prairie, as Oscar Hammerstein wrote, they make “lazy circles in the sky,” but not for entertainment, theirs or ours. Author Jim Lish draws on more than forty years’ experience as a professional biologist and ornithologist to present almost two hundred color photographs of Red-tails and relate important lessons in southern Great Plains biodiversity, underscoring the place of the Red-tailed Hawk in Oklahoma’s tallgrass prairie ecology.
Winter’s Hawk introduces the reader to the hawk’s biology, social behavior, and useful role in limiting destructive rodent populations. In sharing many anecdotes from his long experience in the field, Lish describes the hunting techniques of Red-tails, their competition with other raptors, and their behavior in the presence of human observers. He describes the subtle differences in plumage, and other characteristics between the various subspecies of Red-tailed Hawks that winter here. His account of their behavior includes intergenerational warfare, in which young Red-tails are frequently the losers. Detailed and scientifically accurate, this informal, jargon-free account will appeal to birders, sportsmen, naturalists, and falconers as well as biologists.
Red-tails can see ultraviolet light, which enables them to easily locate trails left by rodents. Cotton rats are by far their most important winter food, but they also eat carrion, large snakes, medium-sized mammals, and smaller birds. The main motive for the birds’ behavior, Lish reminds us, is survival, and he includes birds’-eye views of the hazards Red-tails face: foot injuries, damage to feathers, starvation, electrocution, and illegal shooting.
A treasure trove of rich descriptive writing and astonishing photographs, Winter’s Hawk inspires readers to help preserve these magnificent birds of prey so that future generations may see a Red-tail standing sentinel over a field or circling above it.
RECOMMENDATION: A well illustrated introduction to the winter ecology of this species.
Thursday, November 12, 2015
1) Garrigues, Richard. Photo Guide to Birds of Costa Rica. 2015. Comstock/Cornell. Paperback: 256 pages. Price: $24.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Few ecosystem destinations are as abundant in their biodiversity as Costa Rica. Having the right field guides in hand can make all the difference when you're enjoying the country’s birdlife. Photo Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, which features 549 excellent photographs, is designed to be equally useful for two distinct sets of readers. First are birders new to birding—or new to birding in Costa Rica—who want a guide to the birds that one is most likely to see, as well as to a few of the rarer species that one would hope to encounter. It treats more than 40 percent (365) of the species known from Costa Rica but is a guide to at least 75 percent of the birds commonly seen in a week or so of birding. The book will also be welcomed by experienced birders in search of a companion volume to The Birds of Costa Rica, second edition, an illustrated guide to all the birds of Costa Rica. The photographs in the species accounts in Photo Guide to Birds of Costa Rica are accompanied by names, measurements, field marks, habitat and behavior, voice, status and distribution, and range maps.
RECOMMENDATION: A useful supplement to the author's The Birds of Costa Rica.
Friday, November 6, 2015
1) Crease, Robert P. and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber. The Quantum Moment: How Planck, Bohr, Einstein, and Heisenberg Taught Us to Love Uncertainty. 2014 (2015). W.W. Norton. Paperback: 333 pages. Price: $17.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: The fascinating story of how quantum mechanics went mainstream.
The discovery of the quantum—the idea, born in the early 1900s in a remote corner of physics, that energy comes in finite packets instead of infinitely divisible quantities—planted a rich set of metaphors in the popular imagination.
Quantum imagery and language now bombard us like an endless stream of photons. Phrases such as multiverses, quantum leaps, alternate universes, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger's cat get reinvented continually in cartoons and movies, coffee mugs and T-shirts, and fiction and philosophy, reinterpreted by each new generation of artists and writers.
Is a "quantum leap" big or small? How uncertain is the uncertainty principle? Is this barrage of quantum vocabulary pretentious and wacky, or a fundamental shift in the way we think?
All the above, say Robert P. Crease and Alfred Scharff Goldhaber in this pathbreaking book. The authors—one a philosopher, the other a physicist—draw on their training and six years of co-teaching to dramatize the quantum’s rocky path from scientific theory to public understanding. Together, they and their students explored missteps and mistranslations, jokes and gibberish, of public discussion about the quantum. Their book explores the quantum’s manifestations in everything from art and sculpture to the prose of John Updike and David Foster Wallace. The authors reveal the quantum’s implications for knowledge, metaphor, intellectual exchange, and the contemporary world. Understanding and appreciating quantum language and imagery, and recognizing its misuse, is part of what it means to be an educated person today.
The result is a celebration of language at the interface of physics and culture, perfect for anyone drawn to the infinite variety of ideas.
RECOMMENDATION:This title is now available in paperback.
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
1) Naylor, Ernest. Moonstruck: How Lunar Cycles Affect Life. 2015. Oxford University Press. Hardbound: 229 pages. Price: $29.95 U.S.
PUBLISHER'S SUMMARY: Throughout history, the influence of the full Moon on humans and animals has featured in folklore and myths. Yet it has become increasingly apparent that many organisms really are influenced indirectly, and in some cases directly, by the lunar cycle. Breeding behaviour among some marine animals has been demonstrated to be controlled by internal circalunar biological clocks, to the point where lunar-daily and lunar-monthly patterns of Moon-generated tides are embedded in their genes. Yet, intriguingly, Moon-related behaviours are also found in dry land and fresh water species living far beyond the influence of any tides.
In Moonstruck, Ernest Naylor dismisses the myths concerning the influence of the Moon, but shows through a range of fascinating examples the remarkable real effects that we are now finding through science. He suggests that since the advent of evolution on Earth, which occurred shortly after the formation of the Moon, animals evolved adaptations to the lunar cycle, and considers whether, if Moon-clock genes occur in other animals, might they also exist in us?
RECOMMENDATION: A readable overview on the subject.