Wildlife books for summer readers
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A good book can make or break a summer vacation. Whether under a beach umbrella or in a comfortable easy chair, any curious naturalist will enjoy these recent titles.
• "Winged Obsession: the Pursuit of the World's Most Notorious Butterfly Smuggler" (William Morrow, 2011) is the latest book by Jessica Speart. For more than decade, Speart wrote a series that I've called "wildlife mystery thrillers" featuring her fictional heroine, federal wildlife agent Rachel Porter. Porter's exploits focused on catching bad guys dealing in endangered species.
Speart has taken the expertise she picked up researching fictional stories to slide into a riveting nonfiction account of how a rookie U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent, Ed Newcomer, goes undercover to catch Yoshi Kojima, the world's most infamous butterfly smuggler. "Winged Obsession" is a page turner, a real beach read.
• "The Nesting Season: Cuckoos, Cuckolds and the Invention of Monogamy" (Harvard University Press, 2010) by Bernd Heinrich is the latest master work by one of my favorite nature writers. "The Nesting Season" digs deeply into the biology of nesting birds, from monogamy and polygyny to polyandry and cuckoldry. Replete with many color illustrations, Heinrich's latest book answers many of the questions I get this time of year.
• "Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle" (Basic Books, 2011) by Thor Hanson is a terrific natural history of the one anatomical structure that is unique to birds. Feathers protect birds' bodies, enable them to fly and keep them warm and cool. This book details how and why feathers came to be. It also describes the roles feathers have played in the lives of humans throughout history.
• "Avian Architecture: How Birds Design, Engineer and Build" (Princeton University Press, 2011) by Peter Goodfellow is a compelling read. Goodfellow organizes nests into general types: scrapes, holes, platforms, cups, woven nests, etc. He describes each nest type in great detail and illustrates the process with detailed artwork and photos. And you'll learn the how edible-nest swiftlets use saliva to build the main ingredient in the Asian delicacy, bird's nest soup.
• "Cricket Radio: Tuning in the Night-singing Insects" (Harvard University Press, 2011) by John Himmelman hooked me with the title. I knew of Himmelman from an earlier book, 2009's 'Guide to Night-singing Insects of the Northeast," so I was intrigued.
A friend's seven-year old son was having trouble falling asleep at night. His father, a naturalist, thought singing insects would make the perfect lullaby. He and his son ventured into the backyard at night, captured katydids and crickets and placed them in a container in the boy's bedroom. The boy fell asleep to the sounds of "cricket radio." Himmelman examines how the roots of "cricket radio" reach back to ancient China, and he describes the natural history of katydids and crickets.
First Published June 12, 2011 12:00 am