8 great books for bird and animal watchers

  • By Sharon Wootton Herald Columnist
  • Friday, December 14, 2012 9:38pm
  • Life

I recognize at least a few of my so-called limitations.

Math: I once balanced my checkbook every few years by closing the account and starting another.

Speed: My 100-yard dash resembles molasses flowing on an iceberg.

Art: I recently unearthed a teenage ‘painting.’ Let’s just say my skills haven’t improved with age.

But after examining “The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds” ($25) by artist and naturalist John Muir Laws, I surreptitiously tried to mimic the simplest outlined shape. Think I’ll stick to the written word.

Nonetheless, “Laws” is a magical book where lines are transformed into life on a page, where attention to detail takes readers into new territory, where words and 700-plus illustrations deliver color-theory heresy, raptor anatomy, iridescence, leg position and angle, behaviors, waterfowl in motion and more.

And readers don’t have to be artists or birders to appreciate this artist’s perspective.

Here are some other ideas for book-giving:

“Bird Sense: What It’s Like to be a Bird?” ($25). Tim Birkhead’s use of technology and bird behavior gives us the best sense yet of what it’s like to be a bird. The professor of behavioral psychology arranges “Sense” by the senses and applies research and imagination to specific species.

Science allows us to come closer to what it’s like to be a bird, with tantalizing possibilities just beyond the next research project.

“Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species” ($15). Jackson Landers’ theory on the plague of invasive species is simple: If you can’t beat them, eat them; or sell them so other people can eat them. Landers hunts down 14 destructive species that don’t belong to the native habit, including pigs, armadillos, Chinese mystery snails and European green crabs. He meets up with regulations seemingly designed to thwart but perseveres.

“Bicycling Science: How Rider and Machine Work Together” ($30). Max Glaskin explores the science behind the sport, something few of the 1.2 billion bicyclists around the world consider.

How does bike geometry relate to gender? Does a tandem have scientific advantages? How does a bike turn effort into speed? How does the air flow around a cyclist? What position is the world’s fastest.

There’s a wealth of fascinating explanations, illustrations and photographs that take riders from wobbling starts to the fastest speeds.

“David Douglas: A Naturalist at Work” ($28). Jack Nisbet’s work on David Douglas’ (Douglas fir and 79 other plants and animals bear his name) exploration of the Northwest offers 191 slick pages of text, photographs, journals and illustrations that places Douglas in the context of 19th-century scientific explorations.

Nisbet writes in detailed but easily read style. Readers learn Douglas could have been killed by a terrifying storm that nearly sank his ship in 1825, about how he interacted with American Indians, about a probable son that he may not have known existed, and about his systematic collection of flora and fauna.

“Peterson Field Guide to Mammals of North America” ($20), is part of the standard-setting series.

Fiona Reid provides the expected in text and maps, but it’s the plates that go the extra mile with illustrations of species size and color comparisons, and tracks.

“The Secret Lives of Backyard Bugs” ($15). Judy Burris and Wayne Richards created this winner of the National Outdoor Book Award, illustrating that there’s more to your back yard than mowed grass. They introduce about four dozen “bugs” with photographs, life cycles and facts.

Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or www.songandword.com.

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