A nature lover’s guide to a summer reading list

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Whether your summer leisure time is spent on the beach, in the mountains, or on the back porch, a good book is a great companion.

Recommendations

Here are a few recent titles that I recommend. The only work of fiction on the list, Anthill: A Novel by E.O. Wilson, (2010, W.W. Norton & Co., $24.95) is the semi-autobiographical tale of boy who grows up in the deep south and becomes an internationally acclaimed naturalist.

Wilson is a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and professor emeritus of entomology at Harvard University, so I was anxious to see how he’d handle a work of fiction.

The quarter of the book devoted to the natural history of mound ants and how their lives parallel those of humans is excellent. The human aspects of the story are ordinary.

A little of everything

Birdology: adventures with a Pack of Hens, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds and One Murderously Big Living Dinosaur by Sy Montgomery (2010, Free Press, $25) recounts a series of encounters the author has had with various birds. The title is self-explanatory.

Observing

The Eagle Watchers: Observing and Conserving Raptors Around the World edited by Ruth E. Tingay and Todd E. Katzner (2010, Cornell University Press, $29.95) are the tales of 29 eagle researchers from around the world. Kaztner, director of conservation and field research at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary, includes his work with eastern imperial eagles in Kazakhstan.

Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America (2010, Houghton Mifflin, $19.95) is the latest edition of Roger Tory Peterson’s classic field guide to birds. This 6th edition finally includes a thumbnail range map on the facing page of each species account, so it can now be considered among the best field guides on the market.

Science

Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway (2010, Bloomsbury Press, $27) is the disturbing tale of how some scientists sell their souls to advance political and economic agendas.

Being with Animals: Why We are Obsessed with the Furry, Scaly, Feathered Creatures Who Populate our World by Barbara J. King (2010, Doubleday, $24.99) is an anthropologist’s view of how and why most humans love animals.

Molt in North American Birds by Steve N.G. Howell (2010, Houghton Mifflin, $35) explains how and why birds replace worn feathers, sometimes resulting in a complete change in appearance. All birds molt regularly, and molt strategies vary among groups of birds. Howell explains these strategies and answers the many questions that come up when molt is discussed.

Homes for birds and animals

Woodworking for Wildlife: Homes for Birds and Animals by Carrol Henderson (2009, State of Minnesota, $19.95) is probably the best how-to guide for building nest boxes for a wide variety of birds and other animals.

This third edition includes plans for a variety of cavity-nesting birds, bat houses, turtle loafing platforms, a toad cottage, and a bumblebee bungalow. And the “woodpecker bongo” is a simple, original solution to woodpeckers drumming on siding and metal chimneys.

Climate change

The Great Ocean Conveyor: Discovering the Trigger for Abrupt Climate Change by Wally Broeker (2010, Princeton University Press, $27.95) documents the relationship between ocean currents and climate.

Broeker originally proposed the notion in an article in Natural History Magazine. This is a fascinating topic, but it is “heavy” reading that requires some science background to fully comprehend.

The Travails of Two Woodpeckers: Ivorybills and Imperials by Noel Snyder, David Brown, and Kevin Clark (2009, University of New Mexico Press, $27.95) is the story of the two largest woodpeckers in North America.

Both were once common, the ivory-bill in the swamps of the southeast U.S. and the imperial in the pine forests of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. Today, both are rare and possibly extinct. Both were doomed by their large size, large habitat requirements, and specialized food habits.

Dolphins

The Cove (2009, DVD, $19.98) is a documentary that depicts the senseless slaughter of dolphins in a small town in Japan. The meat is labeled whale meat and sold in grocery stores. The imagery in this film is powerful, graphic, and disturbing. Watch it before letting younger children view this film.

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

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