Whether you’re planning a stay-cation in the backyard or a getaway to the shore or mountains this summer, a good book makes a great companion. Here are a few titles you might enjoy as you settle into a favorite reading chair.
– Birdsong by the Seasons: A Year of Listening to Birds by Donald Kroodsma (2009, Houghton Mifflin, $28) is for all who want to dig deeper into the world of bird song.
Written in a month-by-month almanac style, Kroodsma introduces the reader to a world far more complex than simply enjoying the sounds of backyard birds.
You’ll learn that sometimes females sing, young birds must practice to perfect their songs, why birds vocalize during nocturnal migratory flights, and that not all bird sounds are vocal.
Birdsong by the Seasons comes with two CDs. One appendix serves as an “audio book” that explains how to listen to the sounds on the CDs. Another brief appendix explains how to get started in recording bird songs.
– Prairie Dogs: Communication and Community in an Animal Society by C.N. Slobodchikoff, Bianca Perla and Jennifer Verdolin (2009, Harvard University Press, $39.95) is a look into the behavioral ecology of prairie dogs, highly social rodents that actually “speak” a language that differentiates among man and a variety of other beasts.
In the interest of full disclosure, the lead author was my major professor when I studied prairie dogs in graduate school in northern Arizona. Though my research dealt with the diet of prairie dogs, it is their social behavior that intrigues me, and that’s what Prairie Dogs dwells on.
The authors also describe not only the results of their research, but also the methods they used to conduct their field work.
– The Dangerous World of Butterflies: The Startling Subculture of Criminals, Collectors, and Conservationists by Peter Laufer (2009, Lyons Press, $24.95) is an eye-opening peek into the world of butterfly collecting.
From true crime to heated debates between butterfly conservationists and butterfly farmers, this book reads like a novel. Not surprisingly, it is money, the value of rare butterflies to collectors, that drives eco-crime.
Individual butterflies can sell for thousands of dollars. And you’ll meet both the criminals and the determined federal law enforcement officers who sometimes invest years investigating and ultimately breaking a case.
– The Lizard King: The True Crimes and Passions of the World’s Greatest Reptile Smugglers by Bryan Christy (2008, Twelve, $24.99) exposes reptile smugglers and gives another glimpse into the world of federal and international wildlife law enforcement.
It turns out that reptile smugglers are even more extreme than butterfly fanatics. Some collectors will pay as much as $100,000 for a rare snake.
It’s no wonder many reptile populations are imperiled by a reptile trade driven by a criminal element. After reading this book, I realize that the ads for exotic reptiles I read as a kid were probably fronts for the early illegal reptile trade.
– Birdscapes: Birds in our Imagination and Experience by Jeremy Mynott (2009, Princeton University Press, $29.95) seems to be the product of a life-long obsession with birds.
The author is the former chief executive of Cambridge University Press, and I suspect that he has been acquiring information about birds for many years. This book is his catharsis, an outpouring of his fascination with birds that he just had to share with everyone.
Among many other topics, Mynott explains the appeal of birds and why listing is so important. He also compares the allure of birding to hunting and fishing. It’s a great night stand book to savor in bits and pieces.
Finally, Dark Banquet: Blood and the Curious Lives of Blood-Feeding Creatures by Bill Schutt (2008, Harmony Books, $25.95) is a compelling look at species we know, but do our best to avoid.
From vampire bats and a vampire finch in the Galapagos Islands to mosquitoes, leeches, bed bugs and ticks, Schutt explains the biology of these species and slays many myths along the way.
And you’ll learn about candiru, small catfish found in the Amazon basin that make the threat of piranha attacks seem tame. Suffice it to say, you’ll learn why one should never urinate in the Amazon River.