New book suggestions for holiday gift-giving

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Fall is a busy season for publishers of nature and outdoor-themed books. They make perfect Christmas gifts. Here are some recent titles I recommend for the readers on your list.

Carnivores of the World, by Luke Hunter (2111, Princeton University Pres, $29.95) is a comprehensive field guide to all 245 species of terrestrial carnivores — everything from tiny least weasels to gigantic polar bears.

Though few will use this book as an actual field guide, it is packed with the natural history of each species. You’ll learn of carnivores you’ve never heard of (servals, caracals, and genets) as well as those that are more familiar (lions, tigers, and bears). And each species account is filled with details including information on diet, behavior, and reproduction.

Mammals

Focusing on species closer to home, Behavior of North American Mammals by Mark Elbroch and Kurt Reinhart (2011, Houghton Mifflin, $35) covers more than 70 species. This is not an identification guide; it is a guide to understanding what these mammals do. Expertly illustrated with nearly 200 color photos and line drawings, this is a must have book for naturalists of all ages.

Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird by Katie Fallon (2011, Ruka Press, $17.95) is a quest to understanding the plight of one species in decline, the cerulean warbler. Found primarily in Appalachia during the nesting season and in South America in winter, ceruleans are another “canary in a coal mine.”

Birder gift

Fallon traveled with experts into the breeding range of these tiny song birds and even visited Columbia to better understand their winter ecology. It’s ideal for any birder on your list.

Arctic Autumn: A Journey to Season’s Edge by Pete Dunne (2011, Houghton Mifflin, $24) is the second in a four-book series on the seasons. The first one, Prairie Spring, focused on the continent’s grasslands. Arctic Autumn shifts the focus north.

If you’ve always wanted to experience the arctic, but probably never will, this book may satisfy your curiosity. Part travelogue, part eco-adventure, Arctic Autumn is first a story of conservation.

Undersea life

Kraken: the Curious, Exciting, and Slightly Disturbing Science of Squid by Wendy Williams (2011, Abrams Image, $21.95) will excite anyone who has been intrigued or horrified by deep sea monsters. Kraken covers squid of all sizes and also touches on other fascinating cephalopods such as octopi and cuttlefish.

The Wild Life of Our Bodies: Predators, Parasites, and Partners that Shape Who We are Today by Rob Dunn (2011, Harper, $26.99) may make your skin crawl, but it’s an irresistible account of the myriad creatures we live with every day.

Dunn is a widely published professor of biology at North Carolina State University; he knows of what he writes. So much for that morning shower.

The Mystery of Metamorphosis: A Scientific Detective Story by Frank Ryan (2011, Chelsea Green, $26.95) will fascinate anyone who has marveled at the miraculous transformation of a lowly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly. Metamorphosis is the ultimate natural history mystery, and Ryan’s book will fascinate all who ever pondered it.

Children’s books

For the kids, Kathy Miller’s Chippy Chipmunk: Babies in the Garden (2011, Celtic Sunrise, $19.99) is sure to please. In fact, adults will love it, too.

This sequel to Miller’s 2009 Chippy Chipmunk: Parties in the Garden is a collection of photographs of a family of chipmunks that live in Miller’s backyard. If you like chipmunks, you’ll love this book. These are classic picture books destined to become family heirlooms

Finally if you know anyone trying to learn bird songs, I recommend BirdTunes ($9.99, iTunes), an app by natural sound recordist Lang Elliott. A Guide to the Songs and Calls of North American Birds covers 674 North American species of birds. Each species includes multiple examples of songs and calls, and tracks can be set to play continuously.

Compatibility

BirdTunes works with iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch and is the ultimate reference for North American bird songs. BirdTunes also has a visual component. Each species includes a small photo that, when touched, flips to a beautiful full-sized image, and a sonogram that graphically depicts each vocalization.

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

One Comment

  1. Diana Brooks says:

    This is a really interesting overview of nice books! A good mix also. Recently I came across a website with the best popular science books on biology that have been released in 2011: http://popsciencebooks.com/best-biology-books/

    Most of the books are also included in your list, so that’s an additional reason to read them! Great post!

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