Holiday book gift ideas for the nature lover

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As the holidays approach, here are some books I recommend for any nature-lover on your gift list.

  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert (2014, $28, Henry Holt), winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction, explains how humans have altered the earth to trigger the sixth mass global extinction, the biggest since an asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs.

Though not a happy read, Kolbert supports her text with 16 pages of notes and 12 pages of references. Certain to provoke thought and discussion, The Sixth Extinction should be read by conservationists everywhere.

  • Kaufman Field Guide to Nature of the Midwest by Kenn Kaufman, Jeff Sayre, and Kimberly Kaufman (2015, $20, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the ideal book for naturalists who do not want to carry an armful of field guides every time they venture outdoors.

In a single 416-page true field guide, this book covers everything from the night sky to most groups of plants and animals. It includes more than 2,000 color illustrations.
And don’t be misled by the title; this field guide is equally suitable for Pennsylvania, New York, and West Virginia. If there’s a young, curious naturalist in the family, this should be that child’s first field guide.

  • The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World’s Most Misunderstood Mammals by Merlin Tuttle (2015, $26, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is a page turning memoir that describes the origins of the continent’s greatest bat biologist.

I raced from page to page as I learned about everything from backyard bats and bumblebee bats, to frog-eating bats and flying foxes with 6-foot wingspans. Tuttle’s spectacular color photographs that accompany the text are an added bonus.
Dr. Tuttle, the founder of Bat Conservation International, is the “Batman” everyone should know. He has devoted his career to busting myths and spreading the good news about bats.

  • Peterson Reference Guide to Owls of North America and the Caribbean by Scott Weidensaul (2015, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40), the newest addition to the Peterson Reference Guide series, is a comprehensive guide to North American owls.
    Weidensaul has been banding saw-whet owls for many years, and he began banding snowy owls during the irruption during the winter of 2014, so few experts know owls better.

Each account of the 39 species covered in the book includes detailed information on identification, size and weight, vocalizations, preferred habitat, nesting, and behavior.
Color range maps depict breeding and wintering areas and migration routes, when applicable. And hundreds of color photos illustrate each species. And because owls are more often heard than seen, the book offers a free downloadable album of 86 vocalizations from the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • The Living Bird: 100 Years of Listening to Nature (2015, $29.95, Mountaineer Books) is a series of extended essays by John Fitzpatrick, Scott Wiedensaul, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and Jared Diamond. Barbara Kingsolver penned the foreword.

As enjoyable and informative as the text is, however, it takes a backseat to 250 color photos by Gerrit Vyn. Vyn’s photos have appeared in National Geographic and Audubon, and his video has appeared on PBS’s Nature and CBS’s Sunday Morning.
When I got my hands on The Living Bird, I couldn’t put it down. The imagery is stunning and features everything from common backyard birds such as chickadees and cardinals, to loons, swans, and eagles. I literally thumbed through the entire book, page by page.

  • What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses by Daniel Chamovitz (2012, $14, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) escaped my attention when it was published a few years ago, and that was my loss.

Though obviously less lively than animals, plants are fascinating forms of life. If you raise house plants or have a garden, you’ve probably wondered how plants sense their environment.

If you’ve ever wondered if plants “see,” “smell,” “hear” or remember, this book is for you. Think of it as plant biology — outside the box.

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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. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at www.khbradio.com, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at www.drshalaway.com or contact him directly at sshalaway@aol.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.

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