Each year, some of the millions of birds that migrate extraordinary distances to reach breeding or wintering destinations drift off course to the delight of dedicated birders encountering these improbable vagrants. Rare Birds of North America (Princeton) offers the first complete print compilation of such recorded sightings, with accounts and illustrations of 262 species. (Pictured here: a Key West quail-dove.) Authors Steve N.G. Howell, Ian Lewington and Will Russell include detailed field identifications and plates illustrating sex dimorphisms and seasonal and juvenile marks. An introductory section explores vicissitudes of global air currents and the quest for better food sources that drive these rare bird sightings—and provide hints for birders seeking to add to their life lists. For anyone else simply interested in birds new to North America, this volume is a valuable resource.
9 April 2014
During the mass extinction that snuffed out the dinosaurs, we made it through as unassuming shrew-like lizard things. How will our more evolved selves fare in the next cataclysm? Annalee Newitz set out to answer this question, and the result was largely raves for Scatter, Adapt, and Remember (Anchor). Newitz tells the story behind the story on the National Association of Science Writers website.
22 January 2014
We take it on faith that Alaskans love the wilderness. Yet many of the state’s city-dwellers say in surveys that they avoid venturing deep outdoors for one reason: bears. It defies reason. Even in a state where grizzlies roam in the tens of thousands, attacks are rare compared to the threats of everyday life surrounding people and their machines. Compare the notion “of perishing in a car accident with that of being reduced to meat by teeth and claws,” writes Sherry Simpson, exploring one of the many bear-human dualities in her gripping and sweeping Dominion of Bears: Living with Wildlife in Alaska (Kansas). “The prospect seems not only horrific but also profoundly wrong because it fractures our idea of ourselves as the apex species.” Simpson gracefully weaves her observations and interviews with historical and scientific accounts in riffs on the bear as a metaphor, social animal, target of nature-watchers and hunters alike and, not least, as predator. At her best, Simpson keeps company with the likes of Barry Lopez, Rick Bass and Gretel Ehrlich.
18 December 2013
For an engrossing look at a key document in the evolution of evolution, Harvard University Press presents On the Organic Laws of Change: A Facsimile Edition and Annotated Transcription of Alfred Wallace’s Species Notebook of 1855-1859. Wallace, an early and enthusiastic Darwin booster, is regarded as co-discover of natural selection. The “Species Notebook,” which records Wallace’s observations from his Malay Archipelago expedition, is a primary document of biogeography, a field Wallace pioneered. Until now, researchers like James T. Costa, whose annotations face transcribed and reproduced notebook pages, had to travel to the Linnean Society of London for a glimpse of this treasure. Costa also fashions a fine bio-bibliographic sketch of Wallace and his work in the introduction.