A Few Good Books

If you’re looking for a good book, here are a few titles I’ve had a chance to review and enjoy recently.

Kenn Kaufman has been obsessed with birds since he dropped out of high school and hitchhiked across the country pursuing his passion. He recounted that year in Kingbird Highway (1997).

Kaufman’s latest book, “A Season On the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration” (2019, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 282 pages, $26) is a timely and authoritative examination of spring bird migration.

From his home in northeast Ohio, Kaufman concentrates on spring migration as northbound song birds approach Lake Erie and then rest for a few days before crossing the lake. There he monitors weather conditions and weather radar in preparation for myriad birds about to pass through. The phenomenon culminates in the Biggest Week in American Birding,May 3-12, a popular annual birding festival.

A Season On the Wind opens with a migrating bird’s perspective as it flies north and encounters the formidable barrier we call Lake Erie. Then the point of view shifts to the birders converging on the same spot (Magee Marsh Wildlife Area) in search of migrating birds.

Along the way, Kaufman explains the perils that climate change poses to birds and how even seemingly safe alternative forms of renewable energy such as wind farms can be deadly to birds if not properly located.

From a human perspective, honey bees (Apis mellifera) are one of the most valuable insects on the planet. They pollinate agricultural crops and produce honey and beeswax, services worth billions of dollars annually. “The Lives of Bees: The Untold Story of the Honey Bee” in the Wild by Thomas Seeley (May 21; Princeton University Press, 347 pages, $29.95) traces the roots of honey bee domestication back 4,000 years and makes the case that wild bees may hold the key to the continued survival of domesticated bees.

Most of us have seen man-made white honey bee hives, but I suspect few have ever seen a wild hive. “The Lives of Bees” tells the rest of the story. The biological differences between wild and domesticated bees are enormous, and in the final chapter, “Darwinian Beekeeping,” Seeley offers beekeepers tips for helping their bees live more like they do in the wild. This book is a surprise and one heck of a good read.

“The Horse: A Natural History” by Debbie Busby and Catrin Rutland (May 19; Princeton University Press, 224 pages, $29.95) will delight anyone who loves horses. From the opening sentence, where we learn that modern horses descended from four-toed, two-foot tall North American mammals, to the final 57 pages that describe breeds from all around the world, The Horse covers the fossil record, biology, and behavior of an animal with ties to humans that date back thousands of years. It is the horse-human connection I found most fascinating. When my daughter Emma was ten years old, she was horse crazy and would have adopted the book as her bible. More than 250 stunning color photos will appeal to readers of all ages.

“Dragonflies & Damselflies: A Natural History” by Dennis Paulson (2019, Princeton University Press, 224 pages, $29.95) addresses the ubiquitous insects classified in the Order Odonata and referred to collectively as odonates. They coexisted with and outlasted dinosaurs and are still quite common today.

Odonates can be observed at any pond or wetland from mid-spring through mid-fall. Some species are as large as small hummingbirds. Today more than 6,000 species are classified into 39 families worldwide.

Odonates’ striking colors and fascinating behaviors make them as watchable as the colorful migrating warblers birders enjoy each spring. And because odonates are diurnal, relatively sedentary, very territorial, and aggressive predators, observers need just a lawn chair and binoculars to enjoy them.

“Dragonflies & Damselflies” describes the evolution, life cycles, biology, anatomy, behavior, and habitats. Though beautifully illustrated with 150 color photos, this is not a field guide. It is, however, a superb introduction to the world of the Odonata. Spend a few hours with this book, and you’ll have a better appreciation and understanding of life in a warm weather wetland.

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Send questions and comments to Dr. Shalaway at sshalaway@aol.com or 229 Cider Mill Dr., Apt. 102, Hendersonville, NC 28792.

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