Tuesday, October 16, 2018

About Woodpeckers

Part of a series, this title looks at, well, woodpeckers. The text is simple, usually one or two sentences on a white background facing a large plate that features an illustration of an individual species. While the text is generalized, discussing basic characteristics common to most woodpeckers, seventeen of the eighteen plates look at a single type of woodpecker out of the more than two hundred species around the world. The eighteenth is a squirrel using a woodpeckers hole as its home.


The Afterword provides details, plate by plate, on specific birds. The watercolor illustrations are clear and detailed, showing features that might be harder to see in photographs, and include glimpses of the habitat. The size and length make this a great introduction for preschoolers and students through about second grade and may inspire them to look for those woodpeckers they can find in their area.

Northern flicker
(photo by J. Larson)

Pair this with Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs by Sneed Collard for older readers. Also helpful for teachers and parents is the publisher's guide to the series, which offers some extension ideas to use with any title in the series. Other bird titles in the series explore birds in general, parrots, hummingbirds, and penguins.


FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Magnificent Birds

Beautiful linocut illustrations of fourteen birds from around the world fill each page in Narisa Togo's Magnificent Birds. Text accompanies each double page spread to briefly describe the bird's attributes, diet, appearance, habitat, and special features.  In order of appearance, the included birds are the bald eagle, Andean flamingo, greater bird of paradise, red-crowned crane, common kingfisher, toco toucan, ruby-throated hummingbird, bar-tailed godwit, wandering albatross, Australian pelican, barn owl, emperor penguin, kakapo, and the peregrine falcon. With the exception of a couple that are widespread, each is labeled for the area of the world where it is found. No mention is made of the others in a species, like the flamingo or the crane, that can be found elsewhere. The book was originally published in Great Britain by Walker Studios and many online book retailers show the British cover (which features the red-crowned crane). Although the book is short, an index or bird list would be helpful.


The illustrations are richly detailed and include a glimpse of the habitat: forests, waterways, cliff faces, and gardens. Linocut is a printmaking technique that allows for a grainy texture, with subdued colors that give the illustrations an almost retro look. Because linoleum is easy to obtain and work with, linocut is often used with children and it would be a lot of fun for them to create and print their own local birds. Easy to follow instructions are readily available at sites like Art for Small Hands.

Although I think adults will appreciate the information and illustrations, the book is intended for readers in grades 5-9. I'll be donating this review copy to our local kid birding team.


FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña

This is not strictly a bird or birding book but is so filled with birds that I wanted to share it. Also, one of my "bucket list" trips is to go to the Galápagos Islands. Marsha Diane Arnold tells the story of a young girl, born on the islands, a Galápagos girl, and the wonders she finds in the world around her. She plays among the delightfully funny blue-footed Boobies and dances with the island's eponymous penguins. There are 56 different species of birds on the islands, with 80% being found only there. Arnold also includes the Galápagos flamingo, Galápagos petrels, and the waved albatross.

Valentina learns that the world she so loves is endangered, threatened by animals that don't belong on the islands and people who don't care. The young girl leaves the island to go to school but returns a biologist, dedicated to sharing her love of the Galápagos with visitors and encouraging them to leave with promises to help keep the animals safe.

An Author's Note explains how Arnold met the real Valentina Cruz and how she and her family have protected the islands. Her work will be an inspiration to other young people who care about our world. Other back matter discusses the Galápagos and provides fun facts about the various birds and other animals introduced in the book. She concludes with an extensive bibliography for further reading, most of which is for adult readers. Another important aspect of the book is that it is dual language--providing the text in both Spanish and English.

The spectacular wildlife of the area is brought to life by Angela Dominguez, the author and illustrator of several other books, including two that have won Pura Belpré honors from the American Library Association. Great illustrations, a large format, and an engaging story make this an excellent choice for read-alouds and storytimes.




FTC Disclosure: I received a complimentary review copy from the publisher. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Feather Thief: Beauty, Obsession, and the Natural History Heist of the Century

I spotted this book in a book store and was intrigued so checked it out from my local public library. I really didn't know much about this book beyond the title until I started reading it. I knew it was a true crime story about a young man who stole dead birds from a museum collection. I didn't know why anyone would steal dead birds. Turns out there is a huge market for feathers for tying flies for fly fishing. There is, in fact, an entire subculture of people who use feathers to tie fancy flies. These flies will never be used as fishing lures because what the tiers use are expensive, often illegal, feathers from exotic, endangered, and even extinct birds.

A drawer of Scarlet Minivets 
The story starts with Edwin Rist breaking into a British natural history museum in the small town of Tring. Having scoped out the museum on an earlier visit, Rist methodically pulled out drawer after drawer of specimens, dumping them into a suitcase. He often cleared a drawer of the entire collection of a species, leaving only the drab females. He then fled into the night. It would be weeks before the museum even realized there had been a break-in.

Each stolen specimen held a biodata label tied around its leg, information meticulously collected by Alfred Russel Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin who did fieldwork in the Amazon and the Malay Archipelago. He collected some of the rarest birds in the world, including the almost mythical Bird of Paradise, for scientific research. And Rist just stole more than $1 million worth of them just to provide feathers to supply the "feather underground, a world of fanatical fly-tiers and plume peddlers."

Bird of Paradise
Between the heist and the detective work, Johnson provides background to bring the reader to current events by exploring the "feather fever" that struck during the mid- to late 19th century. During that period birds were hunted for their feathers to decorate Victorian fashions in America and Europe. Of course, Victorian ladies did not want bland feathers from common birds. To show status, ladies craved feathers from Toucans, Quetzals, Hummingbirds, and Egrets. The demand devastated populations as, for example, hunters killed a thousand "Snowy Egrets to yield a kilo of feathers." Starting in 1896 a few outraged women and the Audubon Society lobbied against using birds and feathers in fashion, as many species had been hunted to extinction or near extinction.  Legislation in the early 1900s created refuges and, in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act outlawed the hunting of any migratory bird in North America. Jumping ahead to the 21st century, customs officials were no longer looking closely for feathers, as they were busy with big game trophies, like rhino horns and elephant tusks. This, and the Internet, created "a small community of obsessive mend addicted to rare and illegal feathers: practitioners of the Victorian art of salmon fly-tying." Johnson provides a surprisingly interesting overview of this practice before transitioning to the present.
Edwin Rist

Enter Edwin Rist. Raised in a small town and homeschooled, Edwin's parents were Ivy League graduates who had fled Manhattan's Upper West Side to better nurture their children and support their multitude of interests. At a young age, Edwin became obsessed with the flute and fly-tying and he mastered both talents. His obsession with music led him to England; his obsession with fly-tying led him to crime. Ultimately, in 2009, this 20-year-old young man broke into a branch of the British Museum of Natural History, stealing millions' of dollars worth of birds and irreparably damaging scientific research.

The book is filled with serendipitous experiences, including how Johnson came to write this book. And he didn't just write the book; he spent years tracking down details of the crime and playing detective as he pursued the stolen birds and feathers. The research and investigation itself are worthy of admiration and pulls the reader into the story in ways that a straight forward retelling could not. Without going into detail, it's hard to tell if justice was served in the end, but answers to many questions were certainly found. And although I have zero interest in fly-tying, the story was both compelling and intriguing and offered a different perspective on birding. The final section of the book contains many photographs and sketches. (I read an electronic copy and it was not immediately obvious that the book contained a ton of illustrations. so be sure to check the end.)
The Jock Scott fly

While I have no interest in fly-tying, I found it odd that the fly tiers talk so much about collecting and possessing feathers. It is illegal in the United States to possess feathers from most birds; this is something I frequently explain to friends who know about my bird rescue and rehabilitation activities and want to proudly show me a feather they found on the beach. According to the law, there is no exemption for molted feathers or those taken from road- or window-killed birds. It is legal, however, to have feathers from a few non-native birds like starlings, but those are not the feathers coveted by the tiers. Interestingly, while it is not legal to sell feathers from wild ducks and geese that have been hunted, it seems that the laws were written by a fly-tier who made an exemption for using those feathers for fly-tying so they can use them for fly fishing. To learn more about feather laws and to view their Feather Atlas, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Atlas includes feather terms, scans of feathers, and identification aides, along with the laws on possessing feathers.

It was also disturbing to learn from Johnson that the biggest market for illegal feathers is eBay. In addition to selling feathers at fly-tying conventions, tiers sell through the Internet, with little or no policing done by eBay. My own recent search found feathers from many of the endangered or near-extinct birds mentioned in The Feather Thief for sale.




FTC Disclosure: I checked a copy of this book out from the public library. I receive no compensation for reviewing the book.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Woodpeckers: Drilling Holes & Bagging Bugs

Woodpeckers are odd and fascinating birds. What other bird, for example, intentionally bangs its head against a tree? Most are brightly colored with varying degrees of red, white, and black but some are less flashy. In Woodpeckers, Collard points out that there are more than 200 species of woodpeckers and birds in the Picidae family and they live on every continent except Antarctica and Australia with about twenty-two species in the United States and Canada.


Readers learn that while they all eat bugs (that is what they are looking for in the trees) they also eat sap, seeds, berries, and nuts. A woodpecker's beak bangs away at about 15 mph yet somehow they avoid brain damage. (Find out how in the book.) They also have "amazingly long tongues" and a reinforced beak. Makes sense!

Used under license by Creative Commons
While we meet many species of woodpeckers in this book, the most famous woodpecker is, of course, Woody. Woody was based on an Acorn Woodpecker, one of the species covered by Collard, supposedly because one was banging away on the cabin where Walter Lantz was staying. Acorn Woodpeckers collect thousands of acorns throughout the year, storing them in trees riddled with storage holes, or in old water tanks, vacant houses, and telephone poles.

Collard covers other types of woodpeckers, including sapsuckers (yes, there are yellow-bellied sapsuckers but they are not cowardly) and flickers. The book ends with a look at lost and vanishing woodpeckers. In addition to what Collard has to say, I recommend reading the Race to Save the Lord God Bird by Phillip Hoose, which examines the tragic failure to save the Ivory-billed Woodpecker from extinction.

Copyright Phillip Hoose

Sapsucker; Photo by Jeanette Larson
Woodpeckers is a great introduction to a fascinating and fun species of birds and Collard includes a lot of humor and puns. Check out the two pages of photo bloopers for a fun look at the challenges of bird photography. (Although I have to say Collard's worst photographs are always better than most of mine!). In a book filled with information and colorful photographs, every birder will learn
something new.


Also by Sneed B. Collard III is  Fire Birds: Valuing Natural Wildfires and Burned Forests.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Two Timing Hawk

The New York Post is noted for its sensational stories, photos, and headlines. A June 9, 2018 headline is certainly scandalous: "Two-timing hawk has babies with new mate."

Seems that a red-tailed hawk has been servicing three females in Tompkins Park in New York City. Now he's had two chicks with one of his mates and is now working feverishly to feed them. Click the link to read the tale.  Links in the article lead to other articles about the Lethario and the cheep lady hawks he has taken up with. Apparently he has been quite prolific in sharing his DNA! Wildlife photographer Laura Goggin has posted more photos on her site, including some of the babies and more about the love triangle.

Photo courtesy of the New York Post
Urban hawks frequently stay in the same location and in addition to the Tompkins Park hawks, several can be spotted in Central Park. View the hawks on web cams linked in Urban Hawks. Search this blog for more posts on hawks of various species.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hawk Rising

I love when a picture book gives you a little window into the story on the jacket and title page.

In the beginning, if you look closely, Hawk Rising shows two birds sitting in a tree near a house. The next two pages are filled to overflowing with the Red-tailed Hawk family sitting in their nest. As the story progresses, Gianferrari and Floca tell and illustrate the ways that a girl and her younger sister rising in the morning mimic the birds awakening for the day. Stretching, waiting for breakfast...and we then see Father Hawk searching for breakfast for his chicks. "He leans--then dives." Some prey is safe, shielded by branches. Others drive the hawk away. Finally, towards the end of day, Father Hawk grabs a squirrel and, back in the nest, "Chicks screech and jostle, no longer waiting." Everyone has eaten and is safe in bed for the night, awaiting the next day.

The sparse, poetic text is very well complemented by Caldecott-winner Brian Floca's intricate art. Notice how his watercolors progress from the dark night to the brightness of day and then subtly fade back to darkness. His watercolor techniques provide a lot of detail and realism to the hawk's feathers and talons. Both the text and the illustrations invite reading aloud and re-reading, savoring the beauty of these birds.

(I need to add that Brian is a native Texan, although he lives in New York. I had the pleasure of working with him when he created the art for the Texas State Library's Summer Reading Program. I doubt that I would ever find fault with his art. If you are not familiar with his other works, check them out!)

(Art copyright Brian Floca)

While Hawk Rising focuses on the Red-tailed Hawk, and the last two pages offer facts about the species, much of the information is transferable to other raptors. The suggested readings include books on other raptors and links for websites, including Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Red-tailed Hawk cam. (As of the end of May there are chicks in the nest that can be viewed on the cam, along with a narrative about what the birds are doing.) Gianferrari is also the author of other great nature books, including a companion volume, Coyote Moon, which explores the nocturnal hunting habits of another urban critter and is definitely worth reading.

Red-tailed Hawk (image used
under license from Creative Commons)
Hawks of various types are frequent visitors to backyards and wooded urban settings so it's fairly easy for young birders to see them. It's harder to actually identify them or photograph them so Hawk Rising offers an excellent opportunity for up-close study. Red-tailed Hawks are large, almost eagle-sized, with broad, rounded wings and a short, wide tail.  As with many species, there are color variations but most Red-tailed Hawks are brown above with a pale, streaked belly. The tail is pale on the bottom and cinnamon-red on top. When they flap their wings it is a heavy beat. They often sit on poles and high fences in open areas and they are magnificent to see!

Readers of this blog post are invited to post a comment here and/or subscribe to the blog (do both and you get two entries in the giveaway).  From comments and subscriptions entered between June 5 and June 15, one name will be drawn at random to receive a copy of Hawk Rising from the publisher, Roaring Brook Press. The winner will be contacted to get a mailing address. Sorry, limited to readers in the US only.

I also do seem to be fascinated by hawks. For additional books, see my blog posts H is for Hawk and A Hawk in the Castle.



FTC Disclosure: I received an advanced reader copy of this book from the publisher and/or author. I receive no compensation or benefit for reviewing this book.