Monday, January 3, 2011

Bird Books

Over the last couple years I've become a birder. It started innocently enough when I began reading the Birdchick's blog and learning more about birds. I've always wanted to take nature photos and loved her images. But after reading for only a couple weeks I started noticing the birds around me. I bought a bird guide, which eventually became three or four bird guides. I bought a cheap bird feeder and have gradually moved up to good feeders. I can now recognize all the birds that come to my feeder. And I'm starting to venture farther afield to find more birds. I've become a birder.

So it's no surprise that I've started buying nonfiction titles about birds. This past week has been bird book week. I started with Hope is the Thing With Feathers by Christopher Cokinos. Cokinos tells the fascinating and tragic tale of six bird species that have gone extinct: the Carolina Parakeet, Passenger Pigeons, the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, the Labrador Duck, the Great Auk, and the Heath Hen. I was well aware of the Passenger Pigeon but knew very little about many of the other birds. Cokinos points out that Passenger Pigeons were described in the early 1800s as wonderfully prolific. Within 50 years, they were extinct. An amazing reminder of how fast a species can go from populous to gone. Cokinos includes history of the birds, speculation about their extinction, and his own personal journey to recapture the essence of these birds. Many of the birds have been extinct for a hundred years but Cokinos tracks down old specimens, old environments, and personal descriptions written by the people who actually saw them. An amazing book, sad but inspiring.

After the difficulty of extinction, I wanted something a bit more uplifting. Tim Gallagher's In Search of Birds and Wild Places fit the bill. Gallagher is a falconer, a photographer, a birder, and an adventurer. Tim takes the reader along on some amazing journeys to some of the more remote places on earth. He describes traveling in Iceland and Greenland, searching for gyrfalcons and peregrine falcons. He describes hanging off cliffs in icy weather, boating past icebergs, and trekking in places that few people have every walked through. He describes the beauty of North Padre Island, Texas and Churchill, Manitoba. He visits California to try to save the California Condor and Alberta Canada to watch Prairie Falcons. These stories made me want to get out exploring. I want to photograph birds and nature and spend time in places that no one else have visiting. A fast read that inspired.

My next book is A Year on the Wing by Tim Dee. I've heard good things about this one and am excited to start it. I wonder if I should branch out into other types of books. I figure eventually I'll hit bird overload. But for right now I'm enjoying the birds.


V said...

I've gotten into (amateur, beginner's) birding in the past few years, too! I'm not great at identification yet - it took me several hours to identify a mysterious species I take pictures of in the yard (it was a house sparrow!!) - but I am really enjoying "shooting" lots of birds with my camera when they will let me. I maintain pretty entry-level feeders with basic feed in them, and just today was enraptured when I came home from work to find SO many types at the feeders. Today there were two enormous bully bluejays, a pair of white breasted nuthatches which constantly intrigue me with their going-down-trees-backward, the sparrows, some smaller slighter-built birds (?), two female cardinals, and a few more. Two days ago, we had a massive starling invasion - truly not my favorite bird type, as they eat everything and leave many gifts.

A book on birds I really loved - really a book that transcends the category - is Providence of a Sparrow by Chris Chester

Love birding! Who knew it was so fascinating (and an important hobby now that we're needing to keep track of populations).

Liz Wagoner said...

Ugh! It keeps publishing my comments as "V"! I'm Liz Wagoner! Still love birding. I have pics:

Cat B said...

Ahhh, so I finally find out who my mysterious "V" was. Nice! A V for Vendetta reference?

I'm glad you've become interested in bird watching. It's such a wonderful hobby: interesting, cheap, with plenty of potential for learning. Don't beat yourself up about not identifying the sparrow right away. The LBJ (Little Brown Jobbies) still get me every time. I can't tell a fox sparrow from a house sparrow.

Sounds like you have a great variety of birds. I've been overloaded with goldfinches recently (in their drab winter plumage) although I'm happy to say that I haven't had your starling invasion yet. I love nuthatches. They might be my favorite bird. So interesting to watch. In the spring I love the titmice with their headdress. And plenty of chickadees. Even the fat little juncos are cute.

I'll pick the book up from the library this week. Sounds interesting. Thanks for the recommendation! And let me know how your birding goes. Sounds like you're doing wonderfully with identification. I'll check out your pictures right now.

V said...

It's V/ Liz again! It's not a V for Vendetta reference, though I know Moore's work :) - it's my son's first initial. I think he might have set up a blogging identity or something through my account once upon a time. He loves all things technology!

I'm still doing what birdwatching I can - I say this in that tone because the birds (primarily the sparrow tribe) in my yard are wise to me, and they don't think it's good for them to stick around when I show up with a camera. We played the game "chase with camera from shrub to shrub" for a while before I gave up and went in to work on the dissertation chapter.

Let me know how you like the book if you get around to it! I was very impressed with it, but admittedly, I'm not finished yet...

Cat B said...

Oh don't worry I'll read the book. They have it at my local library. As soon as I'm finished with my current book I'm heading out there to pick it up.

They can be tough to photograph. The birds at my feeder are getting used to me and some are tougher to photograph than others. Keep trying. They'll settle down to you. Eventually they'll realize where the food comes from. Never run from the hand that feeds you.