TO THOSE of us who have always marvelled at the return of the sum total of species of birds each spring will find their interest piqued in reading an April 8, 2014, book released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt entitled “The Homing Instinct.” The author, Bernd Heinrich, resides “in a patch of western woods” located in our neighboring state of Maine. Heinrich has written a long list of natural history books that includes: “The Mind of the Raven,” “Life Everlasting,” “The Nesting Season” and “Bumblebee Economics.”
“The Homing Instinct” is about the “Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration.” It is believed by the author that the desire to return “home” is spread deeply among all animals, including humans. Heinrich explored how many creatures, birds, fish, amphibians and, yes, even insects, have an urge, or “instinct to migrate homeward.” This acclaimed scientist tells how geese imprint a true visual landscape memory of home, and how scent trails are used by many other animals to pinpoint their way “home.”
Toward the conclusion of the introduction of this book, Heinrich wrote: “To understand the meaning of home, like any other phenomenon, it helps to step back and see from another’s world. Animals give more than just clues to the why and the how of homing. They show what it possible, what has been tested, and what has worked after millions of years of evolution ... I have tried to speculate freely, and hope that will open discussion, and not close it.”
As one who has attempted to pay attention to animal migration, especially those of birds throughout my lifetime, I must confess that I have not finished reading this study but I look forward to doing so with great interest. My “reading nibbles” so far have not been disappointing.
“The Homing Instinct, Meaning and Mystery in Animal Migration” totals 368 pages, retails for $27 and is currently available at booksellers.
New birder’s guide
Close on the heels of the above reviewed book, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is a new “Peterson Field Guild” entitled “The New Birder’s Guide for Birds of North America.” It was authored by Bill Thompson III, editor of my favorite bird magazine, “The Bird Watcher’s Digest.” This new guide was released for publication on May 6.
Unlike advanced field guides, that sometimes can be overwhelming for beginners, this new guide provides a combination of information and entertainment — such things as how to identify a particular bird species, where and when to look for them, what they sound like and how they behave.
Bill writes: “Birding is a hobby that is inexpensive and easy to do. You can watch birds anywhere and at almost any time. For many of us who enjoy watching birds, we can trace our interest to a single encounter that sparked our imagination. This is our ‘spark’ bird. My spark bird was a snowy owl that drifted into the giant oak tree in front of our house in Pella, Iowa, on a cold November day. I was 6 years old and was helping my parents rake the leaves off the front yard when a large white bird caught my eye. I knew it was an owl, but what kind of an owl? And weren’t owls creatures of the night? I ran inside the house for our very basic bird guide. There it was: snowy owl! I spent the next few days carrying that guide around our large backyard, looking at birds and then trying to find them in the guide.”
“The New Birder’s Guide” is loaded with color photographs, drawings and an easy to use checklist. Please note the sections headed “WOW” (fun facts or oddities about each bird); “Find It” (the bird’s habitat); “Listen For” (vocalization descriptions); and up-to-date range maps.
In the new guide, I suggest reading the first group of “white” pages as they are filled with general information truly necessary to become a good “birder,” especially study and learn the anatomy of a bird.
I found that Bill Thompson III’s latest book, “The New Birder’s Guide of Birds of North America,” covering 300 of the most commonly seen birds, it very easy to read and readers at once receive the necessary information to assist in identifying individual species. As one who has used several bird guides over the years, I found this book to be a great addition to the Peterson series. The guide is 368 pages long, costs $16.95 and is now available at booksellers.
On May 3, I received a telephone call from a long-time Exeter reader who reported that the bank swallows had returned to begin their 2014 breeding season. Good news!
Stacey Cole’s address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey, NH 03466.