MAKE AN EXCELLENT HOLIDAY GIFT
by Whit Gibbons
December 2, 2007
for a holiday gift for that hard-to-please someone? I have a suggestion
that should delight anyone. "Anyone," that is, who enjoys fascinating
nature facts, spectacular nature photographs, or both. "Owls of the
United States and Canada: A Complete Guide to Their Biology and Behavior"
(2007, Johns Hopkins University Press, $39.95) by Wayne Lynch is beautiful,
readable, and affordable. It should be well received by a whole spectrum
of friends and relatives.
fascinating creatures, and this brand new book (published November 30)
provides a wealth of information about them. Lynch is not only a superb
nature writer but also a world-class photographer. His numerous captivating
color photographs of owls augment the absorbing text. This book would
complement any coffee table. But unlike many such books, it is likely
to be pored over rather than merely glanced at. The writing would stand
alone with no pictures, offering facts about owls that are fascinating,
positions about environmental impacts on owls that are compelling, and
personal accounts that are inspiring.
there are the photographs.
the pictures are of owls themselves--flying, perching, eating, and doing
other things owls do--but some are habitat shots that tell their own story.
A full-page glossy photograph showing the breath-taking beauty of an Oregon
old-growth forest with moss-draped trees has a fairy tale look about it.
which discusses the controversy and clashes between environmentalists
and loggers, is told within the context of the northern spotted owl. Lynch
points out that 17 years ago, across the border from Oregon's old-growth
forests, an estimated 100 pairs of spotted owls were "lurking in
the shadowed coastal forests." Today, only 6 pairs are left in British
Columbia. "In Canada, the owl is doomed--the result of greed and
the irresponsible logging . . . of old-growth forests." Lynch's words
coupled with a look at the primeval forest and the solemn looking spotted
owl on a following page make for a simple decision--we should vigorously
protect the forest and the owl.
The captions accompanying the photographs not only identify which owl
is depicted but also provide other tidbits of fascinating information.
So even readers who just want to look at the pictures can learn something
about these remarkable animals. For example, a barred owl staring out
from the page is noted for being one of only four owls, of the 19 species
that live in the United States and Canada, that has black eyes. The other
15 species have yellow eyes. Another barred owl photo shows two nestlings
preparing to eat a headless red squirrel. The caption notes that "adult
male owls often decapitate prey before bringing it to the nest"--a
behavior that scientists have yet to explain.
feature of the book for those who think categorically is a 10-page section
in which each species is identified by photograph, distribution map, and
basic natural history information.
Personal perspectives of the author, who is a keen scientific observer,
effectively blend biological facts and heartfelt feelings about nature.
For more than three months, Lynch observed a family of great horned owls.
During that time he noted the baby owls' intense curiosity. Early one
evening he saw a commercial jet that was high enough to pick up the reflection
of the already set sun so that "its jet stream became a ribbon of
gold set against the deep blue of the twilight sky. One of the owl chicks
spotted the golden beam and followed it as it moved overhead, its yellow
eyes open wide with interest. The wild innocence and purity of the moment
brought tears to my eyes."
As I said,
"Owls" is beautiful, readable, and affordable. So if you plan
to give it as a gift, I suggest you buy a copy for yourself as well. Otherwise,
you'll get it home, start flipping through the pages, fall in love with
text and pictures, and decide that it will look just perfect on your own
coffee table. And then there you'll be still looking for a present for
that hard-to-please person.
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