Natural History Selections : December

A wealth of new books have arrived in time for the festive season holiday break, with many warmly recommended. There’s a strong ornithological theme but plenty of other offerings – from giraffes to gender differences – to choose from.

Syndetics book coverAnimal Earth : the amazing diversity of living creatures, by Ross Piper.
If you already had an inkling that life on earth is diverse, still prepare to be amazed. This book is packed with breath-taking photographs of mostly marine or microscopic creepy-crawlies. I never thought I would find worms and slugs interesting and beautiful, but this has changed my mind.

Syndetics book cover“Birds and people, by Mark Cocker and David Tipling ; with specialist research by and the support of Jonathan Elphick and John Fanshawe.
“There are approximately 10,500 bird species in the world, and many of them have significant relationships to people food, recreation, art, origin stories, research, and religion, to name a few. Hundreds of birders from around the world flocked together to assist Cocker via stories and observations, building this fascinating compilation of significant human-bird relationships. Entries represent 146 bird families, while another 59 families with no known cultural importance are listed in an appendix. Tipling’s photographs (and others) supplement the text with beautiful images and informative content. This is both a reference book and a book to be read for enjoyment.” (drawn from Booklist, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverSeeing flowers : discover the hidden life of flowers, by photography by Robert Llewellyn ; text by Teri Dunn Chace.
“Seeing Flowers is a visual feast that gloriously highlights 343 popular garden flowers. Using a unique photo process that includes stitching together large macro photographs, Robert Llewellyn reveals details that few have ever seen: the amazing architecture of stamens and pistils; the subtle shadings on a petal; the secret recesses of nectar tubes. Teri Dunn Chace’s lyrical and illuminating essays complement these images and offer insights on each flower, by exploring its distinguishing characteristics and sharing fascinating tidbits, tales, and lore.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverGreen equilibrium : the vital balance of humans & nature, by Christopher Wills.
“*Starred Review* In his latest popular science book, an encompassing work of fresh and realigning perspectives and discoveries enlivened by his wildlife photographs, Wills explores how ecosystems are shaped by evolution and how we are shaped by evolution and the ecosystems we inhabit. To define his concept of green equilibrium, Wills describes how one such ecological balancing act in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater went awry when park rangers suppressed grassland fires: disease-bearing ticks thrived, killing many of the big cats. … Demanding science alternates with anecdotal profiles of local people, park rangers, and scientists and cautionary tales of tragedies and triumphs, paradoxes and ironies. … as Earth’s ruling predator we must become fluent in green equilibriums, learn to be less exploitive, and harness the accumulated knowledge of indigenous people to restore and protect the living world”.–Seaman, Donna Copyright 2010 BooklistFrom Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverTop 100 birding sites of the world, by Dominic Couzens.
Even if you have no intention of visiting these 100 sites, this book is a visual delight. His criteria for selection include bird (or species) numbers, amazing migration events, or rare or unusual species. Very little information about the sites is provided, but the photographs of stunning landscapes are worth a gander alone.

Syndetics book coverGiraffe reflections, text by Dale Peterson ; photographs by Karl Ammann.
This book is the perfect accompaniment to feeding the giraffes at Wellington Zoo these school holidays. Although magnificiently illustrated, it is more than just a collection of fantastic photographs – with a lot of interesting facts and information to satisfy the armchair zoologist. Recommended for both young and old who enjoy learning about African wildlife.

Syndetics book coverPenguins : close encounters / David Tipling.
The vibrant and exciting world of penguins is shown in all its glory in this new book from renowned wildlife photographer David Tipling, who has trekked to remote and beautiful locations to capture birds in their natural habitat going about their daily lives. Moments rarely caught by humans have been preserved on film and reproduced in full-colour.

Syndetics book coverChasing Doctor Dolittle : learning the language of animals, by Con Slobodchikoff.
“Focusing on important issues such as eating, danger, love, protection, and initial interactions, Slobodchikoff puts the world of animal communication into a realm that readers can readily understand, appreciate, and marvel at. Highly recommended for general readers interested in the complexities of language across species.” (Library Journal verdict, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverThe drunken botanist : the plants that create the world’s great drinks, by Amy Stewart.
“…so rich in details, little-known facts, and actual science, that readers won’t even notice they are reading an encyclopedia. Each plant description includes history, propagation, and usage details. Stewart includes sidebars with recipes, field guides, planting instructions, a description of the role of bugs in getting from seed to plant to table, and in-depth historical details. She includes archaeological finds such as the presence of barley beer on clay pot fragments dated to 3400 B.C.E. …. Highly recommended.” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverOdd couples : extraordinary differences between the sexes in the animal kingdom, by Daphne J. Fairbairn.
“Through colorful descriptions, we imply that animals and humans, especially in gender roles, can be quite alike. Fairbairn shows us just a bit of the much greater complexity that exists in the natural world. She highlights seven examples of differences between the males and females of a species, ranging from the more familiar (elephant seals) to the unfamiliar (giant sea devils) to the downright creepy (bone-eating worms).” (drawn from Library Journal, courtesy of Syndetics) Summary : suitable both for general and more advanced readers.

Syndetics book coverDolphins down under : understanding the New Zealand dolphin, by Liz Slooten & Steve Dawson.
“Intended for readers of all ages. It includes information that would fit neatly into a school project as well as in-depth information for university students and other interested readers. It is written for people seriously interested in biology, as well as for those simply captivated by dolphins” (p. 4).

Syndetics book coverBirds of New Zealand : a photographic guide, by Paul Scofield, Brent Stephenson.
“[An] introduction to the identification and behaviour of this country’s extraordinary avian life. From the Kermadecs to Campbell Island, from beloved endemics to passing vagrants, from albatrosses and shearwaters to kiwi and kākā, the book ranges widely. Key features include: expert and up-to-date information on the 345 bird species found in New Zealand ; almost 1000 new photographs illustrating key identification characteristics and variation by age and sex ; authoritative text covering identification, behaviour, distribution and taxonomy ; M&#0257ori, English and scientific names”–Publisher information.

Other recent bird books :
Tui : a nest in the bush, by Meg Lipscombe.
Penguins : their world, their ways, by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, Julie Cornthwaite.
Where to watch birds in Canterbury, by Nick Allen.
Call of the k&#0333kako, by Jeff Hudson.
Shorebirds of New Zealand : sharing the margins, by Keith Woodley.