April’s Science Picks

Birds rule the roost in the latest crop of arrivals to the science section. Read about extraordinary owls, an epic migration journey, and a heart-warming penguin. The list is rounded off with two recommended reads – a sneak look into the life of bats, and the wonderful contribution that microbes make to Earth.

Syndetics book coverThe penguin lessons : what I learned from a remarkable bird, by Tom Michell.
A real-life story of the extraordinary bond between a young English teacher who rescues a penguin from an oil slick in Uruguay. The penguin refuses to leave his rescuer’s side. “That was the moment at which he became my penguin, and whatever the future held, we’d face it together,” says Michell. He names the penguin Juan Salvador (“John Saved”), but Juan Salvador, as it turns out, is the one who saves Michell. This is a witty and yet inspirational book.

Syndetics book coverGods of the morning : a bird’s-eye view of a changing world, by John Lister-Kaye.
This follows the year through the seasons at Aigas, the Highlands estate which the author has transformed into a world-renowned wildlife centre. The early morning brings with it twenty-nine distinct calls. Yet in the Highland glens, bird numbers plummet as their food supplies – natural fruits and every kind of creeping, crawling, slithering or flying bug–begin to disappear. …By the first frosts the hills will have emptied down to a few hardy stalwarts such as the golden eagles, the raven and the irrepressible hooded crows. The few species that are left frequent a changed world. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverThe secret lives of bats : my adventures with the world’s most misunderstood mammals, by Merlin Tuttle.
Ever since discovering a colony in a cave as a boy, Tuttle has realized how sophisticated and intelligent bats are. As he began to study bats all over the world, he also served tirelessly as their advocate, convincing farmers, landowners, and city dwellers that bats are beneficial members of their local ecosystems. But it was when he discovered that no one had ever produced good photographs of bats exhibiting their natural behaviours that a conservation star was born …. Tuttle’s tales of stalking bats, and of the discoveries he and fellow researchers have made, will make bat lovers out of every reader. (drawn from Booklist review, courtesy of Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverParrots of the wild : a natural history of the world’s most captivating birds, by Catherine A. Toft and Timothy F. Wright ; foreword by James D. Gilardi.
Drawing on over 2,400 scientific studies, this outlines the social behaviour, foraging, mating, intelligence, and conservation status of around 350 species. A worthy celebration of this appealing bird.

Syndetics book coverThe house of owls, by Tony Angell ; foreword by Robert Michael Pyle.
For a quarter of a century, Tony Angell and his family kept journals of their observations of pairs of western screech owls that occupied a nesting box outside the window of their forest home. His illustrations show owls at work and play – hunting, courting, or raising families. He shares their unique characteristics that distinguish owls from other bird species and provides a fascinating overview of the impact owls have had on human culture and thought.

Syndetics book coverLife’s engines : how microbes made Earth habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski.
From his last chapter “Thanks be to microbes for making this speck of detritus in the stardust of the universe a great place to live for their overgrown relatives, the animals and plants that temporarily decorate and rent the small dot from their microbial ancestors, who maintain it for their future relatives.” Easily understood by anyone with a passing knowledge of science – highly recommended and readable.

Syndetics book coverWild foods : looking back 60,000 years for clues to our future survival, by Vic Cherikoff.
Explores the consequences of eating a modern diet sprayed with pesticides and lacking in essential dietary fibre, protein and micro-nutrients. You will find how wild foods can help correct the imbalance and strengthen our health. Illustrated with beautiful colour photographs, this is a must-have guide for anyone who wants to live healthier lives.

Syndetics book coverThe narrow edge : a tiny bird, an ancient crab, and an epic journey, by Deborah Cramer.
Each year, red knots (sandpipers) weighing no more than a coffee cup, fly a near-miraculous 19,000 miles from the tip of South America to their nesting grounds in the Arctic and back. Along the way, they double their weight by gorging on millions of tiny horseshoe crab eggs which have conveniently been laid by their parents – ancient animals that come ashore but once a year. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Syndetics book coverUnseen city : the majesty of pigeons, the discreet charm of snails & other wonders of the urban wilderness, by Nathanael Johnson.
It all started with Nathanael Johnson’s decision to teach his daughter the name of every tree they passed on their walk to day care in San Francisco. This project turned into a quest to discover the secrets of the neighbourhood’s flora and fauna, and yielded more than names and trivia: Johnson developed a relationship with his nonhuman neighbours. Johnson argues that learning to see the world afresh, like a child, shifts the way we think about nature. (drawn from the publisher’s description)

Woof, arrf, stories of my fluffy friend: New Books About Dogs

From heroic earthquake dogs, to whimsical animal poems, the stories of the lovely fluffy dogs will cheer up your day and melt your heart.

Syndetics book coverA dog walks into a nursing home : lessons in the good life from an unlikely teacher / Sue Halpern.
“Halpern’s (Can’t Remember What I Forgot) love of life and openness to its infinite possibilities shine through in this powerful and engaging account of her time working in a Vermont nursing home. Her efforts to brighten the residents’ lives were aided by a remarkable Labradoodle named Pransky-“one singular, faithful, charitable, loving, and sometimes prudent dog.” Confounding both her expectations and the reader’s, Halpern was surprised to find that happiness was “the dominant emotion for both Pransky and me,” at the nursing home where they work together as a therapy-dog team. From the outset, the book’s humanity is evident, as seen in a description of an encounter with a legless man Halpern had never seen before and would never see again. Instead of simply passing by the man, who embodied her worst fears about nursing homes, Halpern, prodded by her dog, engaged him in conversation and got out of her comfort zone. Time and again, anecdotes bolster her contention that in places where “life is in the balance,” it is possible to get to the essentials about human nature.” (Abridged from Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverLuv from Dog / by Murray Ball.
“Following on from the ‘Wisdom of Dog’, comes ‘Love from Dog’, a book focusing on the many romances down on the Footrot Flats farm. From the intense relationships between Dog and Jess and Wal and Cheeky to the troubled and sometimes fleeting encounters of many other Raupo residents, love is definitely in the air.” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverWedding dogs : a celebration of holy muttrimony / by Katie Preston Toepfer and Sam Stall.
“Dogs attend weddings, often making up the bridal party, in this lighthearted catalogue of four-legged matrimonial revelers. Toepfer writes: “When my parents were married, my dad’s best man was a Labrador and my mum’s maid-of-honor was a Dalmatian.” A broad range of weddings, breeds, and locations are covered. Each wedding features a canine photograph and comments from the newlyweds. An “exuberant kiss” is planted on a bride in Montreal, a lathering, in fact. Bride Casi in Virginia recalls, “The dogs totally outshined me at my own wedding!” Kelly, whose pugs couldn’t make the ceremony, made pug cake toppers, had pug buttons hidden in her bouquet, and included pix of the three pugs on the wedding announcement. Outdoor weddings show a more appropriate environment for the shaggy guests, being amenable to common complaints of barks and rowdiness. A great picture of a hulking mastiff mix shows him absconding with the bride’s bouquet; perhaps a greater infraction occurs when “Romeo, enthralled by his mistress’s dress, immediately grabbed a mouthful and commenced a one-sided game of tug-of-war.” Chipper captions work in tandem with precious pictures of dapper canines: “While other guests shed tears of joy, Addie merely shed.” (Abridged grom Publisher Weekly)

Syndetics book coverQuake dogs : heart-warming stories of Christchurch dogs / text by Laura Sessions ; photography by Craig Bullock. “Strange-but-true dog stories from the Christchurch earthquakes, with beautiful photographs illustrating each story. A collection of stories about Christchurch dogs and the earthquakes u true tales of heroism, odd and quirky stories, funny stories, sad stories u stories that will surprise you, make you chuckle or make you go awwww. Includes stories of USAR dogs that worked in the central city right after the February earthquake; Guinness, the unofficial mascot of the Student Volunteer Army; Nemo who has a special gift for predicting earthquakes; dogs who were rescued and dogs who rescued others; and the uncanny knowledge that a number of dogs showed in their efforts to find their owners. Dogs have been a huge comfort to their owners in Christchurch. The intensity of the earthquake experience has heightened the wordless connection between people and their dogs, and their understanding of each others’ emotions. Part of the proceeds from the book help support one of the organisations that helped to save many dogs following the earthquakes. HUHA is a national organisation that works to rescue and re-home animals around the country, and they went to Christchurch three times to take more than 70 dogs plus numerous other animals to safe and loving homes elsewhere in the country.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverMonster knits for little monsters : 20 super-cute animal-themed hat, mitten and bootee sets to knit / Nuriya Khegay ; [photography by Alexandra Vainshtein].
“25 super cute animal themed hat and mitten sets and snowsuits to knit. Coverall hats to keep your childs head, ears and neck warm and toasty Practical pullover design ensures your little one wont tug it off Stylish matching mitten. All in one snowsuits for babies create a very Cute outfit indeed. Patterns to suit all knitting levels, from beginner to advanced, and in a rrange of sizes from 6 months to 4 years.” (Syndetics summary)

Syndetics book coverPug and other animal poems / Valerie Worth ; pictures by Steve Jenkins.
“As with the highly regarded Animal Poems (2007), Jenkins’ meticulous cut-paper collage images successfully catch the essence of Worth’s concise, vivid poems about a startling variety of creatures. The 18 featured animals, each radiant upon a separate double-page spread against boldly colored backgrounds, run the gamut from large (bull) to small (fly), from beautiful (Bengal tiger) to ugly (pug), from lively (fox) to dead (mouse), and from unusual (wood thrush) to more common ( My Cat ). Rendered in action close-ups, each should be recognizable to children. Worth’s free-verse poems are chock-full of delicious metaphor ( The Bengal tiger / Batters his cage; / His rage is thunder, / Sharp stripes flash ), providing a precise mental image. While some concepts may be a tad sophisticated for the youngest, the language and images should inspire appreciation in audiences of all ages.” (Booklist)

Syndetics book coverChaser : unlocking the genius of the dog who knows a thousand words / John W. Pilley with Hilary Hinzmann.
“Many dog owners think their own pet is smart, but get ready to meet an energetic and truly intelligent border collie, Chaser. Pilley (psychology, emeritus, Wofford Coll.) shares a remarkable story of his family dog, who over a period of three years learned to recognize and fetch more than 1,000 objects by name and eventually was even taught the meaning of different types of words such as verbs and prepositions. Pilley conducted other experiments and concluded that Chaser has two cognitive abilities: memory storage and working memory. Pilley’s findings were published in a scholarly journal, and Chaser has appeared on the Today Show and CBS Evening News and was featured in a NOVA Science Now episode on animal intelligence along with Alex, Irene Pepperberg’s fascinating parrot. While the author focuses on Chaser’s intelligence, he writes charmingly about fun, loyalty, and the friendship that an older man and his companion dog share. VERDICT Along with Pepperberg’s Alex & Me, Chaser’s remarkable story adds to our evolving understanding of how animals learn and is recommended for dog and animal intelligence collections.” (Abridged from Library Journal)

Syndetics book coverEvery dog has its day : a thousand things you didn’t know about man’s best friend / Max Cryer.
“Why has Fido become a generic term for all dogs? Why did hundreds of people collect dog faeces – and sell it?Dogs never eat other dogs, so why is it a dog-eat-dog world? Did any dogs survive the ‘Titanic’?What is a Yorkipoo?Do mad dogs really go out in the midday sun? ‘Every Dog Has Its Day’ pays homage to man’s best friend, telling the stories of famous dogs in history, tracing the origins of some of our favourite breeds, showing how dogs have become a significant part of our language, and describing the amazing range of activities in which dogs are involved. Written with Max Cryer’s characteristic light touch and sense of humour, this is a fascinating – and sometimes surprising – collection of historical facts and eccentricities of language. It will delight all dog-lovers and anyone with a morsel of interest in the world around them.” (Syndetics summary)

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.

Book about a world-famous street cat

Amazon cover linkA street cat named Bob / James Bowen.
Whenever the world gets you down it’s very heartening to read a real feel-good book with a happy ending – boy comes right, cat comes right. James Bowen was a recovering heroin addict living in a rundown housing project in London when he nursed an injured cat back to health. This was no ordinary cat but a very handsome ginger tom with a geat deal of character and intelligence. When James tried to release him back onto the streets he resisted firmly and insisted on accompanying him wherever he went, riding on his shoulder on the Tube, on the buses and in the street. James is a busker and the cat, wearing a variety of knitted scarves and bandanas, became a real attraction. He has been constantly photographed and videoed and his YouTube presentations have gone viral around the world. Both James and Bob have appeared on BBC and the Richard and Judy show,and hosted many book launches at prestigious shops, Bob often being requested to add his paw-mark to James’s signature. It is easy to get sentimental about animals but Bob does seem to be an extraordinary cat and James credits him with saving his life, His story is direct, simple and very appealing.

Update: Busking cat is heading to Hollywood