Holiday Books 2000

(This column was first published in the December 11, 2000 Buffalo News.)

    This has been the best publishing year for natural history books since I have been writing this column. There are so many good titles that I will be able to comment only briefly about a few.

    Lovers of the Adirondacks -- and there are many of us here in western New York -- will find Larry Beahan's My Granpa's Woods: The Adirondacks (Coyote) a delightful read. Written by one of our area's finest conservationists, it matches family lore with accounts of contemporary expeditions afoot and by boat into our state's premier wilderness.

    For serious aquarists a valuable reference to native freshwater fish suitable for aquariums is finally available. Robert J. Goldstein's American Aquarium Fishes (Texas A&M) tells where to find over 200 species as well as how to identify, capture, raise and breed them.

    Four outstanding field guides have just been published.

    What single one to carry into the field has always been a problem for hikers. The back seat of their car may be filled with volumes about birds, mammals, butterflies, ferns, trees, insects and amphibians, but they would have to pull a cart to carry them. The best response to this problem until now has been the Reader's Digest North American Wildlife, which even as a paperback is still a large book. A competitor has, however, now arrived on the scene. It is Peter Alden's National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States (Knopf). This book has much going for it: it is small, its coverage is focussed on this region, and it is selective -- a thousand of the most common species are identified. I recommend it especially for beginning naturalists who will learn much about our part of the country from the introductory sections.

    Perfectly timed to meet an upsurge in interest in these odd predatory insects is Sidney W. Dunkle's Dragonflies through Binoculars: A Field Guide to Dragonflies of North America (Oxford). A quick check of the range maps indicates that over 80 of these 307 species occur in this region.

    Finally the Peterson and National Geographic guides have competition with two new bird identification books, each written by a fine field ornithologist. They are Kenn Kaufman's Birds of North America (Houghton Mifflin) and David Sibley's The Sibley Guide to Birds (Knopf). I recommend Kaufman for beginning through intermediate birders, Sibley for intermediate to advanced, but many of my friends are buying both. Stores are running out and the publishers are not keeping up with demand so buy soon if you want either one.

    And you still have to know where to go. Jeffrey M. Reed provides a partial answer with his Where to Find Birds in Cattaraugus County, New York (Burdesalott) with its brief descriptions of 27 sites from Allegany State Park to Zoar Valley. This is a good introduction to natural areas of the Southern Tier.

    A worthy successor but not a replacement for the wonderful Wallace Stegner book, Beyond the Hundredth Meridian, is A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell by Donald Worster (Oxford). It is a moving experience to read once again about one of our nation's last hero-explorers of the rivers and deserts of our Southwest.

    Appropriately named, The Family Butterfly Book by Rick Mikula (Storey) provides a good basis for family or classroom activities. It includes good information about butterfly gardening and raising butterflies as well as identification of common species in their larvae, chrysalis and adult stages.

    And for scary stories to tell over campfires, I suggest Man Eaters: True Tales of Animals Stalking, Mauling, Killing and Eating Human Prey edited by Lamar Underwood (Lyons).-- Gerry Rising