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Explore the natural world with Snowy Egret, the oldest independent U.S. journal of nature writing. 

Back issues of Book Notes Wild: 

2004

2005


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BOOK NOTES WILD
The Grail Bird

"Long believed to be extinct, a magnificent bird - the ivory-billed woodpecker - has been rediscovered in the Big Woods of eastern Arkansas. More than 60 years after the last confirmed sighting of the species in the United States, a research team today announced that at least one male ivory-bill still survives in vast areas of bottomland swamp forest."

"Bayou de View is a magical place where wildlife abounds. As we canoed through the swamp, wood ducks and flocks of mallards burst from the water around us. Herds of white-tailed deer, snorting a loud warning, splashed off across the shallow water at the edge of the woods. We saw beavers swimming past and otters playing. The loud calls of barred owls and great horned owls echoed through the dim recesses of the swamp, even at midday. But most impressive were the woodpeckers. Everywhere we turned we saw pileated, red-bellied, red-headed, and downy woodpeckers, plus a few yellow-bellied sapsuckers...

"And then it happened. Less than eight feet away, a large black-and-white bird that had been flying toward us from a side channel of the bayou to the right came out into the sunshine and flew across the open stretch of water directly in front of us. It started to bank, giving us a superb view of its back and both wings for a moment as it pulled up, as if it were going to land on a tree trunk. 'Look at all the white on its wings!' I yelled. Hearing my voice, it veered away from the tree and continued to fly to the left. We both cried out simultaneously, 'Ivory-bill!'" 

Tim Gallagher


Playing with Fish

"I remember my first bear encounter in California -- like meeting the grizzlies in Alaska -- a memorable event. I was walking a dirt road going nowhere in particular when I stopped to look at a moving trashcan with a hairy bottom. The bear's head came out of the can. He looked me in the eyes. Immediately, someone picked me up by my armpits, running... I was delivered into my own mother's arms at a campsite. I believe bears are my earliest memory, the moment I became me.."
Robert J Wolfe
"Bird migrations are wondrous. How is  it that birds successfully traverse vast distances year after year with such diminutive heads? The largest are the size of tightly-rolled socks, shiny eyes poked pinlike to the sides. I understand what scientists assert -- birds successfully navigate the vast distances by memory. Birds remember landmarks, star constellations rotating in the black heavens, and slight realignments of the Earth's electromagnetic fields sense with intracranial lodestones. This all occurs within the rolled-up sock. As I say, it's wondrous."
Robert J. Wolfe

A Place to Stand
"That river attracted those boys like a magnet. Caroline had to keep them in sight every minute or they were down the banks throwing rocks and playing by the water. It was the same way with my own babies when they were llittle. I love that river, but it has always scared me a bit, with its power and immensity, the potential to sweep a small child away in an instant. I never look at that river in flood but what I think of Jack. When he was small, he was as intrigued by the water as Paul's little guys are. And then..."
J. W. Secrist
Plant Roots
"Allelopathy

"The phenomenon of allelopathy refers to the chemical interactions that occur among plants mediated by the release of chemicals into the soil.

"ome plants are well known for reducing the growth of neighboring competitors and chemicals released from roots have been identified in several species...

"Among crops, sorghum has long been known to suppress the growth of some weeds and, depending on conditions, succeeding crops such as maize...

"Several varieties of rice have also been found to inhibit the growth of other plants...

"Among trees, the presence of black walnut in landscapes has long been known to be detrimental to a wide range of vegetable and crop species including tomato, pea, beans, maize, wheat and barley...

Peter Gregory

Essentials of Disease in Wild Animals
"The only method that has been developed for mass immunization of wild animals is distribution of vaccine in baits. This technique requires that the vaccine induces immunity by the oral route and raise many safety concerns...

Diseases are like weeds in that both thrive in disturbed environments. Just as weeds have great difficulty gaining a foothold in an established forest or grassland, diseases have difficulty being perpetuated in stable systems, but both weeds and some forms of disease quickly invade and proliferate following disturbance. Human history is replete with examples in which pestilence has followed social and environmental disruption... Diseases such as measles have emerged in epidemic form in human populations as a result of the large, dense populations that occur in cities. Refuges on which wild waterfowl are crowded together for months and artificial feeding areas on which some wild species congregate seem very like cities to me, but they are cities without the benefit of sewage disposal, clean water and the immunization programs that protect us from many diseases,
Gary A. Wobeser
  
The Grail Bird: Hot on the Trail of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker, by Tim Gallagher. 288 pp. Houghton Mifflin, 2005.

Here's the story of an elusive woodpecker, long ago consigned to extinction and legend, and the intensive search of one of the most forbidding areas of North America that resulted in a handful of sightings that "prove" its continued existence.

The story takes place in the swamps and marshlands of the deep South, from the Big Thicket country of east Texas to the wild bayous of Arkansas. Birders and ornithologists and local outdoorspeople all contribute to a year-long search that produces at least 15 sightings, four seconds of video, and audio recordings of what may be an ivory-bill woodpecker.

Inspired by a lone kayaker's February, 2004, report of an "unusual woodpecker" foraging on a huge cypress tree in an eastern Arkansas bayou, the author and his colleagues revisit the sighting location hoping for a glimpse of the bird.

"Bayou de View is a magical place where wildlife abounds," Tim Gallagher writes. "As we canoed through the swamp, wood ducks and flocks of mallards burst from the water around us. Herds of white-tailed deer, snorting a loud warning, splashed off across the shallow water at the edge of the woods. We saw beavers swimming past and otters playing. The loud calls of barred owls and great horned owls echoed through the dim recesses of the swamp, even at midday. But most impressive were the woodpeckers. Everywhere we turned we saw pileated, red-bellied, red-headed, and downy woodpeckers, plus a few yellow-bellied sapsuckers...

"And then it happened. Less than eight feet away, a large black-and-white bird that had been flying toward us from a side channel of the bayou to the right came out into the sunshine and flew across the open stretch of water directly in front of us. It started to bank, giving us a superb view of its back and both wings for a moment as it pulled up, as if it were going to land on a tree trunk. 'Look at all the white on its wings!' I yelled. Hearing my voice, it veered away from the tree and continued to fly to the left. We both cried out simultaneously, 'Ivory-bill!'"

Gallagher is no ordinary birder. As editor in chief of Living Bird magazine -- flagship publication of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology -- and author of Wild Bird Photography and Parts Unknown: A Naturalist's Journey in Search of Birds and Wild Places, he's schooled in professional ornithology and knows how to make careful and precise observations. His identification of a living ivory-bill woodpecker, like those of others in the field, helps substantiate the existence of at least one ivory-bill woodpecker.

Published just after the public announcement of the discovery, this book provides a timely background and supplement to one of the most surprising natural history news events of the 21st century.


Playing With Fish And Other Lessons from the North, by Robert J. Wolfe. 137 pp. University of Arizona Press, 2006.

In this thoughtful collection of personal essays, a cultural anthropologist contrasts his studies of Alaska's indigenous peoples with his suburban California homeland and draws insights from the juxtaposition about how sustainable relationships between people and nature can be formed.

Among the Yup'ik Eskimo of Alaska, whose traditional hunting and fishing practices the author documented, there is a saying, "The fish are not to beplayed with." This instruction is ingrained in Yup'ik culture and impressed upon its children from a young age. "The teaching touches on correct ways of perceiving nature. It describes how humans may find rightful places within it," the author explains.

Robert J. Wolfe, formerly a research director with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and a first-time author with this book, describes how this traditional view of nature conflicted with the catch-and-release sportfishing community in southwest Alaska.

"Many sport fishing professionals believe their sport to be unmatched. For them, the sport in its purest form is unquestionably beneficial, both to people and to fish. This is a basic tenet of faith," he explains. When Yup'ik elders challenged their viewpoint, pointing out that catch-and-release was a violation of their sacred trust with nature and that sport fishing was making subsistence fishing more difficult, it was "disorienting, gut-wrenching, and psychologically threatening. There's an initial rush to righteous anger. Then the challenge is dismissed as self-serving politics or simple ignorance. For the faithful, it's heresy to consider it an authentic possibility."

The catch-and-release conflict between the Yup'ik and the sport fishers is not resolved, and its story is just one of eight essays in this volume, all of them bound together by the common theme of conflicting cultures at odds over their relationships natural world.

A Place to Stand: A Tale of the Peace River Country, by J. W. Secrist. 320 pp. Authorhouse, 2006.

While this book is a work of fiction, it is largely about a real place -- the Peace River Country of British Columbia -- and real people, the 20th century homesteaders drawn to its wild and pristine mountain valleys. Though fictionalized, their stories are drawn from the author J.W. Secrist's own immigration to the area in the 1970s and his involvement with and experience in farming and ranching in a wilderness environment.

"Northwest of the sprawl of Edmonton lay a country as yet little developed, in fact little known," Secrist writes in a chapter titled "1914."

"Most of it lay as it had since time immemorial, a vastness of rolling poplar-covered hills, festooned with sluggish muskeg streams and pattered with shallow lakes. Cutting through the land, flowing always northeast ran great rivers which drained the mountain passes to the south and west... the Peace River country was one of the last great frontiers, begun centuries earlier when the first whites had thrust inland from the Atlantic Coast. For more than 100 years, white men had come and gone up and down the calm waters of the lower Peace, but only a mere handful had come to stay. Though the occupation by the Beaver, Sikanni, Woodland Cree, and other indigenous peoples extended back into the mists of time, in the year 1914 the country was little changed from the way it was in the beginning."

Against this primeval backdrop, Secrist tells the story of Irish immigrant Liam Brennan and his post-WWII Belgian bride, Marta, as they try to carve a life for themselves out of the frigid cold, the stark isolation, and the elemental beauty of their chosen homeland.

Plant Roots: Growth, Function and Interactions with the Soil, by Peter Gregory. 328 pp.
Blackwell Science Inc., 2006

The study and understanding of plant roots and their interactions with the soils around them has been somewhat neglected by botanists compared to the research on the leaves and fruit of plants. Roots in soil are difficult to observe and until, recently, their processes have been difficult to measure. Many of the studies of roots extant in plant literature are based on seedlings in solution rather than soil, and extrapolating their findings to older plants begs questions about the impact of changing root anatomy, chemical composition, and the fungi and bacteria in the soil.

This book corrects the imbalance with a comprehensive survey of current knowledge on the root systems of vascular plants and their interactions with soils. The author, Professor Peter Gregory, shares his expertise on the development and growth of root systems and his understanding of how roots are both affected by interactions with their biological environment and how they, as well, modify their environment.

Essentials of Disease in Wild Animals, by Gary A. Wobeser. 256 pp. Blackwell Publishers, 2006.


Wild birds helped spread the West Nile Virus and deer are unwitting confederates in the dissemination of Lyme Disease. Rodents are harbingers of hantavirus and avian influenza flies in on the wings of wild waterfowl.

The emergence, transmission, and control of all these diseases is in some way connected to wildlife, as are rabies, tularemia, plague, brucellosis, SARS and dozens of other human and livestock afflictions.  Today's critter populations may be closely managed and monitored, but the viruses and bacteria within them are still wild and their bite can be lethal.

Like a stealthy cat that crouches motionless before it strikes, the role of wild animals in epidemics has been largely overlooked by scientists until recently. But in the last two decades physicians and public health officials have had to face up to the fact that most of the emerging infectious diseases of humans are "zoonoses" -- diseases that are shared with animals.

Suddenly, a host of scientific disciplines -- epidemiology, ecology, biology, toxicology, medicine, agriculture, veterinary science, animal behavior -- are taking a serious interest in the diseases of wild animals and a new breed of specialist in wildlife medicine has emerged.

"Essentials of Disease in Wild Animals" by Gary A. Wobeser is the first academic book on wildlife diseases to take a broad view of the subject rather than focusing on a single disease or species of animal.  Wobeser discusses the nature of diseases and how they emerge, explores how they spread and persist in the environment, and considers the effects they have on both individual animals and their extended species population.

By approaching disease as an ecological (rather than strictly medical) issue, Wobeser questions the effects that diet, habitat loss, pesticides, and genetics have on the emergence and spread of disease in wild animals. "Disease is one environmental feature among many that affect animals," he points out.  "It is impossible to understand disease without considering the interactions among disease agents and with other factors such as nutrition, predation, climate, and reproduction."

There are no simple answers to why animals get sick, nor is there an easy cure. Disease is part of the ecology of the wild and cannot be eradicated with vaccines or quarantines or education the way it is in human populations.

Wobeser's text makes it clear that  the health of wildlife is important all of us, not just wildlife managers, and that diseases in the wilds pose a threat not only to wild animal populations, but to the livestock and humans they will inevitably contact.


 

A FalconGuide to Death Valley National Park

Trail Guides

In their outdoor recreation guide, A FalconGuide to Death Valley National Park: A Guide to Exploring the Great Outdoors (Falcon, 2005), travel writers and guidebook authors Bert and Jane Gildart detail 30 of their favorite drives and hikes, from the volcanic Ubehebe Crater in the north end of the park to the desert bighorn sheep range near Willow Spring to the south.

Nearby trailheads and suggested outings are included with each entry in The Best in Tent Camping guidebook series from Menasha Ridge Press. Recent releases in the series cover Minnesota, Montana, Washington, New England, New Jersey, Missouri and the Ozarks.
Roadside Geology of Southern British Columbia
Finding Fault in California
Field Guides

Bill Mathews and Jim Monger explain British Columbia's geologic history in simple terms in Roadside Geology of Southern British Columbia (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2005), which covers southern British Columbia from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Alberta border east of Golden.

A guidebook to earthquake sites? Seems unlikely, but it's true. Finding Fault in California: An Earthquake Tourist's Guide (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2004) helps readers locate active faults in earthquake-prone California and recounts the temblors they have caused.

Useful for anyone venturing into the outdoors, the Hunters' Guide for Treating Medical Emergencies by Patrick Brighton (Menasha Ridge Press, 2006) details prevention and treatment of everything from gun shot wounds to gastrointestinal disorders
.
Fire Mountains of the West
Amphibians, Reptiles, and Their Habitats at Sabino Canyon
Natural Histories

Fire Mountains of the West: The Cascade And Mono Lake Volcanoes (Mountain Press Publishing Company, 2005) by Stephen L. Harris  profiles the active volcanoes of the Pacific Coast, from Mammoth Mountain in northern California to Mount Meager in southern British Columbia.

Amphibians, Reptiles, and Their Habitats at Sabino Canyon by David W. Lazaroff, Philip C. Rosen, and Charles H. Lowe (University of Arizona Press, 2006) offers annotated and illustrated descriptions of the amphibians and reptiles found at Sabino Canyon and an overview of their natural environment.

In Cephalopods: Ecology and Fisheries (Blackwell Publishing, 2005), Peter Boyle and Paul Rodhouse present a thorough review of the animal group that includes squid, cuttlefish and octopuses.
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