Watching our resident birds -- including one brave hummingbird -- foraging for food these wintry past few days has increased my already huge admiration for our feathered friends.
And the timing was uncanny, for this week I've been enjoying two new books featuring birds, both of which are published by Seattle-based Mountaineers Books.
"Birdsongs of the Pacific Northwest" is a tidy package consisting of a 5-inch-by-7-inch, 80-page, illustrated field guide and a CD that contains audio tracks of 165 local birdsongs. You can hear shorebirds, raptors, songbirds, and, yes, hummingbirds. The diversity of sounds is utterly amazing -Â from the barred owl's dramatic vocalizations, to the simple twitter of a tree swallow, to the fluting loveliness of the varied thrush's call. While these sounds charm our untrained ears, it is humbling to recognize that they also represent vital communication beyond our comprehension.
The soundtrack was compiled by Martyn Stewart, a veteran in the field of nature recording.
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And speaking of in the field, it was fun to see where Stewart captured the birdsongs, from Dungeness Spit to the Montlake Fill, from Cougar Mountain to Ocean Shores.
In his prefatory notes, Stewart laments how difficult it is to capture birdsongs unpolluted by the ambient noise created by humans -- lawnmowers, leaf blowers, cars, planes, etc. In a few cases, you'll hear those sounds fuzzing up the background. At the end of the CD is a glorious dawn cacophony of birdsong recorded in Wenas.
Illustrations for this guide were contributed by Stephen R. Whitney and Elizabeth Briars Hart. And at the front of the book, a glossary of abbreviations will clue you in to Whitney's cryptic species descriptions that accompany the illustrations.
The other book I'd like to bring to your attention is "Arctic Wings," a coffee-table book which is about much more than pretty pictures, although the 200 full-color photos it features, taken in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by a team of internationally-recognized wildlife photographers, are spectacular.
Included with this book is another Martyn Stewart CD -- 60 minutes filled with the chorus of a million birds singing in the land of the midnight sun.
The book is an undisguised argument for the preservation of the refuge as a vital nesting ground. This top-of-the-world spot hosts migrating birds from Africa, Asia, Oceania, Antarctica, and North and South Americas for a few crucial weeks every summer, as birds breed, feed, tend nests and raise their young.
"Arctic Wings" includes essays by former President Jimmy Carter, artist/ornithologist David Allen Sibley, photographer Subhankar Banerjee and others who are fighting to keep oil development from encroaching upon the refuge. The book was edited by Dr. Stephen Brown, lead author of the U.S. Shorebird Conservation Plan.
"As a bird lover and watcher, you already are an Arctic activist," writes Cynthia D. Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League. "Now take the next step."
At the end of the book, there is a page featuring a baker's dozen of ANWR advocacy groups.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.