Bird and wildlife books for winter reading & gift giving

2018-12How to be a Good CreatureTry these bird and wildlife books for winter reading and gift giving

This column was also posted at Wyoming Network News: It appeared Dec. 16, 2018, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.

By Barb Gorges

Several books published this year about birds and other animals I recommend to you as fine winter reading, or gift giving.

The first, “How to be a Good Creature, A Memoir in Thirteen Animals” is a memoir by Sy Montgomery, a naturalist who has written many children’s as well as adult books about animals.

Montgomery has been around the world for her research. Some of the animals she met on her travels and the animals she and her husband have shared their New Hampshire home with have taught her important life lessons: dog, emu, hog, tarantula, weasel, octopus.

This might make a good read-aloud with perceptive middle-school and older children.

2018-12 Warblers and Woodpeckers“Warblers & Woodpeckers, A Father-Son Big Year of Birding” by Sneed B. Collard III was a great read-aloud. For two weeks every evening I read it to my husband, Mark, while he washed the dishes–a long-standing family tradition.

Like Montgomery, Collard is a naturalist and author, though normally he writes specifically and prolifically for children. He lives in western Montana.

When his son is turning 13, Collard realizes he has limited time to spend with him before his son gets too busy. Birdwatching becomes a common interest, though his son is much more proficient. They decide to do a big year, to count as many bird species as possible, working around Collard’s speaking schedule and taking friends up on their invitations to visit.

There are many humorous moments and serious realizations, life birds and nemesis birds, and a little snow and much sunshine. Mark plans to pass the book on to our younger son who ordered it for him for his birthday.

2018-12Wild MigrationsTwo Wyoming wildlife biologists, Matthew Kauffman and Bill Rudd, who have spoken at Cheyenne Audubon meetings on the subject, are part of the group that put together “Wild Migrations, Atlas of Wyoming’s Ungulates.” I ordered a copy sight unseen.

We know that many bird species migrate, but Wyoming is just now getting a handle on and publicizing the migrations of elk, moose, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, mountain goat and bison, thanks to improved, cheaper tracking technology.

Each two-page spread in this over-sized book is an essay delving into an aspect of ungulates with easy-to-understand maps and graphs. For example, we learn Wyoming’s elk feed grounds were first used in the 1930s to keep elk from raiding farmers’ haystacks and later to keep elk from infecting cattle with brucellosis.

Then we learn that fed elk don’t spend as much time grazing on summer range as unfed elk, missing out on high-quality forage 22 to 30 days a year. Shortening the artificial feeding season in spring might encourage fed elk to migrate sooner, get better forage, and save the Wyoming Game and Fish Department money.

This compendium of research can aid biologists, land managers and land owners in smarter wildlife management. At the same time, it is very readable for the wildlife enthusiast. Don’t miss the foreword by novelist Annie Proulx.

2018-12 Guide to Western Reptiles and AmphibiansThanks, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, for sending me a copy of the newly revised “Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians” by Robert C. Stebbins and Samuel M. McGinnis to review. I now know that what friends and I nearly stepped on while hiking last summer was a prairie rattlesnake, one of 12 kinds of rattlers found in the west.

There are 40-plus Peterson field guides for a variety of nature topics, all stemming from Roger Tory Peterson’s 1934 guide to the birds of eastern North America. I visited the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, New York, this fall and saw his original art work.

The reptile and amphibian guide first came out in 1966, written and illustrated by the late Stebbins. In in its fourth edition, his color plates still offer quick comparisons between species. Photos now offer additional details and there are updated range maps and descriptions of species life cycles and habitats. It would be interesting to compare the maps in the 1966 edition with the new edition since so many species, especially amphibians, have lost ground.

CheyBirdsbyMonth_FC_onlyI would be doing local photographer Pete Arnold a disservice if I didn’t remind you that you can find our book, “Cheyenne Birds by the Month” at the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens, Wyoming State Museum, Cheyenne Depot Museum, Riverbend Nursery and PBR Printing. People tell us they are using Pete’s photos to identify local birds. I hope the experience encourages them to pick up a full-fledged bird guide someday by Peterson, Floyd, Sibley or Kaufman.


What if my child wants to be a wildlife biologist?

Biologist examines bird

Biologists mist-net small birds, examine them, measure them and put a unique identification band on their leg before releasing them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published March 30, 2005, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Working in wildlife biology.”

2014 Update: Googling all three Audubon award winners showed that nine years later they are all in college. Audubon Wyoming has been absorbed by the Audubon Rockies regional office in Fort Collins, Colo.

By Barb Gorges

Three elementary students won Audubon awards at Laramie County School District 1’s science fair earlier this month: Bailey from Rossman; Colby from Hobbs; and Marcela from Pioneer Park. Each had a topic fitting the criteria of birds, wildlife and or environmental science.

A few days later, proud parents saw their children making presentations to 45 people at the Cheyenne – High Plains Audubon Society meeting. I saw future wildlife biologists.

I’m guessing most parents, like mine when I was young, have little idea of career opportunities in wildlife.

At my suburban high school career day, the closest my friend Jackie and I could come was a presentation sponsored by the National Park Service where we were told it needed secretarial and maintenance workers. Years later I realized that even the park ranger’s job involves acting as public information officer, an educator and a law enforcement agent.

A wildlife biologist is someone who manages wildlife and wildlife habitat, especially where wildlife and people have conflicting needs. Wildlife habitat is the space where animals find food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young.

Sometimes the wildlife biologist gets to play with animals, banding birds, wrestling elk or shocking fish, but a lot of the time they must crunch data, write reports and look for funding.

Having a degree and experience in a closely related field, as well as being closely related to a couple of wildlife biologists and friend of many, I’ll tell you parents what I’ve observed of the career possibilities.

First, a college degree in wildlife is a necessity in this very competitive field, but even college students have opportunities for short term and seasonal field work in trapping, tracking, observation, etc.

Most wildlife biologists would prefer to work year-round so they get a Master’s degree to qualify for permanent positions but find themselves doing more and more paperwork.

Some deal with planning to influence the size of wildlife populations, others research how particular species are affected by changes. Usually, people who want to
study the pure biology of animals get their degrees in zoology.

Where do wildlife biologists find jobs?

Probably the largest sector is government. Every state has some form of game and fish department to manage the wildlife within its boundaries. Each state has ownership of its wildlife. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deals with the big picture, especially for migratory species.

Federal land agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service, Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management manage wildlife habitat. Other federal agencies, Bureau of Reclamation, Bureau of Indian Affairs, Geological Survey, may also hire wildlife biologists, as might local agencies like the county conservation district.

In the commercial sector, companies that have an impact on the environment, such as mining, drilling or timber harvesting, hire biologists full time or as consultants to help them comply with environmental protection regulations. Consultants can also be hired to work for the government. Privately owned ranches, resorts and hunting
preserves might also hire a wildlife biologist to manage habitat for the wildlife that use their property.

A degree in wildlife adds to the credentials of hunting and fishing guides, people leading bird watching field trips or writing about or photographing wildlife.

Non-profits employ a sizeable share of wildlife biologists. Audubon Wyoming hired someone specializing in birds to lead the state Important Bird Area program and habitat enhancement work.

A peculiar kind of institution, the bird observatory, has evolved over the last 40 years. It raises funds or receives grants or contracts to investigate bird populations and issues, but it may also have a membership component and lead educational activities. There is a host of groups for specific species like elk, trout, bighorn sheep and even for specific wildlife diseases.

Then there’s the academic world where instructors and professors split their time between teaching, research, and writing. Presenting papers at The Wildlife Society, an organization of professionals, is one way to spread new information that will improve wildlife management.

There aren’t enough paying jobs for all of us who appreciate and would like to work for the benefit of wildlife, but there are a lot of opportunities for involvement.

The Christmas Bird Count is one example of laypeople contributing observations to the scientific record. Or you might volunteer to help a group improve habitat by planting trees or removing weeds.

With the amount of information now available, it is possible for anyone to be knowledgeable enough to write lawmakers and decision makers on behalf of wildlife. Even if this seems a lot like throwing pebbles in the lake, eventually enough collect to be visible above the water’s surface and to be taken into account.

Every time you choose alternatives that are energy efficient, recyclable, renewable, sustainable, clean or organic, you are helping wildlife.

If you can’t afford to be the typical American consumer, just think of it as doing your part to consume fewer resources that require disturbing wildlife habitat.
OK, you Audubon Award kids, whether you become famous ornithologists who specialtze in avian oology (bird biologist studying bird eggs) or occupational therapists with a special place in your heart for oystercatchers, thanks for your enthusiasm.

The future looks so much brighter.