A Bird’s Tale

One for Staying, One for Going

Wed, 12/06/2023 - 10:00am

We’ve all faced the dilemma: We want to show our love or appreciation for someone through a gift at the holidays but what is something that reflects who they are and what they enjoy in life?

Don’t resort to yet another funny cup, pair of socks, cute throw pillow, or the ubiquitous tie!

How about a gift that can lead to a lifetime of enjoyment and deep connection to the rhythms of the natural world that are so vital to the human experience?

We are, of course, (a little shamelessly) talking about our books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide.”

If you don’t know or have forgotten about either of these books, let us give you a quick recounting of what they’re about.

“Maine’s Favorite Birds” is a pocket-sized (sort of) book that shares beautiful watercolor images (by artist Evan Barbour) of just over 100 of the bird species you are most likely to see in Maine on an average day. By narrowing down the number of species from the 800+ or so in a typical North American field guide, placing similar birds on the same page, adding in some punchy memorable text to help learn and understand the birds and the sounds that they make, and adding in some nuggets of knowledge about how to birdwatch and where, our goal was to create a book that is great for anyone with even the slightest interest in making their life richer by connecting with birds and the natural world.

For young people especially, it is an empowering and revelatory experience first to identify a bird they have seen in real life and then to put a name to it. We well remember our excitement in discovering previously unknown-to-us knowledge that there were these amazing creatures living right here in Maine with names like great black-backed gull and hermit thrush.  How exciting and rewarding it was to figur out that the bird we were looking at right at that moment was indeed that same one we could see illustrated in the book we held in our hand.

Many’s the youngster that has shared drawings with us of their favorite bird after receiving their very own copy of “Maine’s Favorite Birds.” Others have come up years later to tell us that receiving a copy of “Maine’s Favorite Birds” set them on a path of continued discovery of birds and other parts of the natural world, a path that they are still on today.

Adults may or may not have the same revelation of discovery, but plenty have found deeper understanding and pleasure from learning more about birds after receiving a copy of “Maine’s Favorite Birds.” Some who may live seasonally here in Maine or who are occasional visitors say they find the book a treasure to peruse when they are far away but longing to remember the natural wonders and beauty of Maine.

“Birds of Aruba, Bonaire & Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide” is a book about some faraway places that many people from Maine and from throughout the U.S. (and the world really), like to visit. Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao are small tropical islands off the coast of Venezuela that have historically been part of the sphere of the Netherlands. While Aruba and Curaçao are now considered independent nations, all three islands retain strong connections and support from the Dutch government.

All three islands are renowned for their natural beauty and have built a robust tourism infrastructure and economy so have become popular and easy-to-get-to destinations for people in more northerly parts of the U.S. who are yearning for a warm, winter escape.

The three islands also have amazing and beautiful birds—and spectacular places to see and enjoy them. Bright orange troupials pipe from the tops of cactuses; dazzling ruby-topaz hummingbirds buzz about  showy flowering bushes; gorgeous green parakeets flash through the scrub on furiously beating wings;  brilliant pink flamingos honk softly from the open salt pans. They are joined by familiar birds who have migrated south from our area for the winter: ospreys, laughing gulls, barn swallows, northern waterthrushes, merlins, and many others.

For friends and loved ones even considering a trip to this part of the Caribbean, the book is chock full of the things that will convince them to go and will make their trip fun and productive. The book has chapters on the historical and ecological background of the islands, maps and directions to the best birding sites, and a lavishly illustrated field guide to virtually every bird species ever recorded on the islands.

You can get either of these books through your local bookstore or at your favorite online retailer!

Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists. He is a coauthor of the seminal Birds of Mainebook and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).