An abbreviated version of this article appears in the November-December 2012 issue of Lake Simcoe Living Magazine.
Here, we bring you all of Ron's gift suggestions, including some wonderful books!
If you have a few bird fanciers on your holiday gift list, here are some suggestions, starting with books.
The hobby of birding has become immensely popular over the past few decades. In the sub-category of field guides alone there are more than 20 different titles.
If your intended gift-recipient is the sort who prefers to do his or her bird watching from the comfort of a kitchen window or veranda chair, you may want to choose a guide that is specific to “backyard birds — species such as the northern cardinal, American goldfinch and ruby-throated hummingbird that appear regularly at people’s feeders. These guides can be purchased for about $20 at your local bookstore.
If your recipient is a child around age 8 to 14, you might want to consider The Young Birder’s Guide to the Birds of North America by Bill Thompson III ($18.95). It focuses on 300 of our most common birds (there are more than 700 species in the bigger guides) and includes excellent photos, helpful information, fun facts and up-to-date range maps that show where these birds occur.
If your targeted gift-receiver has been bird-watching for years, it’s likely they already own one — if not several — field guides. Don’t let this discourage you. New editions of existing field guides keep showing up at a surprising rate! The much-respected National
Geographic Guide, for example, now appears in its sixth edition. It was first published in 1983 but the new version with improved text, maps and illustrations came out just last year. It costs between $22 and $32, depending on whether you purchase it online or in the store (the former is typically the cheaper way to go).
My personal preference is the Sibley Guide to Birds, which has a wide range of very well drawn and helpful illustrations that include colour morphs of all North American birds and rare visitors. I hasten to add, however, that it sells for a whopping $53 and is too large for most people to bring along on a hike. Two smaller, more pocket-friendly versions of the Sibley guide exist: one is specific to the birds of eastern North America while the other is for birds west of the Rockies. Both of these run between $25-$30.
Outside of the reference guide section there are some very entertaining books dedicated to birding adventures, personal journeys that include birds, inspirational books about birds and comical accounts of misadventures encountered while chasing birds.
One of my favourites in this department is Mark Obmascik’s The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession. It was made into a fairly successful movie starring Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson a few years ago but, as is so often the case, the book is far better. It sells for about $17 in stores. Here are some other suggestions:
• Living On The Wind: Across The Hemisphere With Migratory Birds The wonders of migration are beautifully and informatively described in Simon Weidensaul’s 2000 release, which sells for about $18.
I have always enjoyed reading about personal adventures and would highly recommend Kenn Kaufman’s Kingbird Highway, which combines elements of Jack Kerouac’s beatnik classic On the Road with Roger Tory Peterson’s naturalist classic Wild America. It sells for about $20 and remains my favourite birding book of all time.
Any Canadian birder who has not read Fred Bodsworth’s marvellous novelette Last of the Curlews should definitely have a copy, so keep that in mind when you are shopping. It is a little harder to find as it came out many years ago but it can be special-ordered for about $18.
Of the new arrivals at my local Chapters store, the following bird books look very promising: Noah Stryker’s Among Penguins: A Bird Man in Antarctica ($19.95); John Yow’s The Armchair Birder: The Secret Lives of Familiar Birds ($24.95); and Sy Montgomery’s Birdology: Adventures With Hip Hop Parrots, Cantankerous Cassowaries and Crabby Crows ($17.00). As a birder who will, hopefully, receive a few Christmas gifts I’d be happy with any of these (hint, hint).
Even quirkier and more interesting-looking than the latter trio of books is Glen Chilton’s The Curse of the Labrador Duck, an autobiographical account of this Canadian professor’s wide-ranging quest for a stuffed specimen of the now-extinct Labrador Duck and, more intriguingly, the apparent curse that has brought ill fortune to the owners of this taxidermic rarity.
For the birder on your list who likes to stay abreast of environmental issues, two titles race to mind: Bridget Stutchbury’s sobering Silence of the Songbirds and Trevor Harriot’s marvellous Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril In The World of Grassland Birds. Both can be purchased for about $25.
If books don’t meet your needs, James Elliot of Newmarket has some other suggestions for those of you seeking presents for birders. His store, The Backyard Birder, on Main Street in Newmarket, carries Christmas Tree Balls from the Solitudes series. They are hand-painted portraits of birds from the Algonquin park area and other parts of Ontario. You will find loons, whiskey jacks (grey jays), northern cardinals, American goldfinches and boreal chickadees, among others. They are $35 each, with all money going back to the artist, who runs Solitudes, a wildlife rehabilitation centre.
Also popular at his store are a selection of seed and suet ornaments from Mill Creek as well as pewter ornaments from Nova Scotia, unique glassware with bird themes, locally made feeders, and a limited number of store-made Wine Crate Bird Houses.
Needless to say, a fresh supply of black-oil sunflower seed is always welcome in the homes of those who feed birds all winter and, for those who don’t, maybe it’s time to get things started with a brand new bird feeder!
At The Bird House Nature Company, which has stores on Mississaga Street in Orillia and Cedar Pointe Drive in Barrie, Janet Grant says peanut feeders that attract woodpeckers and blue jays are perennial favourites at Christmas. And many birders would appreciate a squirrel-proof bird feeder. If you have a place for a hanging bird feeder, she recommends the Squirrel Buster, which is made in Canada and “absolutely works.” The Squirrel Buster is priced around $25 and up, depending on the size and any additional features. She also recommends guides to bird sounds; her stores carry a wide variety of books that come with CDs.
I wish you the best of luck in your shopping endeavours and, of course, a very Merry Christmas.