Katharine Dow on the complex ethics of assisted reproduction

making the good life jacket dowAlthough many don’t know the full scope of current reproductive technologies, opinions and judgments on the ethics involved abound. Katharine Dow explains the intrigue and controversy in Making a Good Life: An Ethnography of Nature, Ethics, and Reproduction. Touching on fears about environmental degradation and the rise of the biotechnology industry, the book offers a new approach to researching and writing about nature, ethics, and reproduction technologies, from IVF to surrogacy. Dow recently agreed to answer a few questions on understanding the impact these technologies have had on our culture.

How did you first become interested in assisted reproductive technologies?

KD: It’s funny because when I first started looking at these issues, during my doctoral studies, a lot of people in my cohort were studying things that they had some personal connection to, and I had no personal experience of IVF, surrogacy or egg or sperm donation. Though, as I discuss in the book, I do have experience of having some rather complicated family relationships like my father’s adoption and discovery of long-lost sisters! I first became interested in assisted reproduction when I was an undergraduate and I had a few lectures on it. I found the thorny philosophical and ethical issues that they raise completely fascinating and so when I came to think about what I would like to research myself, my thoughts turned to assisted reproduction.

Initially, I was particularly interested in surrogacy and I think the reason for that was firstly that it is so obviously to do with gender, which is a perennial interest of mine, and secondly, that it touches on so many taboos and I suppose I’ve always been fascinated with those kinds of things that set off people’s ethical antennae, because then you know you’ve really hit a cultural nerve. I think these sort of taboo subjects can be a great way of digging deeper into how people think. But, as you can tell from the book, I’ve also come to realise that reproduction is often treated as being marginal, yet it is absolutely fundamental to how we think, whether or not we have children – it’s so closely linked with ideas about life, the future, ethical values and even complex concepts like nature, and that’s really one of the overarching points I want to make with the book.

Making a Good Life is unusual in that it looks at what people who are not using assisted reproductive technologies themselves think about these technologies. What do you think that brings to our understanding of assisted reproduction?

KD: Well, first of all, I should make it clear that I think there is enormous value to all the clinic-based ethnographies of assisted reproductive technologies out there, which were instigated early on by feminist theorists wanting to better understand what it was like for people – mostly women – to undergo IVF and so on. That is so important.

Having said that, I am also very aware that most people aren’t personally involved in assisted reproduction, but they are frequently exposed to it through media coverage and public debates and so I felt like a really important part of the puzzle was missing – which is what people think about assisted reproduction and how they respond to it as an ethical ‘problem’. As I say in the book, it’s not that I think patients aren’t objective enough or anything like that, but it’s about recognising that reproduction has very important effects and implications for life more generally and that asking people to really discuss in detail what they think the ethics of assisted reproduction are is a way of getting at some deeper cultural assumptions, which might well be different if you’re not personally invested in the technologies.

So, from an empirical point of view, it’s about filling in a gap in our understanding of these technologies, which are actually crucial to the time we’re living in, in terms of how IVF has provided the platform for a whole biotech industry and what that has done to forms of labour and medical treatments, how they’ve opened up parenthood to gay, lesbian and single parents and so on. But also, it’s questioning the received wisdom about how we social scientists learn about medical technologies. So, I was also interested in playing with the ethnographic method and trying something different.

A sense of place seems to be an important aspect of your book. Can you describe what it was like to do ethnographic research in Spey Bay, this small village in northeast Scotland?

KD: Oh, I often think about Spey Bay, even though it’s quite a few years since I left now. What immediately comes to mind when I think of the place is the look and feel of it – the crunch of pebbles underfoot, the feel of the wind in your face. I think of shared laughter, the scent of woodsmoke and the scrunching sound that Gore-Tex jackets make while you walk. It’s certainly quite different from London, which is where I lived before fieldwork and where I live now.

I started fieldwork as a shy 23-year-old and constantly worried that I wasn’t doing it right. I thought I would hate fieldwork, because it would mean having to be obtrusive and not worrying about whether I looked like a fool if I asked the wrong questions. And of course there were moments like that, but I found an incredibly warm and open group of people there who never seemed to mind me asking them questions or challenged my right to live amongst them. Of course the close – and genuine – friendships I cultivated with people in Spey Bay meant that it was quite difficult to write about them afterwards and I wonder whether they will object to how I’ve represented them, but thanks to them, I really enjoyed fieldwork in the end.

Do you think we are in an age of heightened attention to ethics?

KD: Yes and no. I think we are currently in the midst of a really exciting repoliticisation of public life. I particularly see it amongst students and especially in relation to questions of gender, race and sexuality. In the book, I am writing about people who explicitly think about ethics every day, especially in relation to the environment and I think the ethical living movement has been a really important way of mainstreaming environmental concerns. I accept the criticisms about it not doing enough to challenge capitalism, which is what is really required if we are to prevent catastrophic climate change (as well as ameliorating the myriad inequalities that capitalism is responsible for). But, I also think that there is an ideological move at stake in assuming that a movement or campaign that presents itself as primarily ethical has nothing to do with politics. So I am wary of the idea that an ethical turn is necessarily a turn away from politics. Also, while I’m all for overturning the central assumptions of neoliberal capitalism, I think climate change is tricky because, pragmatically, it requires a global effort and so radicals do have to bring more conservative and moderate people on board and framing the argument in terms of ethics can be a really powerful way of doing that.

So, what’s next for you after completing Making a Good Life?

KD: I’ve been at the University of Cambridge for a couple of years now, where I work in a fantastic research group of people who all work on reproduction and assisted reproductive technologies. In terms of my current research, I’ve been taking some of the themes from Making a Good Life in two different directions. Firstly, I am in the middle of a research project on how the British media represented IVF, particularly focusing on the 1970s and ’80s. It’s been really rewarding to broaden my experience by doing research from more of a cultural studies angle and to do historical and archival research. The public debates about assisted reproduction were a very important backdrop to Making a Good Life, so it’s great to get the chance to look at them in more depth. Secondly, I am working on a new collaborative project with my colleague Janelle Lamoreaux, which looks further at connections between reproduction and the environment. Related to that, I’m currently developing a new multi-sited ethnographic project that looks at informal seed saving and seed swapping in the UK, which I’m really excited about pursuing over the next few years.

Katharine Dow is a research associate in the Reproductive Sociology Research Group at the University of Cambridge. She has written Making a Good Life: An Ethnography of Nature, Ethics, and Reproduction.

Q&A with Sara Lewis, author of Silent Sparks

silent sparks jacketThere is something undeniably captivating and alluring about fireflies. In Silent Sparks: The Wondrous World of Fireflies, author Sara Lewis talks about the lives and surprising secrets of these creatures that light up the night skies. You’ll learn, for instance, that fireflies’ lives can be rather brief and gruesome. Lewis has spent over thirty years studying fireflies and has participated in a popular TED talk about the insects. This Q&A offers insights into why Lewis became so attracted to the idea of researching fireflies and what readers can expect to be surprised by in Silent Sparks.

What inspired you to write a book about fireflies?

SL: Ah, this book had quite a long gestation period! I’ve been doing research on fireflies for about 30 years. Whenever people hear about my job, “ Oh, I love fireflies!” is their nearly universal response. And so many people are curious, quite eager to learn more. But there really hasn’t been much accessible information out there. Even though we’ve learned a tremendous amount about fireflies over the past few decades, all these new discoveries lay hidden away in the technical literature. Scientists write primarily for other scientists, so these papers are chock full of technical jargon. Also, they can be difficult to access because they’re located behind paywalls. Knowing how many people would enjoy celebrating the science and the wonder of fireflies – that’s really what inspired me.

Who is the audience for this book, and what do you hope people will get from it?

SL: As I write in the preface: “If you love fireflies, then I wrote this book for you.” My goal is to escort people behind the scenes to explore the science behind the spectacle. How do these creatures make light? And what’s with all that flashing – are they talking to one another? What do baby fireflies look like? Are fireflies really disappearing?

One thing I hope people will take away from Silent Sparks is the immense beauty that emerges when you look at fireflies in the light of evolution. And they’ll get to glimpse the scientific process that helps us collectively accumulate knowledge. Of the few hundred scientists who’ve dedicated their days and nights to uncovering fireflies’ secrets, I’m lucky to count many of them among my mentors and friends. The book introduces quite a few of these firefly scientists – for me, their stories help the science come alive.

What’s most the surprising thing your book reveals about fireflies?

SL: Most people think there’s just one type of firefly, so the Most Surprising Revelation Award would likely go to the fact that there are over 2000 different firefly species sprinkled across the globe. And they’ve evolved remarkably different courtship styles. In North America, our most familiar fireflies are lightning bugs, which use quick, bright flashes to find mates. Northern Europe has mainly glow-worm fireflies: plump and wingless, these females climb up onto perches at night and glow for hours to attract their flying males. The western US has mainly dark fireflies. These fly during daytime and they don’t light up – instead males use their fancy antennae to sniff out perfumes given off by their females.

Any other surprises?

SL: Yes, lots! Without revealing too much, I think most people will be surprised by fireflies’ gory and gluttonous childhood, for instance.

Do you have a favorite firefly?

SL: I was hoping you wouldn’t ask that! It’s so hard to pick just one, because fireflies have so many different lifestyles and I find each one fascinating. I guess my current favorite would have to be the blue ghost firefly, Phausis reticulata. I fell under the spell of these mysterious fireflies a few years back when I first encountered them in the southern Appalachians. Flying ankle-high above the forest floor, blue ghost males give off eerie, long-lasting glows as they search for females. Meanwhile, the blue ghost females are tiny and wingless, and they’re very hard to find. They’re nestled down in the leaf litter, their transparent bodies studded with glowspots that shine like gemstones.

Another reason I like them is that they hold so many secrets just waiting to be uncovered – we still know very little these blue ghost fireflies.

silent sparks firefly

In blue ghost fireflies, the males can fly but the wingless females cannot. (photo by Raphael De Cock)

What got you started studying fireflies?

SL: I got hooked on life’s diversity early on, but it wasn’t until I completed my PhD that I started paying close attention to fireflies. One evening I was sitting out in my backyard in North Carolina, and suddenly these silent sparks rose up all around me. It was a magical moment – anyone who’s seen them knows exactly what I mean! And when I started reading about them, I realized these creatures would make perfect subjects to better understand sexual selection. This evolutionary process is responsible for the many bizarre and unusual features that help males improve their reproductive prospects: the peacock’s tail, the rhinoceros beetle’s horns, the bowerbird’s displays, the wood thrushes’ song and, as it turns out, the firefly’s flashes.

What did you learn while writing this book?

In terms of my personal growth, I learned to love writing again. For this book project, I really wanted to make the science accessible. Yet scientific writing uses a highly precise, concise shorthand; jargon works really well when scientists are communicating with one another, but this language can be difficult for others to understand. It took a few months, but finally I remembered how much fun it is to write in plain English! Adjectives, punctuation…the possibilities were thrilling!

silent sparks firefly

Fireflies spark childhood memories, transform ordinary landscapes, and rekindle our sense of wonder (photo by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu).

As I researched the book, I also learned a lot about the many interconnections between humans and fireflies. Around the world, fireflies elicit a nearly mystical reverence. But nowhere on Earth are fireflies more intricately woven into the cultural fabric than in Japan. As I describe in Silent Sparks, the Japanese people have enjoyed a profound love affair with fireflies for more than a thousand years. But I hadn’t realized how narrowly these beloved insects escaped being extinguished from the Japanese countryside during the twentieth century. Now, through research and widespread restoration efforts, Japanese fireflies have made a remarkable come-back to become a symbol of national pride and environmentalism.

Sara Lewis, who has been captivated by fireflies for nearly three decades, is a professor in the Department of Biology at Tufts University. Her work has been featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Scientific American, and USA Today. Lewis lives with her husband in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Bird Fact Friday – Sneaky Little Birds

From page 7 of Birds of the West Indies:

In some cases, bird species that we once concluded were extinct have in fact only eluded human detection. For example, the Puerto Rican Nightjar was collected in 1888, but then not seen again for 73 years before it was rediscovered in 1961. Stories like this remind us of how fragile animal species can be, spurring us to greater awareness and conservation efforts.

Birds of the West Indies
Herbert Raffaele, James Wiley, Orlando Garrido, Allan Keith, & Janis Raffaele

Interview with Herb Raffaele
BirdsFully illustrated, easy to use, and completely up-to-date, Birds of the West Indies is the only field guide that covers all of the bird species known to occur in the region–including migrants and infrequently occurring forms. Each species is represented by a full description that includes identification field marks, status and range, habitat, and voice. A map showing the bird’s distribution accompanies many species accounts, and plumages of all species are depicted in ninety-three beautifully rendered color plates.

Bird lovers, vacationing tourists, local residents, and “armchair travelers” will all want to own this definitive field guide to the birds of the West Indies.

• Includes all species recorded in the region
• Features ninety-three color plates with concise text on facing pages for quick reference and easy identification
• Species accounts cover identification, voice, status and habitat, and range
• Color distribution maps

“The Bees in Your Backyard” Slideshow and Exclusive Interview

Joseph S. Wilson, assistant professor of biology, and Olivia Messinger Carril, who received her PhD in plant biology and has been studying bees for nearly 20 years, are co-authors of comprehensive new bee guide, The Bees in Your Backyard: A Guide to North America’s Bees. Wilson and Carril took the time to answer some of PUP’s questions about their new ultimate bee guide, and discuss the significant and changing role that bees play in our everyday lives. Read their interview just after this stunning slideshow featuring just a few of the book’s 900 photos:

Your book begins by telling us that there are over 4000 bees in North America, do either of you have a favorite among those?

OC: Its hard for me to pick a favorite, but if I had to…  Diadasia are the genus I studied for my PhD. They are found only in North and South America and there are about 30 species in the U.S. Separately, the Exomalopsini tribe includes the genera Exomalopsis and Ancyloscelis.  All of these bees are fuzzy and look like teddy bears with wings. The Exomalopsini are tiny–about the size of a tic tac, while Diadasia are considerably larger. Both groups are made up of bee species that specialize on flowers (called ‘hosts’).  So in addition to their adorable appearance, I am intrigued by their lifestyle choices.  For my PhD research I looked specifically at the flower scent of Diadasia host plants and compared it with the scent of non-host flowers.

JW: I have always like the small bees in the genus Perdita. There are over 650 different Perdita species so I can’t say that any one species in particular is my favorite, but as a group I really like them. I think what draws me to this group is that Perdita are not the stereotypical bee; they are all small, nearly hairless, and often have bold yellow and black markings on their faces and bodies. The smallest bee in North America is a Perdita. For me, Perdita are a good example of how diverse the bees of North America are. When I point out a Perdita to friends they are always amazed that those small creatures hovering around flowers are actually bees, not gnats.

How did you each get your start in the field of bee studies anyway?

JW: I have been interested in insects for a long time.  In fact I remember having the biggest insect collection in the 6th grade. It was in making that collection that I first ran across a bee that I realized was not a honey bee (It was actually a male long-horned bee sleeping in a sunflower.) Although my interest in biology (including insects) persisted, I didn’t actually start working with bees until early in my college career.  I was introduced to the people, including Olivia, working in the “bee lab” (officially the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab) through a girl I was dating (who later became my wife). At first I volunteered in the lab pinning and labeling bees and eventually was hired as a technician. I worked for Olivia, who was leading a project surveying bees in a National Monument in southern Utah. Later, I headed my own project investigating bee diversity in a military base in western Utah. I temporarily paused my work on bees while I pursued a PhD studying the evolution and biogeography of some nocturnal wasps, but returned to working with bees (and wasps) after completing my degree.

OC: As an undergraduate I worked part time for the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab.  My first tasks were menial:  data entry and whatever odds and ends tasks needed to be done.  At the end of my first year there, however, my boss approached me with an opportunity to participate in a survey of bees in Pinnacles National Monument, in California.  I would be required to camp for three months, and hike every day looking for bees on flowers.  While I had little vested interest in the bee survey itself, the idea of camping and hiking every day for months on end sounded like a dream come true.  By the end of that first season, though, looking at the amazing diversity of bees that I had collected (nearly 400 species in an area of 25 square miles) enthralled me.  Why were some species only in certain areas, while others were found across the whole monument?  Why would some bees specialize on certain plants, and what was it about those plants that was so ‘special’?  How did they know when to emerge from their nests every year?  I happily returned to Pinnacles for two additional seasons, no longer just for the hiking and camping, but also for answers to my questions.  I’ve been trying to answer questions about bees ever since.

What made you think to write a book about  bees and how did you gather the information?  What is the most surprising thing you learned while writing this book?

OC: For me, the idea of a guide to bees that was accessible to those without years of training in bee biology first took shape during my years as a graduate student.  Many in my cohort were interested in studies of pollinators and/or pollination, but were disheartened by the lack of information for the beginner.  Here were scientists in training looking at flowering plants and categorizing their visitors as “honey bee”, “bumble bee”, or “other bee”.  Considering that the “other bee” category includes nearly 4,000 species, this was unfortunate.  I realized that this is in fact how most people see bees, and that too is unfortunate.  There are bees in almost every backyard, pollinating gardens and flower beds right under our noses.  In contrast to the birds in our backyards, which we can name from the time we are five years old, bees are lumped under the heading of “Bee”, and we are taught to steer clear because they are dangerous.  In fact they are beautiful, amazing, (harmless), and inordinately important creatures, but completely misunderstood.  I don’t remember who said it to first, but when I lamented to Joe about how inaccessible the story of the bee was to the lay person, he completely agreed.  “We oughta write a book” was the outcome of that conversation.

We gathered the information for this book by pouring over the scientific literature, collecting every bit of information we could about each genus, and then synthesizing it all into a few short paragraphs that were understandable to anybody.  For me, the most surprising thing was about myself.  Here I had been studying bees in one way or another for over 15 years and assumed I knew more or less all there was to know about bees.  I was so very wrong.  Bees are incredible, and each species has a unique story to tell.  Even today most species and even entire genera are complete mysteries to scientists either because they are rare or because no one has taken the time to get to know them.

JW: More and more as we turn on the TV, open a newspaper, or browse the covers of magazines, we are aware of the role of bees in our lives. I began to be somewhat dismayed by the mischaracterization of bees from trusted news outlets and prestigious media companies. If the common portrayals of bees was to be believed, bees were either killers (i.e., killer bees) or they were in grave danger from colony collapse disorder (which only affects the honey bee). I was frustrated that while the public was gaining an appreciation for the importance of bees, they were largely in the dark about what a bee actually is, and how diverse North America’s bee community is. The decision to write this book came after discussions about the need to educate people about bees. Education is the first step to conservation.

Like Olivia, as we researched this book I was blown away by the diverse and complex world of bees. Most bee researchers focus on a small group and become experts on that group. To write this book, Olivia and I had to learn about the lifestyles of all of North America’s bees, which was challenging, but also quite rewarding. Furthermore, we endeavored to include high quality photographs of as many of the bees as we could, and we hoped to take these pictures ourselves. I learned firsthand how challenging bee photography can be, and we ended up adding a section in the book about some of the tricks we learned about photographing bees.

In the introduction to your book, you discuss the many misconceptions surrounding bees–what ‘myth’ do you find yourself most often dispelling?

OC & JW:  It used to be that every time we told folks what it is that we studied, they would try to find common ground with us by relating a story about that one time that they had been stung by a bee (the truth is, only female bees are even capable of stinging, and they are not very aggressive.  In all the many years of collecting bees and handling them–sometimes hundreds in a day, we’ve been stung less than two dozen times).  Anymore, though, people skip telling us about being stung and ask:  “So how bad off are the bees?”

How bad is the bee decline, really?

OC: The truth is that 1) we don’t really know because 2) its complicated.  Its complicated because there are so many species of bees.  If one kind is in decline, we really can’t assume that all 30,000 kinds around the world are.  Or because some are in decline in the eastern United States doesn’t mean that western populations of that same species are too.  We can guess that many of the landscape alterations we’ve made in the U.S. are not beneficial (replacing midwestern prairies with monocultures of corn and soy, fragmenting desert areas with parking lots and strip malls, perhaps even our unchecked use of insecticides), but the actual impact is largely unknown.  Systematic bee surveys were seldom conducted 100 years ago, so we don’t have solid baseline data against which to compare current population levels.  And at least some bee species seem to naturally vary 10 to 100-fold from year to year based in part on floral bloom and weather.

We do know for certain that for several years honey bee populations appeared to be dropping dramatically and the reasons for that are still not entirely clear.  Interestingly, this isn’t the first time that honey bee populations have suffered declines–there are recorded instances of honey bee declines dating back at least 100 years and perhaps even longer.  Declines in honey bee populations are economically disastrous to be sure, but they don’t tell us much about the many other pollinating bees that help with fruit and seed set.  Looking at other bees, there are evident declines in the populations of some species of bumble bees in the last 30 years.  Alternatively, squash bees have expanded their ranges in the last 100 years; they were once just in the southwest but have spread as squash plants have been planted in gardens across the country.  Considering the contrast in just these two kinds of bees, we are hesitant to make any sort of broad statement about the state of bees as a whole.

What do you hope people get from this book, and who is it meant for?

JW: While my hope is that this book will be useful for naturalists, gardeners, and professional entomologists, I think everyone will gain a greater understanding and appreciation for bees by reading it. I like to think that this book will enable more educated conversations about bees, which will lead to better designed conservation efforts both by professionals and by homeowners.

There are stories in the news every week discussing how important bees are to agriculture and what a loss it would be to us if they disappeared. However, your book is titled “The Bees in your Backyard”… why are bees important in our backyards?

JW: Bees are important for agriculture, but they are equally important at smaller scales.  Bees make for healthy flower gardens and healthy vegetable gardens and they are also beneficial to fruit trees.  Studies have shown that backyard gardens are good for healthy bee communities and vice versa; surrounding natural areas are good for backyard bee populations

OC: Near my own small garden in New Mexico some weedy-looking globe mallow popped up this year.  I opted to leave them and let them flower, even though I have to wade through them to get to my row of vegetable plants.  Because they provide such a bountiful resource for the bees, I’ve found that my garden (which has fewer blossoms than the globe mallow patch) is much more frequently visited by bees than in years past. I’m reaping the rewards in the form of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, pumpkins, watermelons, chiles, and eggplants.  Since we don’t know if most kinds of bees are experiencing population declines, it seems wise to assume they might be.  If that’s the case, planting a few extra bee-friendly flowers or encouraging them to nest in our backyards certainly can’t hurt anything and most likely will be a great help to these wonderful creatures.

Joseph S. Wilson is assistant professor of biology at Utah State University and has been studying bees and wasps for more than a decade. Olivia Messinger Carril received her PhD in plant biology from Southern Illinois University and has been studying bees and the flowers they visit for nearly twenty years.

Bird Fact Friday – Falcons’ need for speed

From page 85 of Hawks from Every Angle:

While in direct pursuit of small birds, their main prey, falcons may reach speeds of more than 80 miles per hour. The Peregrine Falcon can exceed 200 miles per hour in a steep dive!

Hawks from Every Angle: How to Identify Raptors in Flight
Jerry Liguori
Foreword by David A. Sibley

FalconIdentifying hawks in flight is a tricky business. Across North America, tens of thousands of people gather every spring and fall at more than one thousand known hawk migration sites–from New Jersey’s Cape May to California’s Golden Gate. Yet, as many discover, a standard field guide, with its emphasis on plumage, is often of little help in identifying those raptors soaring, gliding, or flapping far, far away.

Hawks from Every Angle takes hawk identification to new heights. It offers a fresh approach that literally looks at the birds from every angle, compares and contrasts deceptively similar species, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field. Jerry Liguori pinpoints innovative, field-tested identification traits for each species from the various angles that they are seen.

Featuring 339 striking color photos on 68 color plates and 32 black & white photos, Hawks from Every Angle is unique in presenting a host of meticulously crafted pictures for each of the 19 species it covers in detail–the species most common to migration sites throughout the United States and Canada. All aspects of raptor identification are discussed, including plumage, shape, and flight style traits.

For all birders who follow hawk migration and have found themselves wondering if the raptor in the sky matches the one in the guide, Hawks from Every Angle—distilling an expert’s years of experience for the first time into a comprehensive array of truly useful photos and other pointers for each species–is quite simply a must.

Key Features:

• The essential new approach to identifying hawks in flight
• Innovative, accurate, and field-tested identification traits for each species
• 339 color photos on 68 color plates, 32 black & white photos
• Compares and contrasts species easily confused with one another, and provides the pictures (and words) needed for identification in the field
• Covers in detail 19 species common to migration sites throughout the North America
• Discusses light conditions, how molt can alter the shape of a bird, aberrant plumages, and migration seasons and sites
• User-friendly format

Bird Fact Friday – Why you shouldn’t mess with a tern

From page 98 of The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds:

Terns breed on rocky islands or beaches close to fishing grounds. If you get too close to a nest, they will dive bomb you, occasionally drawing blood. Many beaches have roped off areas to protect terns, but they’re also protecting humans and other animals!

The Crossley ID Guide: Eastern Birds
Richard Crossley
Introduction
Q&A with Author

Crossley ID GuideThis stunningly illustrated book from acclaimed birder and photographer Richard Crossley revolutionizes field guide design by providing the first real-life approach to identification. Whether you are a beginner, expert, or anywhere in between, The Crossley ID Guide will vastly improve your ability to identify birds.

Unlike other guides, which provide isolated individual photographs or illustrations, this is the first book to feature large, lifelike scenes for each species. These scenes–640 in all–are composed from more than 10,000 of the author’s images showing birds in a wide range of views–near and far, from different angles, in various plumages and behaviors, including flight, and in the habitat in which they live. These beautiful compositions show how a bird’s appearance changes with distance, and give equal emphasis to characteristics experts use to identify birds: size, structure and shape, behavior, probability, and color. This is the first book to convey all of these features visually–in a single image–and to reinforce them with accurate, concise text. Each scene provides a wealth of detailed visual information that invites and rewards careful study, but the most important identification features can be grasped instantly by anyone.

By making identification easier, more accurate, and more fun than ever before, The Crossley ID Guide will completely redefine how its users look at birds. Essential for all birders, it also promises to make new birders of many people who have despaired of using traditional guides.

  • This book changes field guide design to make you a better birder
  • A picture says a thousand words. The most comprehensive guide: 640 stunning scenes created from 10,000 of the author’s photographs
  • Reality birding. Lifelike in-focus scenes show birds in their habitats, from near and far, and in all plumages and behaviors
  • Teaching and reference. The first book to accurately portray all the key identification characteristics: size, shape, behavior, probability, and color
  • Practice makes perfect. An interactive learning experience to sharpen and test field identification skills
  • Bird like the experts. The first book to simplify birding and help you understand how to bird like the best
  • An interactive website–www.crossleybirds.com–includes expanded captions for the plates and species updates

News of the World, February 7, 2014

NewsOfTheWorld_Banner

Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


Stop what you’re doing and take a breath. No, this isn’t a stress-relief exercise. (Although if you’re looking to unwind with a great book this weekend, you’ve come to the right place!) How much do you know about the air that we breathe every day? Donald E. Canfield has your answers.

His new book, Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History, was reviewed in Nature this week. This PUP book — which gives a rundown of all things “O” — is described as “engaging and authoritative.” Donald Canfield — one of the world’s leading authorities on geochemistry, earth history, and the early oceans — covers the vast history of oxygen on Earth, emphasizing its relationship to the evolution of life and the evolving chemistry of the Earth. With an accessible and colorful first-person narrative, he draws from a variety of fields, including geology, paleontology, geochemistry, biochemistry, animal physiology, and microbiology, to explain why our oxygenated Earth became the ideal place for life. Before you take another breath, check out Chapter 1 here.


Spending too much time this afternoon scrolling through #Sochi news? To get ready for the Russian-hosted games, we turn to PUP author Angela Stent. The Times Higher Education reviewed Stent’s new book, The Limits of Partnership: U.S.-Russian Relations in the Twenty-First Century, just in time for the upcoming games. Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman of the THE writes, “Stent, a Sovietologist who served in government under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, expertly condenses the past two decades of this tumultuous relationship with an insider’s command of detail.”

Want to learn more about the host of the games? Pick up a copy of Angela Stent’s book for a look into what political issues may be the backdrop of the competition. You can view the introduction of the book here. Also, check out this NYT video, “Think Back: Olympics Meets Politics,” which highlights the inevitable political element that accompanies the world’s biggest games.

 


We jet-set to another area of the world, and another time, for our next book: Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane by S. Frederick Starr. This book received a starred review in Library Journal this week:

Starr is that rare scholar with the horsepower to write about the medieval culture of this vast region that is bounded by Persia to the west, and China to the east, and India to the southeast….An indispensable title for scholars, this lively study should prove equally compelling to serious lay readers with an interest in Arabic and medieval thought.

In this sweeping and richly illustrated history, S. Frederick Starr tells the fascinating but largely unknown story of Central Asia’s medieval enlightenment through the eventful lives and astonishing accomplishments of its greatest minds–remarkable figures who built a bridge to the modern world. PUP readers can view Chapter 1 here.

World News 2-7


What to do instead of waiting in line at Home Depot for rock salt and shovels? Pass the time with this new weather-related op-ed from PUP author Ian Roulstone. Roulstone takes on the question of how weathermen (and women) fare versus Mother Nature, writing:

We are often described as a nation preoccupied by weather, and we’ve certainly had plenty to talk about over the last few weeks. The wind and rain continue their relentless assault, and the headlines focus, quite rightly, on the plight of those worst affected – what should be done to help? Meanwhile flood waters continue to rise and this is not unexpected. The weather forecasters have done their job well: no Michael Fish moments to distract our attention from what’s important. Indeed, the last few winters have been marked by extremes – from snowbound Gatwick Airport to the St Jude Day Storm – and the weathermen have stayed ahead of the game. So is Mother Nature’s number finally up when it comes to blowing us away with a storm from out of the blue?

Can meteorologists, with the advanced technology of today, finally state that they have won the battle, out-predicting any storm that comes their way? For Roulstone’s answer, check out the full op-ed, which ran on Huff Post UK. You can also view chapter one of his and John Norbury’s book, Invisible in the Storm.

 

Fall Warbler Sighting!

Scott Whittle and Tom Stephenson, authors of The Warbler Guide, are busy all month with events (see here), but that won’t stop us from keeping their awesome warbler images coming!

The photo below from The Warbler Guide is of a female Black-and-white Warbler in the fall, snapped by none other than Scott Whittle himself. And don’t worry, we promise the bird is upside down, not your computer!

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Have you spotted any interesting birds this migration season? Let us know in the comments below!

Author Derek Lovitch’s Birding at Monhegan Island

Keeping with this feathered trend, Derek Lovitch, author of How to Be a Better Birder, has been blogging full steam ahead about his birdwatching this fall, including his adventures on Monhegan Island earlier this week. While there weren’t too many birds to be spotted this week, it didn’t stop Lovitch from taking some cool pictures and having a few rare sightings!

Be sure to check out Lovitch’s blog, MaineBirdingFieldNotes, and to scroll to the bottom of the page to check out our Fall Migration Giveaway.


Monhegan Island, 9/20-22/2013

On a morning with a big overnight migration in the fall, there’s no where I’d rather be than SandyPoint.  I just wish there was a direct ferry from there right to MonheganIsland.  Any other time, I would just rather be on Monhegan.

While our annual MonhegZEN Fall Migration Weekend coming up this weekend (still some space available), Jeannette and I headed to the island Friday through Sunday for a few days of birding and visiting with friends.  It was kinda odd being there without a group!  Not surprisingly, I did not bird much less hard.

I’ll post some radar images from the weekend on a forthcoming blog entry that I hope to post by day’s end.  A decent flight Thursday night into Friday produced a fair amount of birds on the island, even after our late (relatively speaking) arrival at 10:00am, and even though it seemed – as is often the case on calm mornings – birds that arrived at dawn continued on to the mainland.  Three of our first handful of species, however, were Philadelphia Vireo, Cape May Warbler, and Yellow-billed Cuckoo.  Welcome (back) to Monhegan.

The birding improved in the afternoon, highlighted by a Western Kingbird.
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A Lark Sparrow and two Dickcissels – all present for a few days – were enjoyed (here, one of the Dickcissels with the Lark Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow in the background). Typical “Monhegan Trash Birds:” birds that are noteworthy anywhere else in the state but are fully expected in an autumn visit here.
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We ended up with 67 species of birds on the day, including 11 species of warblers.  Yup, a slow day of birding on Monhegan beats a good day of birding almost anywhere else.  Light southerly winds that developed over the course of the day became calm by nightfall, and call notes early in the night were suggestive of birds departing the island.
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With a southerly flow aloft, I didn’t have high hopes of a lot of new arrivals for the next morning.  The radar image, simply put, was weird – some sort of temperature anomaly or perhaps a malfunction, so I couldn’t use that to confirm or alleviate my concerns.  A mere handful of bird overhead at dawn on Saturday morning confirmed it though – there was not much on the move overnight.

Fog rolled in and out for most of the morning, clearing out in the afternoon on an increasing south to southwesterly breeze.  We beat the bush hard, and covered a lot of ground, but birds were hard to come by.  There were quite a few more Yellow-rumped Warblers around than on previous mornings, Kristen noted, and we added plenty of species to our trip list over the course of the day.  While the Dickcissels apparently departed, the Lark Sparrow continued, and the island was now up to three Clay-colored Sparrows.
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Clay-colored Sparrows, Dickcissels, and Lark Sparrow, check:  the triumvirate of Midwestern regular-rarities out here.  Two adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a tarrying Eastern Kingbird, a Semipalmated Plover, and a good afternoon Northern Gannet show were the other highlights of what amounted to be an exceptionally slow day of birding for Monhegan in the fall.  Nevertheless, complaints were not uttered – we were on Monhegan! – and besides, I got to mooch a TV (Thanks Paul and Sue!) to watch Rutgers come from behind to defeat Arkansas in an exciting finish, and we visited the Monhegan Brewing Company.  Yup, tough day.
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This young Peregrine Falcon – with a bulging crop from its last meal – also had a good day.

Unfortunately, an increasing southerly wind overnight precluded much in the way of any migration.  Take a look at the next blog to see what “almost nothing” looks like on a radar image.  Clouds were thick by dawn, too, but the rain held off until after breakfast.  After another fulfilling and scrumptious breakfast at the Trailing Yew, Jeannette, Kristen, and I headed down to Lobster Cove for a bit of seawatching.  We could see the wall of rain on the radar, and we could now see it on the horizon.  But as it marched closer, tubenoses joined the gannets.  In a mere 15 minutes or so, 20+ Great Shearwaters and 6+ Sooty Shearwaters zoomed through my scope.  And then the skies opened up.  This is what a line of rain – ahead of a cold front – looks like on the radar.
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The southerly winds were diminishing as the rain tapered off rather quickly over the course of the morning, but seawatching was less productive before lunchtime – apparently those tubenoses were all on the move just ahead of the precipitation.  But with the sun beginning to peak out after lunch, at least more birds were more visible again: two of the Clay-colored Sparrows, a Philly Vireo, etc.  Joined by Paul and Doug, we encountered a – or the – Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and then a calling flyover Lesser Yellowlegs became my 202nd species on Monhegan.

Moments later, Paul spotted a night-heron in a narrow drainage, and Doug soon relocated it.  A juvenile Yellow-crowned Night-Heron!  Once a more regular bird in Maine, and even on Monhegan, it had been about a decade since one had made an appearance on the island.  But this bird showed up a couple of weeks ago, and was often seen foraging on grasshoppers in lawns.  Rumors of its continued presence were circulated, but there were no confirmed sightings for over a week.  Until today.
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Monhegan bird #203!  And two island birds in about 10 minutes.  Now that’s the way to finish strong.

When it was time to go, we were very happy to see the waves were rapidly dropping off.  Seven foot seas this morning had been reduced to 3-4 at most as we hopped on the Hardy Boat for the trip back.  A Great Cormorant on the Outer Ducks was our 88th species for the Monhegan tally for this trip, but 88 –including a mere 13 species of warblers – was a fairly low total for three days out here at this time of year.  That being said, it could have been much lower had we not continued to beat the bush.

Two juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls joined some hopeful Herring Gulls following the boat to shore, and westerly winds were increasing as the cold front pushed through.  There would no doubt be a lot of new birds come morning on Monhegan.  While I would be sorry to miss them, I knew fun was going to be had at SandyPoint, so I was not upset.

And I was right…


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And to check out the free downloads we’re currently offering, click on the links below:
Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
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