Posted by: atowhee | February 7, 2012


“O’er the glad waters of the dark blue sea,                                                                                               Our thoughts as boundless, and our souls as free…”       -Byron

Just looking at this book brings back the taste of salt on the lips, the lurking shade of mal de mar.  This superb, hefty tome brings us mentally close to some of the most obscure and alluring big birds on earth.  Denizens of ocean open and breeders on isolated shores of rugged rocky islets or cliff faces of a mainland here or there.

This book looks at all the known living “tubenoses” that might be seen in the waters off North America.  The tube nose is an anatomical adaptation of these oceanic birds that allows them to excrete the excess salt from their digestive and ciruclatory systems.  Their bodies exude the salt in tiny crystals through the tubes that lie along the birds’ beaks.  Among the petrels are the shearwaters.  In summer the Sooty Shearwater arrives from the south Pacific and flock in tens of thousands along the shore of Northern California.  Some of the largest birds over the seas are the albatrosses.  They are also birds that can fly thousands of miles in a “commute” between nesting grounds and feeding grounds. If you are prone to pelagic birding, get this book.  If you want to see seabirds without the sea-toss, then this is a good, solid read.

Author, Steven Howell, is a California-baed ornithologist.  He works with Point Reyes Bird Observatory.  He previously wrote a field guide to Mexican birds.  This book represents many hours at sea, many more hours or study and data-mining.  The range maps are easy to use.  The book has numerous photos of each species.

PETRELS, ALBATROSSES & STORM-PETRELS OF NORTH AMERICA.  A photographic guide.  By Steve N.G. Howell.  Princeton Press. 520 pages.  2012. $45.                        The quote at the front of Howell’s book is from Isak Dinesen: “The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears, or the sea.”

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