Is it possible to be an urban naturalist? To find out, Lyanda Lynn Haupt turns to crows, the native wildlife which city-dwellers and suburbanites most frequently (if reluctantly) encounter. She relates her findings in the slim, beguiling Crow Planet (Little, Brown, $23.99), a book that inspires and surprises. In graceful prose, Haupt records her own struggle to understand crows and to truly see nature in the city. She also shares delightful asides on motherhood, Benedictine monks, and Seattle yuppies. Most important, Haupt drives home the seriousness of the environmental crisis without succumbing to despair.
After several years of marriage, Rachel Dickinson’s husband Tim revealed that in his youth he had been a falconer. So begins the odyssey recounted in Falconer On The Edge (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24). With dry wit, a fairly resigned attitude and her game-face on, Rachel traces the story of the most famous contemporary falconer of all, Steve Chindgren. His pursuit of the perfect bird led him all over the American West. Dickinson masterfully blends the romance of falconry with an unerring insight into the more unsettling sides of obsession. Both her prose and her story recall John Krakauer’s Into the Wild as we follow Chindgren’s path through self-discovery and personal challenge.
John James Audubon, citizen and family man, was also an entrepreneur and naturalist; his masterwork was Birds of America. Audubon had long been interested in nature, and he had made drawings of birds and mammals in Europe and in America. He destroyed many of these first pictures, so this collection of 116 pieces, Audubon Early Drawings (Harvard Univ., $125) is important. The drawings, purchased for $100 by a Pennsylvania farmer, fellow naturalist and friend, Edward Harris, Jr., are now part of the collection of the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The essays by Richard Rhodes and Scott V. Edwards provide insight into Audubon’s life and his role as a scientist. Leslie A. Morris’s Foreward looks at the Harris collection and how it came to be. The plates show the care that Audubon gave to depicting each species, and captions reproduce his notes on the flora and fauna and where they were found. This is a wonderful companion to Birds of America.