With a long, hot summer just ahead, a good book on the beach or the back porch of a mountain cabin is always a welcome friend. Here are some recent titles I recommend.Let's begin with a beautifully illustrated children's book by nature photographer David FitzSimmons. "Curious Critters" (2011, Wild Iris Publishing, $19.95) is a collection of more than 20 animal portraits against white backgrounds. From bullfrogs and big brown bays to box turtles and opossums, the images are certain to capture the attention of even young children. Even my 1-year old grandson loves it. (Just have to keep him from ripping out the pages.) Each photo is accompanied by a brief passage, which when read aloud by an adult, sounds like the animals are speaking directly to the children."Deerland: America's Hunt for Ecological Balance and the Essence of Wildness" by Al Cambronne (2013, Globe Pequot Press, $18.95) celebrates white-tailed deer in America -- the good, the bad and the ugly. Everyone from hunters and big-eyed deer watchers who love them to insurance companies, farmers, ecologists, and gardeners who loathe them can learn a lot about their most/least favorite big game species. In wide ranging interviews and field trips with hunters, deer biologists, and other key players, readers get an inside look at what Cambronne calls "America's deer-industrial complex.""The Crossley ID Guide: Raptors" by Richard Crossley, Jerry Liguori, and Brian Sullivan (2013, Princeton University Press, $29.95) is not a field guide; it is a large-format ID guide best used at a desk. Focusing on sizes, shapes, and habitat, Crossley uses digital imagery to illustrate various ages, sexes and plumages of raptors. By placing birds in realistic settings rather than on white backgrounds, Crossley creates "moments of recognition" rather than "challenges for identification." If you love diurnal raptors (vultures, eagles, hawks, kites, falcons), this is a must-have book.
"The World's Rarest Birds" by Erik Hirshfeld, Andy Swash, and Robert Still (2013, Princeton University Press, $45.00) uses more than 1,000 color images and 610 color maps to profile 515 of the world's most endangered species. Some of these species have never been photographed, so 75 of these birds are depicted in exquisite artwork. Arranged in region-by-region snapshots of species at risk, this book is perfect for conservationists who want to appreciate the breadth and depth of the crisis that grips the world of bird conservation."Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast" by Michael Wojtech (2011, University Press of New England, $25.95) is a great addition to the pantheon of field guides now available for almost all life forms. Heretofore, tree guides relied on leaves, flowers, and buds to identify citizens of the forest. In big woods, I've spent many hours with binoculars in hand studying leaves 60 or 70 feet overhead. If nothing else, "Bark" eases my aching neck. More than 450 photographs, illustrations and maps make this a user-friendly guide. And on most color photos of each tree a U.S. quarter provides a helpful size perspective."Yellowstone's Wildlife in Transition," edited by P.J White, Robert Garrot, and Glenn Plumb (2013, Harvard University Press, $45) is a scholarly work written by more than 30 contributors. Though not a light read, "Transition" is both a history and analysis of the successes and failures of the world's first national park. Yellowstone has served as a model for learning the importance of fire and predation in natural ecosystems. Today, invasive species and climate change are more recent topics of interest. Among the topics I found most interesting were chapters on wolf-elk interactions, grizzly bear diet, and how wolves have influenced riparian willow habitat. Serious ecologists will want this book in their library.For pure relaxation, try Lang Elliott's soundscapes (downloadable files $10 each or on CD $12, 2013, www.musicofnature.com
). There's no narration, no audio lessons, just the soothing sounds of nature. "Birds at Dawn," "Swamp Song," "Voices of the Night," and "Loon Lake" are just a few of the titles. My favorite is "Thrush Flutesongs," 72 minutes of ethereal music performed by seven species of North American thrushes.Reach Scott Shalaway at email@example.com or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.