MAINE’S FAVORITE BIRDS, by Jeffrey V. Wells and Allison Childs Wells, illustrated by Evan Barbour, June 2012, Tilbury House Publishers, 72 pages, paperback, $15.
The typical field guide to North American birds identifies more than 800 species. Often, miniscule characteristics differentiate one species from another — a banded feather here, a tuft there, a flight pattern, a song. For someone new to birding, such a guide — hundreds of pages of accurate descriptions in tidy taxonomic order — can be quite intimidating.
An amateur birder is more likely to get a paper cut than identify a bird while fumbling through such a tome.
“Maine’s Favorite Birds,” written by well-known birders and native Mainers Jeffrey V. Wells and Allison Childs Wells, may be the solution. Published in June by Tilbury House, an independent publisher located in Gardiner, this small guidebook is the ideal resource for anyone curious about Maine’s natural world.
“We wrote it for that person who sees birds and loves birds, but wants to know more about what they’re hearing and seeing,” said Allison Wells. “So that includes kids, but also grandmas and every age in between.”
So far, the book has seen great success. Last week, it ranked No. 2 on the 40 bestsellers list of Longfellow Books in Portland, and the book remains on Amazon.com’s list of 100 bestselling field guides.
In just 72 pages, the Wellses highlight more than 100 birds loved by Mainers, a lineup based on years of experience researching, leading bird walks and discussing birds with Maine residents.
“We focused on the birds that people are most likely to see in their everyday lives without having to go to a special place,” said Allison Wells.
The Wellses live in Gardiner with their 10-year-old son and two indoor cats. Jeff Wells is currently senior scientist for the International Boreal Conservation Campaign and is a visiting fellow at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. And Allison Wells is senior director of public affairs for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
The couple began birding together at the University of Maine Farmington, where they met. Since then, independently and collaboratively, they have published hundreds of bird-related articles.
“We’re both passionate about the natural world,” Allison Wells said. “We have a son now, but even before he was born, it was a high priority for us to make sure the world was a clean, healthy, beautiful place. Birds sing; they’re easy to watch; they’re a great hook to get people to care more about the planet. And we also enjoy it. The whole idea of kids going out birding is just so much more satisfying than having them playing video games.”
The Wellses describe “Maine’s Favorite Birds” as a “gateway book,” a guide that will give people the basics in birding that will allow them to tackle the hefty, more detailed guides.
Along with scientific bird descriptions, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” includes birding tips, easy-to-remember song descriptions, birding hotspots throughout the state and ways birders can put their observations to use for science and conservation. Paired with detailed paintings by Evan Barbour, this colorful guide is both practical and beautiful.
Barbour earned his Bachelor of Arts from Reed College with a thesis on animal play behavior and a credential in scientific illustration from the University of California-Santa Cruz. His illustrations have adorned magazines such as National Parks Magazine and books such as “South Pacific Birds.”
“We see this book as a way to get people excited about birds — people who aren’t studying birds as a living or making a commitment to go birding every weekend,” Allison Wells said. “[Birds] really do add so much enrichment in life.”
For those not particularly interested in the avian world, a few other titles have hit bookstores this summer that offer a wealth of knowledge about the Maine outdoors.
THE CHANGING NATURE OF THE MAINE WOODS, by Andrew Barton, Alan S. White and Charles V. Cogbill, July 2012, New Hampshire, 304 pages, paperback, $29.95.
An introduction to the forest of Maine, “The Changing Nature of the Maine Woods” begins with an overview of Maine’s history, from creeping glaciers to European settlers. The authors explore the state’s vast range of forests, from the alpine fauna of the mountain ranges to the coastal woodland. Current research is blended with narrative, helping readers visualize ecological forces, such as climate change, invasive species, human influence and disease, and how these forces have shaped Maine forests over millennia.
Barton and White are professors of forest ecology at the University of Maine at Farmington and University of Maine, respectively; Cogbill is a historical ecologist in Vermont.
WONDERS OF THE RAINFOREST, by Stephen Blythe, June 2012, Createspace, 80 pages, paperback, $12.95.
A family physician in Machias, Blythe developed a love of rainforests while doing medical work in Guatemala. He then made numerous trips to other rainforests, including the Amazon and the forests of Costa Rica and Borneo. And as his knowledge grew, he began giving classroom presentations. He now runs an educational website, www.rainforesteducation.com, and provides free educational material to teachers all over the world.
This book includes Blythe’s own photographs and experiences in the rainforests of the world, meshed together with scientific facts about the plants, creatures and climate of these shrinking habitats.
MOON ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, FOURTH EDITION, by Hilary Nangle, June 2012, Avalon Travel, 292 pages, paperback, $17.99.
Home to the tallest mountain on the U.S. Atlantic coast and roughly 46,000 acres of coastal wilderness, Acadia National Park attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. In the new edition of “Moon Acadia National Park,” journalist and Maine resident Hilary Nangle shares ways to enjoy the park, from biking along the carriage roads to exploring iconic lighthouses. She even covers nearby shopping locations and popular seafood eateries. For information, visit www.moon.com; and to check out Nagle’s travels, visit her blog “Maine Travel Maven” at www.mainetravelmaven.com.
MAINE SUBLIME: FREDERIC EDWIN CHURCH’S LANDSCAPES OF MOUNT DESERT AND MOUNT KATAHDIN, by John Wilmerding, June 2012, Cornell University Press, 80 pages, $24.95.
Acclaimed artist Frederic Church first traveled to Maine in 1850, and the landscape pulled at him for decades to follow. In 1878, he bought land on Millinocket Lake with a view of Mount Katahdin and built a simple cabin. His paintings show his fascination in the Maine coast and inland mountains, namely Katahdin. “Maine Sublime” brings together all the artwork in the Olana collection from Church’s travels, from finished oil paintings to pencil sketches and cartoons he stored in portfolios.
Wilmerding is a professor of American art in the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton University and visiting curator in the Department of American Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
An earlier version of this story requires correction. Alan S. White is a professor at the University of Maine, not the University of Maine at Farmington.