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High Mountain Clove Area 50 Years Ago

My Column: Your Fave Bird Books Are...?

J Barrack Screech Owl  gray phase (1)
The gray-phase screech owl is one of the many nocturnal raptors featured in Jonathan Evan Maslow's "The Owl Papers."
Photo credit: Jerry Barrack

My new column for The Record and other USA Today newspapers in New Jersey asks readers what their favorite birding books are... 

As examples, I gave two of my favorites.

By Jim Wright

Special to The Record

    With 2022 just around the corner and lots of  wintry nights ahead,  I’m asking readers to share your choices for your favorite birding books – excluding fieTheRecordBergenEdition_20211223_LF03_0(1)-page-001ld guides, which are another category altogether.

   Part of this is pure selfishness on my part. I love to  read avian fiction and non-fiction that doesn’t drill down to clutch size or breeding plumage. 

This is no knock on field guides. They can be both invaluable and fascinating in their own right. It’s just that you seldom hear someone say that one field guide or another was a really good read. 

   Hokey as it may sound, I want your choices for bird books that have heart – the books you re-read or tell friends about, or the ones that make you smile or get just a little misty-eyed.

   Two examples come immediately to mind. “A Guide to the Birds of East Africa” is a slim volume of fiction by Nicholas Drayson. It’s as much about human nature as avian nature -- sort of a “No. 1 Woman’s Detective Agency” with a lot less detection and a lot more birds. 

    Throughout the 2009 book, Drayson’s love of our feathered friends shines through time and again. Take this simple line: “There is something about birds, their beauty aScreen Shot 2021-12-02 at 10.49.09 AMnd their freedom, that stirs a man’s soul.”  Spot on.

  For non-fiction, I’ve always treasured “The Owl Papers,” by Jonathan Evan Maslow, an editor for the Passaic Herald-News who died in 2008. His writing – and reporting skills –  are superb. Here’s a sample from the book, published back in 1983:

       “The night is never really as dark as you think. There's always some moonbeam, a touch of starlight, or only that narrow hatband of faint luminosity at the horizon called zodiacal light—in the west, the memory of a day that will never come again; in the east, the promise of a new one. Gradually, the owl changed, from a small, undifferentiated blob to a little gray creature with a spoon face and ears that went off sideways at a crazy angle, like the flat hat of a proper bourgeois in a Rembrandt portrait.”

   A warm fire and a crackling good book beckon in the weeks ahead, and most of us could use a good birding-relaScreen Shot 2021-12-02 at 10.46.45 AMted book to get lost in. 

   I know I have shamefully overlooked many classics. Please educate this ignorant wretch and help your fellow birders as well at the email address below.

   Field notes: Although bald eagle nesting season typically begins in late February in the Northeast, a pair of eagles is already on eggs on a nest on Hilton Head Island, S.C. The eggs could hatch by the end of 2021 – or ring in the new year. You can view the nest at

   My next column on Thursday, Jan. 6, will explore five ways to make your yard bird-friendlier in 2022.


The Bird Watcher column appears every other Thursday. Email Jim at [email protected].