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Two midsummer reads worth your time

Two books to add to your midsummer reading list: Mammals of North Dakota by Robert Seabloom and The Bluebird Effect, Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, by Julie Zickefoose.

I buy more books than I read. I'd like to think I will get around to them all at one point in my life but let's be realistic, I won't. Two things conspire against me in this regard. One is available time, or at least the perception of available time. There never seems to be enough of it. The other is waning interest. That's right, too often what is appealing to me one day slowly becomes less so over time and so another book sits unread, destined for a future library donation.

However, two recent additions to my collection moved to the top of the reading list upon their arrival. One is more a reference book or field guide, the second is a work of art on many levels.

First is Mammals of North Dakota, by Robert Seabloom, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of North Dakota. Not since 1926 has there been a comprehensive review of the state's mammal species. We may have had to bide our time but the wait was worth it. Full color glossy photos accompany nearly every one of the 86 species accounts in this work, a nice touch making this more a field guide of sorts than a text book.

Of special appeal to West Fargo residents might be the introductory chapter on the fossil record of mammals within what is now North Dakota written by native son John Hoganson, who also happens to be the State Paleontologist. It includes nuggets like the reason we find very few fossil records from 20 million years ago through 50,000 years ago is glaciation. They've simply "been removed by millennia of erosion."

The meat-and-potatoes, though, is the species accounts. Lest you think there are gaps, rest assured every mammal from shrew to bighorn sheep is addressed by Seabloom. Succinct and well-researched (there are 21 pages of bibliographical references), there is at least a little something for everyone with an outdoor interest. It's nice to read, for instance, that while I've never seen a gray fox, I'm in the right part of the state for a chance; "...gray foxes are uncommon, occurring primarily in the eastern half of the state..."

The book is intended for "students, professional biologists, and serious naturalists." I would only argue this list needs to be expanded to include anyone with even a passing interest in North Dakota fauna.

Released in March, The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds, is written and gloriously illustrated by Julie Zickefoose, and is my second recommendation. (Note: I know Julie personally having worked together at the Potholes and Prairie Birding Festival in Carrington the last two years).

I'm not the first to comment on Zickefoose's book, it garnered a nod as Oprah's Book of the Week in April among countless other plaudits from anyone lucky enough to pick this gem up and read it. Still, I can't resist saying something as it is so unlike anything I've read.

With Zickefoose's biology and art studies at Harvard University, one would expect perhaps a staid clinical approach to birds and their behavior. You couldn't miss the target any wider. As a licensed rehabber and owner of an 80-acre southern Ohio property, she has direct access to wild creatures the rest of us can only imagine. Unlike most trained biologists, though, she is not afraid to share her personal insights and observations in the warmest sympathetic tones.

In one chapter Julie raises four orphaned ruby-throated hummingbirds from virtually the moment the tiny pea-sized lumps of bird flesh emerge from eggs until they fledge. Readers follow her through a somewhat rocky process, learn that much of the literature on hummingbirds is not so accurate, and feel her angst as one of the young birds becomes injured and won't make it to release. She writes, "They regard me as their mother, a strange, huge, earthbound, flightless mother, but a source of sustenance and even comfort. This is deeply fulfilling to me. It is knowing what they know that utterly beguiles me, that has me humming with joy along the invisible lines that connect us."

Go ahead and let the artwork distract you. Hundreds of her watercolors and pencil drawings are liberally sprinkled throughout this stunning work, adding a personal intimate touch. The list of works in which her art has been published (The New Yorker, Smithsonian, National Geographic Books, etc.) would fill this page. I'll simply mention she was the primary illustrator for the 17-volume tome, The Birds of North America, and let you find the rest yourself. (Check out and read "A North Dakota State of Mind.")

In my opinion both of the books mentioned above are worth your time, perhaps for different reasons. One will fill any gap you might have in your understanding of the state's mammals. The other will fill a gap in your heart, the one longing for a special relationship with nature. You can't lose with ei