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New books offer something for every bird lover

If cool fall temperatures have you wanting to curl up under a cosy blanket with a gripping murder mystery instead of bird watching, reach for Steve Burrows’s latest birder murder mystery. Alternatively, BIRD is a gorgeous art book from Phaidon. Firefly has just published a kids’ book, How to Feed Backyard Birds, written by Chris Earley, Southwestern Ontario’s most prolific bird book author.

As migration winds down each fall, I look forward to seeing what new birdy titles publishers have released in advance of the festive season. Inevitably there is a cluster of new field guides and books focused on particular families of birds or special birding locations. Three new titles that have caught my eye are wildly different from each other, but have pleased me nonetheless.

I am a big fan of Detective Chief Inspector Domenic Jejeune, the Canadian expat and birding expert who solves mysteries in England. Jejeune is the protagonist created by Steve Burrows, the Oshawa-based novelist who has just had his seventh “birder murder mystery.”

First and foremost, A Foreboding of Petrels is a well-crafted mystery. In this book, the action spans continents, starting with a death at an outpost in Antarctica then moving to the torching of some seaside bird watching hides in England. Burrows is skilled storyteller who has again woven a plot of some complexity that moves forward at a brisk pace. It is no wonder that the series of birder murder mysteries have been optioned for the screen by Shaftesbury Inc., the Toronto production company behind Murdoch Mysteries and Frankie Drake Mysteries.

As ever, birds figure significantly in the novel and Burrows’s bird watching skills shine through. Because Burrows has birded on all seven continents, there is a ring of truth to the birding references throughout the book. None feel forced. I especially liked an exchange in incident room at the local cop shop during which I learned that the petrel got its name from St. Peter because of the way the bird “walks on water” as it takes flight. But more than anything, it is again satisfying to follow through the pages how Jejeune’s advanced knowledge of birds and his place in the local bird watching community contribute to the story line and case resolution.

When I read new fiction, I am curious about how a writer deals with COVID. Some ignore it by simply shifting the temporal setting while other authors almost make the pandemic a character. I like that Burrows just deals with it in a matter-of-fact fashion. Arliss Dyer, for example, is a character facing a personal housing challenge who describes himself “another refugee of the pandemic.”

For those of us who have read the earlier Burrows mysteries that kicked off in 2014 with A Siege of Bitterns, it is a good comfort to meet up again with Jejeune and his partner, Lindy Hey, Motown-loving Detective Sergeant Danny Maik, and even Detective Chief Superintendent Colleen Shepherd. That said, A Foreboding of Petrels can stand on it’s own. There is the matter of Jejeune’s 45-day suspension that may at first perplex a new reader, but references such as this are well resolved for all.

Another book that I am thoroughly enjoying is simply called BIRD. It is a big volume by every measure – size, heft, and ambition – and it is as inspiring as it is beautiful. Edited by Victoria Clarke and Tom Furness for Phaidon Press, BIRD is a truly unique exploration of the winged world. This is a tome that will please those who love both birds and art.

The 350 pages of the lavishly illustrated book contain incredible examples of birds in art, each accompanied by a narrative that provides a bit of context for the reader. It is the images that are the stars however. The editors have made a deliberate effort at having a representative collection of images. There are works from unknown artists and famous artists, there are ancient pieces as well as modern representations of birds, and there is bird art from around the planet.

The editors correctly suggest that “birds will continue to arouse humanity’s deepest sense of wonder and inspire efforts to observe, record, understand and preserve these creatures of the sky, land, and oceans.” This bird-inspired catalogue makes me want to make my own bird art.

The third bird book that I picked up this fall is a kids’ book. How to Feed Backyard Birds by Chris Earley has just been published by Firefly Press.

Earley is a real treasure of the Ontario birding community. At the University of Guelph’s Arboretum he is the Interpretive Biologist and Education Coordinator. He is a skilled birder, an award-winning bird teacher, a bird researcher, international bird trip leader, and prolific bird book author. (I refer to his birds of the Great Lakes Region and Eastern North America series every week.)

How to Feed Backyard Birds is Earley’s eighth book for youngsters. This book is pitched to pre-teens and it is ideal for readers in Southwestern Ontario. There are engaging photographs on every page and there are also “fast facts” and quick tips throughout. This guide is divided into sections that include what birds eat, bird feeders, bird life, birds and people, and finally a bird guide that is really a mini-field guide for budding birders.

Earley’s own bird watching journey started in his youth when his parents put up a backyard bird feeder. This guide could help inspire other young nature lovers. I’m sure that my oldest granddaughter will like this book.

A Foreboding of Petrels by Steve Burrows/Point Blank/paperback/368 pages/$19.99

BIRD/Phaidon/hardcover/352 pages/$74.95

How to Feed Backyard Birds by Chris Earley/Firefly/paperback/48 pages/$9.95

This item originally appeared in Nature London’s The Cardinal..

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