Category Archives: books

Messel – Ein fossiles Tropenökosystem

Stephan F. K. Schaal; Krister T. Smith; Jörg Habersetzer: Messel – Ein fossiles Tropenökosystem. E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung 2018

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This is the latest summary of the current knowledge of the fossil fauna and flora of the Middle Eocene of Messel, Germany. You can actually get it in two versions, a German one and a English one.

The book indeed covers all of the mammal-, bird-, reptile-, amphibian-, and fish species, as well as probably only some of the insect species known at the date of publication, yet, and that is very annoying, contains only a very small ammount of plant species, which probably is because their fossils are not yet fully examined, who knows.

There are photos of all species covered, reconstructions of some of the mammals, but actually none of the birds, however, the book contains three murals (at least I think they are murals), which again show several of the Messel birds (however, without naming them), among them the famous Messel ‘rail’, unfortunately with a way too short tail and a fleshy comb on its head (I will get back to that some time ….).

All in all, the book can be recommended to all who are interested in Eocene biodiversity!   🙂

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edited: 20.03.2019

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Fossil record of the Trogoniformes

Family incertae sedis (?)

Foshanornis songi Zhao, Mayr, Wang & Wang

Trogonidae

Masillatrogon pumilio Mayr

Paratrogon gallicus Milne-Edwards

Primotrogon (?) sp. ‘Steendorp, Belgium’
Primotrogon wintersteini Mayr

Septentrogon madseni Kristoffersen

Trogonidae gen. & sp. ‘Matt, Switzerland’

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edited: 02.03.2019

The Lost Birds of Paradise

Errol Fuller: The Lost Birds of Paradise. Airlife 1996

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This is a somewhat dated book, but has probably not lost its topicality, its title, however, may be a bit misleading, a bit at least.

The book is about hybrids in the birds of paradise family (Paradisaeidae), which sometimes in fact may not be hybrids but indeed lost species, ‘lost’ because most of these special forms are only known from very few specimens that were collected for the fashion industry in past centuries and may now be extinct.

The reader learns a lot about the history of ornithological collections of some of the world’s museums, about the work of ornithologists of past centuries, and, probably most important, about the apparently never changing obedient habit of never questioning statements of so-called experts, because they are believed to be just unable to be wrong (all of the rare forms were declared hybrids almost 100 years ago – and this has obviously never been questioned until today, despite being indeed questionable in some cases).

Every single ‘lost’ form is depicted with at least one contemporary or modern drawing, sometimes there are also photos of specimens.

A book that can be recommended.   🙂

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edited: 02.02.2019

Drawn From Paradise: The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise

David Attenborough; Errol Fuller: Drawn From Paradise: The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds of Paradise. HarperCollins Publishers 2012

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This is yet another book that I got as a birthday/x-mas present – and I just don’t no where to start ….

This is perhaps one of the most phantastic books that I’ve ever read, it is about the birds of paradise (family Paradisaeidae) but it is also about the history of ornithology and the history of bird-art – all of this together.

When you are interested in so-called antique bird drawings or – prints you definetly know at least some of the works by so well-known artists as Jaques Barraband, John Gerrard Keulemans and so on …. Many of them also depicted birds of paradise, but in fact none of them had ever seen one alive … let alone in display! So, these artists used their rich imagination to depict these often extremely spectacular birds with all of their strange and ‘oversized’ plumage fluffed and splayed in the most futuristic ways – yet, only to be outbid by reality by lengths.

I can only recommend this book to all who are interested in bird art, in birds of paradise or even just in beautiful pictures, you will not be disappointed!

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edited: 05.01.2019

Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists

William T. Cooper: Capturing the Essence: Techniques for Bird Artists. Yale University Press 2011

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William T. Cooper is well known (probably not only to me) as one of those few above-average-artists, he mainly drew/painted Australian birds and has also illustrated many bird books. His paintings depict the birds very, very life-like, with bright colors and almost always among branches, twigs and leaves of real plants with real-life landscapes as backgrounds.

I got this book as a birthday/x-mas present.  🙂

In this book the artist gave an impression of his work, it is actually very much a book about his way of drawing or painting something, and to me this is very interesting, because I think it’s always very interesting to know how someone else does something that I love to do as well – drawing in that case.

I can only recommend this book, even when it is a quite small/thin one.

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edited: 05.01.2019

Belonging on an Island

Daniel Lewis: Belonging on an Island. Yale University Press 2018

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It took me about six months to finish reading this book, its content is just too frustrating sometimes.

The book is divided into four chapters, each is build around a special species of bird, the first around a bird that was extirpated in (pre)historic or rather pre-European times, the second around a bird extinct in recent times, the third around a bird that is nearly extinct, and the fourth around a bird that was recently introduced to the Hawaiian Islands.

When you have read about endemic Hawaiian birds before you came along a lot of names of persons involved with them that you will find again here in this book, and the four chapters are more or less about these people: those who discovered subfossil bones, those who collected and described Hawaiian birds, those who are or were involved in their protection and so on.

It’s just almost unbearable to read about the ‘Hui Manu’ Society and other such ‘clubs’ of bored housewives of rich businessmen of American and European origin that were convinced that the Hawaiian Islands would need more colorful and songful birds, because the native ones had just disappeared or were about to do so.

… on the other hand, the endemic Hawaiian Crow was seen as a pest, it was just not colorful enough and its song not pleasant enough.

It’s quite interesting to read all of that, all the different points of view by all the different people that now call these islands their home, but it is also sad, for example to read about the discovery of the ‘O’o’a’a and it’s extinction, it’s rediscovery, it’s next extinction, it’s re-rediscovery, and it’s final extinction … or may it be re-re-rediscovered some day? No,definitely not.

I can recommend this book, it is not about the birds themselves but about everything else surrounding them.

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edited: 08.12.2018

The Flock

James Robert Smith: The Flock. Forge Books 2010

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This is yet not a bird book in the proper sense but rather a novel, however, since it is a novel about a flock of giant so called terror birds it is at least bird-related.

These terror birds are Titanis walleri [a species that actually existed at the end of the Pleistocene epoch], that somehow survived until today, that are almost human-like in their intelligence, and that even are able to mimic the voices of other creatures including humans.

This flock is now faced with a growing human neighborhood and with the full package of problems that this situation brings with it ….

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Long story short: you know who the bad guy is as soon as he appears in the book, it is not lame but it is also not as breathtaking as I thought it to be when I first saw the cover of the book [of the first edition] several years ago.

It can be recommended but it is no “must have”.

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edited: 18.09.2018

The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds

John Muir Laws: The Laws Guide to Drawing Birds. Heyday 2012

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This is yet another book that I found recommended on the Avian Musings blog, where I found many other books that I then had to buy for myself, not least because one can never have too many books.   😛

There’s nothing I could add to the many reviews found online, the book is indeed a treasure chest full of the finest bird art and especially “how to do’s”.

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edited: 17.09.2018

The Megapodes

Darryl N. Jones; René W. R. J. Dekker; Cees S. Roselaar: The Megapodes. Oxford University Press 1995

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The Megapodes are a group of extremely interesting birds, probably best known for their rather reptilish way of “child care”, the eggs not being incubated by the birds themselves but by the aid of either microbial decomposition of organic matter, geothermal activity or solar radiation.

To me personally these birds share a somewhat prehistoric “aura”.

The book is a monography, so contains all information regarding the family Megapodiidae known at the date of the writing, all species are depicted, yet, because of the small number of species, there are only 8 plates, however, and only a very few ammount of subspecies is depicted, as far as I remember, it is actually only one [I’m too lazy right now to walk to my book shelf to look again ….].

The book even contains some interesting facts about the former distribution of many of these species, including eyewitnesses’ accounts and eggs found at strange places and so on.

All in all I can only recommend this book, at least to those who are interested especially in this bird family.

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edited: 20.08.2018

Birds of Stone

Luis Chiappe; Meng Qingjin: Birds of Stone: Chinese Avian Fossils from the Age of Dinosaurs. Johns Hopkins University Press 2016

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This book covers the well-known fossil birds from the Lower Cretaceous Liaoning Formation in China with very large, high resolution photographs.

So far so good ….

I have two critique points.:

-The book doesn’t nearly cover all of the genera of fossil birds known so far from the Liaoning Province, but is mostly restricted to several of the better known genera like Confuciusornis, Gansus and so on.

-The book is full of large-scaled photographs of many of the countless bird fossils, some of which were never before published, yet there is never any scale being given at these photos, what I personally find disappointing.

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edited: 16.05.2018