“The Naturalist’s Notebook,” written by two superb Maine naturalists, is an all-around pleasure. The attractively designed volume combines practical guidance, lucid prose, and precise and charming illustrations with a systematic path to seeing and understanding the natural world more deeply. Their system, they write, will allow naturalists – be they children or adults, birders or gardeners, biologists or outdoorsmen and women, budding naturalists or experienced ones – to see patterns in nature over time.

Those illustrations are by Bernd Heinrich, who is one of the writers as well as an emeritus professor of biology at the University of Vermont. His co-author is Nathaniel Wheelwright, a Bowdoin professor of natural sciences. Both men have kept their own journals for decades – a close-up black and white photo shows Heinrich’s very first notebook. The year – 1957 (he was still a teen) – and the place – Hinckley, Maine – appear at the top of the page, which goes on to record the condition of the eggs of the barred owl, partridge, white-breasted nuthatch and red-shouldered hawk.

The two write separate chapters that encompass such topics as what to observe, how to start, whether to record by hand (pencil) or machine (computer), observing in the country versus the city, in winter versus summer, which tools will come in handy (“appropriate clothing” is at the top of the list) – and far more.

After not quite 100 pages of encouragement and advice, “The Naturalist’s Notebook” offers a five-year calendar-journal on a grid system, with pages of instructions, so you can learn to record your own observations of nature – when the Baltimore orioles return, what an orb web spider likes to eat, how fast the kudzu is spreading – in a methodical way. “A walk in the woods is a great start,” Heinrich writes, “but enjoying the scenery and listening to the birds only goes so far. Taking notes forces attention…”

Or, as Wheelwright puts it, “If you want to learn more about nature: Scrutinize. Touch. Listen. Smell. Measure.”

In the book’s preface, Wheelwright begins by defining the word “naturalist”: “Naturalists unabashedly blend firsthand knowledge of nature with a personal affection for it that goes beyond science.” The authors’ own expertise and affection for nature spill out on every page.

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