Two books, very different in approach and style. But both are informative and attractive.

Tom Seymour is an avid naturalist who lives in midcoast Maine. Besides writing a column, “Maine Wildlife,” for The Maine Sportsman Magazine, he is well known for his slide-show presentations and field trips centered on our wild plants. “Wild Critters of Maine” follows on the heels of “Wild Plants of Maine,” now in its third printing.

“Anyone, anywhere in Maine has access to countless species of wild critters,” Seymour writes. He stresses the point that you don’t have to live in the country. And he isn’t picky about what constitutes an animal worthy of attention. I’d say Seymour gives the gold star to the gray squirrel.

He considers Maine’s wildlife under the following headings: Mammals, Fowl, Fish and Crawly Things. However, don’t expect a comprehensive guide to all of the above. Those he has chosen are those he has met face-to-face, mostly. The information he passes on is the kind that may come in handy when others have similar encounters someday.

Cover courtesy of Just Write Books

“Wild Critters” is a personal book, and it tells us quite a bit about Seymour and his preferences. While he is clearly an enthusiastic wielder of the gun, his writing about the various fish he has pursued glows with a particular devotion. Numerous recollections of his excursions into the woods with his grandpa explain where his love for the outdoors came from; his essay about crayfish, “Not just for kids,” makes it obvious that he is still that youngster at heart. He eats what he kills, and he strongly disapproves of such cruelty as hooking a live crayfish for bait.

The only animals that seem to incur Seymour’s wrath or leave him in a bad humor are those that wake him at night, namely “Coyotes Make Bad Neighbors.” But, let a butterfly fly past in winter (which they do sometimes), and he is entranced. “Things like this are worth noting and appreciating.”

Most of the larger mammals have crossed Seymour’s path, and they get their due in engaging short chapters. One that apparently hasn’t, but still makes the cut, is the Eastern cougar. He points out that despite fierce arguments, cougars are certainly spotted in Maine from time to time. The real question is whether they are breeding or not. He offers useful advice to citizen scientists on how they can add to the data being collected by the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

One of Seymour’s memorable encounters was with a loon that had crash-landed far from water. Loons are essentially helpless on land, but as he tried to corral the bird to the nearest pond, its “stiletto-like beak” kept him at bay until a warden came to the rescue.

Cover courtesy of Willow Creek Press

Someone who knows a lot about the loon’s formidable beak is David C. Evers, who perfected a means of capturing them at night for research purposes. Evers founded and is the executive director of the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland. “Loon Landscapes” is the second book he has written with his wife, Kate M. Taylor, who is also a wildlife biologist. “Journey with the Loon,” which I reviewed in these pages, followed the common loon through the four seasons.

“The purpose and privilege” of their new book, the authors write, “is to showcase a collection of photographs of the world’s five loon species.” Even as they learn much about loons from the text, readers will be wowed by these extraordinary pictures, most of them by Daniel and Virginia Poleschook and Ken Archer. They are simply breathtaking.

Evers and Taylor organize their book by geographical habitat: Tundra and Taiga, Boreal Forest, etc. There are five of these ecozones, and after a description of the landscape, each section highlights the ecology of one of the five loons. A “Spotlight on Research,” written by the scientists working in that particular ecozone, focuses on a conservation project, be it reintroducing a species to its former range, or an international partnership in the Siberian Arctic, the “Land of Four Loons.” All the ecozones have more than one species of loon present, although only Alaska’s Seward Peninsula has a royal flush.

Interestingly, until 1985, there were only four types of loon. That year, ornithologists decided that the Arctic loons breeding in Siberia were genetically distinct from those breeding in northern Canada. The latter became the Pacific loon.

Interspersed with text and photographs are quotes from various authorities, some better known than others, but all rich in metaphysical insight. The authors themselves may be scientists, but given the chance, they wax poetic. In Yellowstone National Park, an isolated population ensures that “the calls of loons intermingle with the grunts of bison and venting of hot geysers.”

“Loon Landscapes” is an excellent primer on the five loon species – beautifully brought to life with stunning photos. Together with Tom Seymour’s “Encounters,” here are two great new titles for the bookshelf reserved for, well, “wild critters of Maine.”

Thomas Urquhart lives in Falmouth. His new book, “Up for Grabs,” a history of Maine’s Public Reserved Lands, will be published in 2021.


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