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A Naturalist at Large: The Best Essays of Bernd Heinrich

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From one of the finest scientist/writers of our time comes an engaging record of a life spent in close observation of the natural world, one that has yielded “marvelous, mind-altering” (Los Angeles Times) insight and discoveries. In essays that span several decades, Heinrich finds himself at home in Maine, where he plays host to visitors from Europe (the cluster flies) and From one of the finest scientist/writers of our time comes an engaging record of a life spent in close observation of the natural world, one that has yielded “marvelous, mind-altering” (Los Angeles Times) insight and discoveries. In essays that span several decades, Heinrich finds himself at home in Maine, where he plays host to visitors from Europe (the cluster flies) and more welcome guests from Asia (ladybugs); and as far away as Botswana, where he unravels the far-reaching ecological consequences of elephants’ bruising treatment of mopane trees. The many fascinating discoveries in Naturalist at Large include the maple sap harvesting habits of red squirrels, and the “instant” flower-opening in the yellow iris as a way of ensuring potent pollination. Heinrich turns to his great love, the ravens, some of them close companions for years, as he designs a unique experiment to tease out the fascinating parameters of raven intelligence. Finally, he asks “Where does a biologist find hope?” while delivering an answer that informs and inspires.


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From one of the finest scientist/writers of our time comes an engaging record of a life spent in close observation of the natural world, one that has yielded “marvelous, mind-altering” (Los Angeles Times) insight and discoveries. In essays that span several decades, Heinrich finds himself at home in Maine, where he plays host to visitors from Europe (the cluster flies) and From one of the finest scientist/writers of our time comes an engaging record of a life spent in close observation of the natural world, one that has yielded “marvelous, mind-altering” (Los Angeles Times) insight and discoveries. In essays that span several decades, Heinrich finds himself at home in Maine, where he plays host to visitors from Europe (the cluster flies) and more welcome guests from Asia (ladybugs); and as far away as Botswana, where he unravels the far-reaching ecological consequences of elephants’ bruising treatment of mopane trees. The many fascinating discoveries in Naturalist at Large include the maple sap harvesting habits of red squirrels, and the “instant” flower-opening in the yellow iris as a way of ensuring potent pollination. Heinrich turns to his great love, the ravens, some of them close companions for years, as he designs a unique experiment to tease out the fascinating parameters of raven intelligence. Finally, he asks “Where does a biologist find hope?” while delivering an answer that informs and inspires.

30 review for A Naturalist at Large: The Best Essays of Bernd Heinrich

  1. 4 out of 5

    Petra X living life blissfully,not through books!

    Why do all flowers open in an anti-clockwise fashion, why do trees grow this way? But from the top down those such as vines grow clockwise, why? No one knows. But DNA grows counter clockwise and RNA clockwise. There has been no evolution of how DNA forms, it hasn't changed, and since everything derives from that, nature moves in that direction. But still, no one knows why. Another one of those mysteries of the universe to think on, but never be able to answer. Mostly though, Heinrich thinks up qu Why do all flowers open in an anti-clockwise fashion, why do trees grow this way? But from the top down those such as vines grow clockwise, why? No one knows. But DNA grows counter clockwise and RNA clockwise. There has been no evolution of how DNA forms, it hasn't changed, and since everything derives from that, nature moves in that direction. But still, no one knows why. Another one of those mysteries of the universe to think on, but never be able to answer. Mostly though, Heinrich thinks up questions about plant and insect lives by observation and then by observation and testing answers them. There is nothing at all boring in this beautifully-written book. You might not have thought you would want to know how two little beetles could move the corpse of a vole and hid it but the answer is fascinating. I have been pondering the brain/s of social insects for a while. I think that maybe the individual insects are like neurons in a brain whose actions are co-ordinated and dependent on each other. But I also think that each insect, each neuron, is capable of making it's own decisions without reference to any other. A different kind of intelligence. So I was pleased to read that a naive bee out foraging by herself, will try many flowers until she finds the varieties that are the most productive, then she will remain faithful to those varieties and not try others as it would be a waste of time. So she has learned by experience, all on her own, but will go back to the hive and communicate to others where these flowers are. There is so much more to intelligence than the tricks scientists call experiments that are based on human experience and understanding. If you like essays, if you like science, if you like nature you might enjoy this book. It is, as all Heinrich books, very well written. ________ Notes on reading the book I was given the audio book. I don't like audio books much but I love Bernd Heinrich. The essays were all previously published in scientific publications, mostly birds and insects. So far, most are fascinating, especially the one about the crows and ravens. The crows n his aviary, were presented with some meat dangling on string that they would not be able to get unless they hauled it up. Over three weeks or so (yes, he changed the meat), their initial interest waned until they just ignored it. The ravens, however studied it carefully, and very quickly indeed one raven began to haul on the string, stepping on it so it couldn't fall back, hauling more, stepping again and repeating it until he got the meat. Other ravens independently did the same. This, said Heinrich proved insight, consciousness and forward thinking, which is intelligence. The ravens had seen the problem envisaged what they would like to see and then the steps to make that happen. The crows had seen the meat swinging on the rope and that was that. I have had the opportunity over years to study wild chickens (they just live here). There are two modes, one the husband and wife. A rooster and a hen who go about together for years and raise families and then go back to being a couple. They never interact with us in any way at all. Then there is the flock. At the moment the flock is five strong. They keep an eye on us at all times. They roost in a tree opposite us. In the morning as soon as we open the door, there they are. They know my son keeps bread in the car and so run on ahead of him to get their first. (It's very amusing). With me, I occasionally give them kitchen scraps but nothing from my car, so they hang around outside the kitchen. Recently one of them has got so bold as to sit on the window ledge by the cat door (above a kitchen counter) and stare at me. What does that indicate? Maybe they don't have the problem solving type of intelligence of a raven, but they've certainly worked my son and myself out and know what result they are looking for with each of us. Yet chickens are supposed to be able to function with no head, no brain and therefore no intelligence. What it indicates to me as that we haven't got the faintest idea of what intelligence in animals is and we should stop measuring it by how they can solve the problems that humans devise for them. Investigating what actual intelligence is might change our perception of many species.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This book is a collection of essays previously published in scientific journals. Essays aren’t really my thing; I prefer books that explore one topic and do that one topic in depth. That being said, I still enjoyed the book, at least parts of it. The book started with essays about bugs…….bugs and more bugs. I was desperately hoping there would be some on birds, and then there were, and then the book improved, for a while. At the end it became too philosophical for my taste. There is one essay on This book is a collection of essays previously published in scientific journals. Essays aren’t really my thing; I prefer books that explore one topic and do that one topic in depth. That being said, I still enjoyed the book, at least parts of it. The book started with essays about bugs…….bugs and more bugs. I was desperately hoping there would be some on birds, and then there were, and then the book improved, for a while. At the end it became too philosophical for my taste. There is one essay on the movement of a caterpillar—this one little guy did grab my interest. There are one or two essays on trees, but they contain nothing spectacular or new. With the essays on birds, the book picked up for me. The author writes of studies on ravens, phoebe sapsuckers, goshawks and starlings, cuckoos, nightjars and kinglets and other birds too. Why some stick together in pairs and why and how it comes to be that eggs vary in color and appearance are examples of the articles’ content. Cuckoo parasitism is another. The author has written whole books on just ravens. Their abilities and intelligence are brought up here too. There is repetition of that which he has written in earlier books. After discussing birds, he moves on to mammals--red squirrels, lions, elephants and humans too. He gets a bit philosophical when discussing specie synchronicity, human traits and diverse life strategies. Bernd Heinrich is a scientist and he thinks and writes as one. Most of what he writes is accessible to a layman. He is a teacher too, so he knows how to explain things simply. Rick Adamson narrates the audiobook well. He speaks clearly. He is easy to follow. Four stars for the narration. ************************* *The Snoring Bird: My Family's Journey Through a Century of Biology 5 stars *Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds 4 stars *One Wild Bird at a Time: Portraits of Individual Lives 4 stars *Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival 4 stars *A Year in the Maine Woods 3 stars *A Naturalist at Large: The Best Essays of Bernd Heinrich 3 stars *White Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows TBR *Summer World: A Season of Bounty TBR *Life Everlasting: The Animal Way of Death TBR

  3. 5 out of 5

    ༺Kiki༻

    You might also enjoy: ✱ Summer World: A Season of Bounty ✱ Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival ✱ A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays ✱ Small Wonder: Essays ✱ High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never ✱ Braiding Sweetgrass ✱ The Sea Around Us ✱ Under the Sea Wind From the Earth Up ★★★★☆ Life in the Soil ★★★★★ Rock-Solid Foundation ★★★★☆ The Spreading Chestnut Tree ★★★★☆ When the Bough Bends ★★★★☆ O Tannenbaum Insects ★★★★★ Reading Tree Leaves ★★★★☆ Hot- and Cold-Blooded Moths ★★★★☆ Wooll You might also enjoy: ✱ Summer World: A Season of Bounty ✱ Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival ✱ A Sand County Almanac with Other Essays ✱ Small Wonder: Essays ✱ High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never ✱ Braiding Sweetgrass ✱ The Sea Around Us ✱ Under the Sea Wind From the Earth Up ★★★★☆ Life in the Soil ★★★★★ Rock-Solid Foundation ★★★★☆ The Spreading Chestnut Tree ★★★★☆ When the Bough Bends ★★★★☆ O Tannenbaum Insects ★★★★★ Reading Tree Leaves ★★★★☆ Hot- and Cold-Blooded Moths ★★★★☆ Woolly and Wondrous ★★★★☆ Winter Guests ★★★★★ Arctic Bumblebees ★★★★☆ Beating the Heat, and Killing with Heat ★★★★☆ Bee-Lining vs. Bee Homing ★★★★☆ Beetles and Blooms ★★★★☆ Cooperative Undertaking: Teaming with Mites ★★★★☆ Whirligig Beetles: Quick Paddlers Ravens and Other Birds ★★★★☆ Ravens on My Mind ★★★★★ A Birdbrain Nevermore ★★★★☆ Ravens and the Inaccessible ★★★★☆ Phoebe Diary ★★★★☆ Conversation with a Sapsucker ★★★★☆ Hawk Watching ★★★★★ Kinglets' Realm of Cold ★★★★☆ The Diabolical Nightjar Mammals ★★★★☆ Hidden Sweets ★★★★☆ Hibernation, Insulation, and Caffeination ★★★★☆ Cohabiting with Elephants: A Browsing Relationship ★★★★☆ The Hunt: A Matter of Perspective ★★★☆☆ Endurance Predator Strategies for Life ★★★★☆ Synchronicity: Amplifying the Signal ★★★★☆ What Bees and Flowers Know ★★★★☆ Curious Yellow: A Foray into Iris Behavior ★★★★☆ Twists and Turns ★★★★☆ Birds Coloring Their Eggs ★★★☆☆ Birds, Bees, and Beauty: Adaptive Aesthetics ★★★★★ Seeing the Light in the Forest Small typo in Winter Guests, it should be mourning cloak butterflies.The first of these, the mourning clock butterflies, usually remain in crevices outside and only rarely make it into the cabin.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fox

    This is a beautiful collection of short essays collected from over the course of Bernd Heinrich's career. The book is divided into what each section focuses upon - from trees to insects, plants, mammals, birds (of course) and strategic adaptations across the board. Of particular focus over the course of the work are, as one would expect, honeybees and corvids, with ravens in particular getting the spotlight. Nevertheless, his love of all things natural shines through. Bernd Heinrich is a philos This is a beautiful collection of short essays collected from over the course of Bernd Heinrich's career. The book is divided into what each section focuses upon - from trees to insects, plants, mammals, birds (of course) and strategic adaptations across the board. Of particular focus over the course of the work are, as one would expect, honeybees and corvids, with ravens in particular getting the spotlight. Nevertheless, his love of all things natural shines through. Bernd Heinrich is a philosophical author. His essays at times border upon becoming poetry as he celebrates the trees ability to convert light to energy, or the way honeybees huddle for warmth. While he is romantic about what he loves, he still infuses every supposition with an explanation, and the science to back it up. He may talk about the raven's ability to share, but he hedges it with the factt that even the sharing is selfish - and that is OK. Don't deny the raven his own ravenness, nor any other creature the essence of what they are. This is a fine selection, and I look forward to reading more of his work. He's an author to treasure, truly, and a mind to wonder at. P.S. This book taught me that there is a bird known as the "diabolical nightjar" or "satanic nightjar which is utterly hilarious.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Amy Poulter

    Not really what I was expecting. I love the topic but I was hoping for some more “magic.”

  6. 5 out of 5

    Donna Luu

    The first few articles didn't really pull me in, but I kept at it and I'm glad I did. Great little observations, mostly on trees, bees, and birds. The first few articles didn't really pull me in, but I kept at it and I'm glad I did. Great little observations, mostly on trees, bees, and birds.

  7. 5 out of 5

    E

    Delightful book. Heinrich divides the book into short essays on trees, birds, insects, mammals, and more. By far the best selections (at least half the book) are those describing the wildlife around his rural Maine cabin. The author understands that the most important role of a naturalist is to observe, and then to ask questions about one has observed, and then to observe some more. So he notices certain trees growing in certain spots, then tries to figure out why. He notices ravens doing odd th Delightful book. Heinrich divides the book into short essays on trees, birds, insects, mammals, and more. By far the best selections (at least half the book) are those describing the wildlife around his rural Maine cabin. The author understands that the most important role of a naturalist is to observe, and then to ask questions about one has observed, and then to observe some more. So he notices certain trees growing in certain spots, then tries to figure out why. He notices ravens doing odd things at certain times of day, then tries to figure out why. He follows bees around, and red squirrels, and chestnuts. Some of the other essays, when he is away from home or describing things second-hand, can get a little dry, especially when he's droning on about evolution. But the firsthand stuff is a treasure. Both to enjoy his observations and to motivate the reader to get outside and take a look around.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Janet Meenehan

    Remarkable collection of insights and stories with the gentle power of intense observations often presented in naturalists. A few bits of observation feel dated given more recent researchers on the topic. Others are so prescient that I wonder why is this not more widely known? A wonderful display of the creativity of field biology, Heinrich bears witness and ponders the whys of all sorts of wonders, one being that the iris blossom unfolds counterclockwise...yes! Then he progresses into the twinin Remarkable collection of insights and stories with the gentle power of intense observations often presented in naturalists. A few bits of observation feel dated given more recent researchers on the topic. Others are so prescient that I wonder why is this not more widely known? A wonderful display of the creativity of field biology, Heinrich bears witness and ponders the whys of all sorts of wonders, one being that the iris blossom unfolds counterclockwise...yes! Then he progresses into the twining action of climbing vines to learn more about the direction and the process. Truly interesting but it did include a cringe moment of his delight in the yellow iris..which in my area of North America we consider invasive.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    This was a nice compilation of some of Bernd’s essays that were published previously in Journals. Some of the material was previously covered in his other books, but most of the material was new and fresh. I just love how he asks such great questions and then sets up experiments to find the answers. Classic Bernd Heinrich! I hope he never stops asking great questions and therefore never stops writing!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    3.5 stars. As a nature lover who studied Biology in undergrad I appreciated the reintroduction to scientific observation, combined with the descriptive stories of plants, animals, and insects going about their lives.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    There aren't a lot of people I would recommend this book to, but it was just what I was craving: a walk in the Maine woods, learning about animal and plant behavior, and looking at nature as an intriguing and beautiful being rather than as a resource. There aren't a lot of people I would recommend this book to, but it was just what I was craving: a walk in the Maine woods, learning about animal and plant behavior, and looking at nature as an intriguing and beautiful being rather than as a resource.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    A great collection of essays, most previously published in Natural History magazine. Heinrich is an old school naturalist, working in an era when cataloguing birds was still done by shooting them, but also a most passionate conservationist.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carl Griffin

    Took a LONG gap on reading this book, but as its a collection of essays it was very easy to pick up where I left off. It was humorous at times and had very good insight on the natural world. A good read for anyone who enjoys the outdoors

  14. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Smith

    I love all the books by Bernd Heinrich. A gifted naturalist and writer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary Pennington

    Found it really difficult to stay engaged with this one, not my cup of tea.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    Lively, engaging scientific writing! Love this author!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    My first book for 2021 Essays on a variety of topics including chirality, body heat as a means of killing, and general observations of the natural world near the author's cabin in Maine. 4.5 stars My first book for 2021 Essays on a variety of topics including chirality, body heat as a means of killing, and general observations of the natural world near the author's cabin in Maine. 4.5 stars

  18. 5 out of 5

    Billy Duncan

    Well-written essays on nature.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Susan Beecher

    He is such a fine nature writer. This is a book of essays. Some are more interesting than others but all are great. Highly recommend.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura Hanke

    The author has powers of observation I can only dream of having. His writing is more technical than anything, it does take equal powers of concentration to read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lorri

    I enjoyed each essay, inhaling the illuminating imagery of nature that Bernd Heinrich presented.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Fascinating. I particularly liked the essays about the American Chestnut and the ravens.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nora

  24. 5 out of 5

    BookSweetie

  25. 5 out of 5

    barbara harris

  26. 5 out of 5

    Philip

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dana Wilde

  28. 4 out of 5

    Allison

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rodneys26

  30. 4 out of 5

    Harrywaters

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