Birds, Natural Wonders, and Foot-Tapping Tunes

Two guides and choro music inform the mind this month.


 A Californian’s Guide to the Birds Among Us by Charles Hood (Heyday, 2017, $19, 157 pp.)

Wondering what bird is singing outside your window or flying over the marshes of Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park? Mohave Desert birder, photographer, and poet Charles Hood has a new guidebook for the bird-challenged that includes 120 entries of California’s most common avian varieties and 400 photos. Hood suggests readers thumb through it, stopping when they see a name or bird they recognize, focusing on “seeable” species, meaning ones people can see. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see all the birds he lists in one’s everyday California comings and goings. He offers hints tied to habitat, time of year, size, and behavior as primary identifying features rather than color and markings. From the tiny Anna’s hummingbird to the majestic great blue heron, these birds are fascinating and fun to learn about, and he squeezes in interesting details about them and their habitats. —Judith M. Gallman


The California Field Atlas written and illustrated by Obi Kaufmann (Heyday, 2017, $45, 530 pp.)

Oakland wilderness naturalist Obi Kaufmann’s field atlas is a beautifully constructed compilation of illustrated maps, wildlife, and wilderness in mostly softly hued watercolors with text full of wonders, facts, and figures that many Californians, even naturalists, may not know. An avid adventurer and backcountry explorer, he uses his intricate images, paintings, words, and keys to reveal his perceived layers of California’s natural world and how they mesh. The author-illustrator likens each section, particularly the accompanying maps, to visual word puzzles, something to linger over, figure out, and contemplate. For Kaufmann, the atlas seems to represent a poetic and tender celebration of the Golden State by virtue of its flowers and animals, mountains and rivers, parks and weather, and other recognizable features. Science and animal lovers will find much to cherish in this unusually lovely and hefty collection.     —JMG


The View from Here by the Berkeley Choro Ensemble (

 Brazilian choro may be more than 100 years old, and it may have been born in Rio de Janeiro as a musical fusion, but as played by flutist Jane Lenoir, clarinetist/saxophonist Harvey Wainapel, seven-string acoustic guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, and percussionist Brian Rice, it sounds thoroughly of this moment. This early urban genre incorporates African, European, and indigenous South American idioms into a rhythmically and harmonically complex instrumental music bursting with melody and freewheeling improvisation. On its debut recording, the Berkeley Choro Ensemble brings tight quartet arrangements, individual virtuosity, and a buoyant spirit to original compositions and regional Brazilian pieces that fall outside the canon of the choro classics. Notes and percussive accents swirl and flutter like flocks of birds on happy juice, leaving you to grin as you tap your feet to the most gleeful chamber music on the planet.         —Derk Richardson

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