BOOK REVIEW: GREAT WILDLIFE of the GREAT PLAINS by Paul A. Johnsgard
Paul A. Johnsgard
University Press of Kansas
SUMMARY (from the publisher)
Thundering herds of bison. Burrowing prairie dogs. Soaring golden eagles. These are among the wildlife who will always be linked with the Great Plains, and many can still be seen in their natural habitats. Now there is a single-volume resource that provides an instructive and entertaining commentary on their lives.
Paul Johnsgard is a leading authority on the ecology of the Great Plains and author of more than forty books in natural history. With Great Wildlife of the Great Plains, he has written the first overview of the region's native fauna, a book geared to amateur naturalists and general readers who live in or visit America's vast central expanses.
Choosing from the nearly 600 terrestrial vertebrates found on the Great Plains, Johnsgard focuses on the ecology, behavior, and life histories of 121 notable species that people are most likely to encounter when traveling in the region. He has selected characteristic breeding birds, typical mammals, and conspicuous amphibians and reptiles—as well as additional species of conservation importance, animals of charismatic interest, and selected transients.
The book is organized around ten distinct biotic communities, from the different varieties of native prairies to woodlands and wetlands, so that human visitors to those habitats can be on the watch for wildlife most often encountered there. Here are box turtles in the Sandhills grasslands and roadrunners in the shrubsteppes—and coyotes nearly everywhere—and here is Paul Johnsgard to tell us how they go about their lives. Johnsgard's pictorial prose calls to the reader's attention all of the subtleties of geography and life forms associated with these varied ecosystems. More than seventy maps and illustrations enhance his text.
Whether commenting on the feeding and nesting habits of the cuckoo, philosophizing on the aromatic qualities of skunks from a closer range than most of us would dare, or simply celebrating the zigzag hop of the jumping mouse, Johnsgard brings to the page the sharp eye of one who has studied these animals for years and is familiar with their every action. Great Wildlife of the Great Plains is a book with which to travel and from which to learn-a book that speaks to the inner naturalist in every citizen of the Plains.
I like to read about the natural world and picked this up at the library recently. Johnsgard is a professor at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where my husband works, so I figured it would be a wonderful resource for learning about the local birds, weeds, and frogs.
It certainly fits the bill, but it turned out to be more than informing. Johnsgard writes beautifully! Upon further research, I've discovered that he's written fiction, and I'm relieved to hear it, because a biologist who writes so adeptly is a gift to the world.
Listen to this: "There are still a few places where one can find and sit on a giant glacial-worn and lichen-capped boulder, with nothing but tall prairies visible to the horizon, and imagine that only about 20,000 years ago mammoths might have rubbed their hairy sides against this very rock" (pp. 211-212).
Johnson takes his job far beyond identification, lifespans, and breeding habits. He infuses his research and writing with wonder. As for me, I'm going to see if I can track him down. I read in a Journal Star article that he likes to hang out at Holmes Lake looking for birds. That's where I'll start.