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Great Auk Islands; a Field Biologist in the Arctic (Poyser Monographs) [Hardcover]

Tim Birkhead

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Book Description

30 Oct 2010 Poyser Monographs
A book for professional and amateur ornithologists, students in ecology and animal behaviour. The Arctic is one of the world's last great wildernesses: a place of outstanding beauty, history and extraordinary wildlife in which seabirds form an important component of a rich, marine environment. Like many other remote regions, it is under threat from human activities, but to protect it we need to understand it. That understanding can come only through scientific research and the central threat of this book is to examine how such research is actually done. It describes the business of conducting biological studies on seabirds in remote parts of eastern Canada. Several themes are engagingly interwoven: the sheer beauty of the Arctic environment, the intriguing biology of its wildlife, and the discovery and exploitation of enormous seabird colonies, including the destruction of the Great Auk. Tim Birkhead describes in personal detail the different facets of research and brings to life both the difficulties and the excitement of working in the Arctic. What is it like setting up a camp for four months on a remote and uninhabited island not far from the North Pole? How does it feel to commute daily by inflatable boat amidst icebergs to study-areas located on towering cliffs, set between ice-blue glaciers? What do you do when a Polar bear decides that you have invaded its Arctic home? Why are the seabird colonies in the high Arctic so enormous? What do we know about lifestyle of the extinct Great Auk? In 1992 Canada's legendary cod fishery was finally destroyed - what are the consequences of this for other wildlife? These are just a few of the questions dealt with in this book. Our future as a species depends upon science and the understanding it brings of the world we live in. The work of scientists often appears obscure, but in this book, Tim Birkhead has used his experience of seven summers in the Arctic to write an accessible and straightforward account of how research is actually done in the field. The text is enriched by David Quinn's illustrations, and by numerous photographs in both black and white, and colour.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding what 'scientists' do and why 15 Dec 2002
By Ian Stewart - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this book, professional biologist Tim Birkhead describes his years studying the breeding biology of seabirds in isolated arctic regions. Note however, that this is no dry ornithological text bogged down with eye-straining tables of data and statistics. Although the science is there for all to see, and the take home messages are as clear as crystal, they are nestled within a hugely enjoyable tale of what it is like to study wild animals in their natural habitat. The rugged beauty and remoteness of arctic cliffs and islands is captured well by the author's style, which borders on the reverential without being romantic. At times, I almost felt as though I was perched on a cliff alongside the author, watching crowds of auks (murres) squabbling on their tiny breeding ledges!
This book also gives a readable synopsis of avian reproductive physiology put in the context of what one acually observes from the outside, as well as a good account of seabird natural history. What separates this book from others of its ilk is the author's willingness to bare his soul to the reader, giving the book a very personal feel with the description of some rather troubled events that most people would have shied away from even mentioning. Equally interesting is a chapter describing how scientists actually work, and what motivates them to devote so much effort into questions which the casual observer would happily leave unanswered.
I learned a lot from this book, at several different levels, and would strongly recommend it to laypeople with an interest in natural history or wilderness travel, as well as practising or prospective scientists.
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