THE HOMING INSTINCT: MEANING & MYSTERY IN ANIMAL MIGRATION

By Bernd Heinrich

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

352 pages, $27

ISBN 978-0-547-19848-4

Mainers who are fans of natural history and science have probably already heard of Bernd Heinrich. He is a biologist, and an award-winning and best-selling author of 17 books on science and nature. And he lives right here in western Maine.

Heinrich has written such nonfiction classics as “Bumblebee Economics” and “The Trees In My Forest.” With this latest book he explores and explains how and why animals migrate from home site to home site, often traveling thousands of miles each year using natural instinct and learned behavior to accurately find their way across oceans and continents.

Heinrich may be a scientist, but he writes vivid, colorful narrative, easily understood and highly entertaining. Citing scientific studies and his own observations of animal behavior, he describes how birds, insects, fish, mammals and even humans have natural homing instincts that guide migrations for food sources, mating, breeding and basic survival in changing seasonal climates.

For example, he smartly tells how birds use visible landmarks, solar and magnetic orienteering, celestial navigation and genetic coding to find their way, teaching their young so the next generation can find its way home again. He also explains why certain bird species migrate only at night, others only during the day and how others can fly from Alaska to Australia without stopping.

Heinrich also reveals how animals, fish and insects use scent to map a migration route, how certain insects communicate directions to each other and how ants create their own imprinted “map sense” by merely walking around.

Learn the real identity of Johnny Appleseed and why he planted so many apple trees (think human migration), the real meaning of the term “beeline” and how the albatross can unerringly return to its birthplace 7-10 years after leaving the nest.

MORE DAM TROUBLE

By Earl H. Smith

North Country Press, 2014

215 pages, $15.95

ISBN 978-0-945980-77-3

When a small Maine town is faced with the imminent construction of a tacky theme park financed by deep-pocketed fat cats and Boston mobsters, you can bet that some local folks will be mighty upset — maybe mad enough to commit murder.

“More Dam Trouble” is Earl Smith’s second comic mystery featuring Harry and Nibber — two of the town of Belfry’s dam committee — and the unlikely heroes in the first book in the series, “The Dam Committee” (North Country Press, 2011).

Smith lives in the Belgrade Lakes area and is a retired dean from Colby College. He is also one very funny writer. He loves puns, snappy dialogue, comic situations and wacky characters, and this dam committee adventure is just as funny as the first book.

People in Belfry are riled up over the theme park proposal, with the pro and con sides firmly entrenched and intolerant of each other. Harsh words, pushing, shoving and threats keep the sheriff’s deputy busy, but even she can’t keep the much-disliked local realtor from getting bumped off.

Harry and Nibber smell a rat (hard to believe they can smell anything since Nibber rarely bathes), and some poking around in other people’s business (the town pastime) reveals that a recent case of arson and the murder could be connected.

Stopping the theme park, saving an innocent pal from wrongful prosecution, solving the murder and not getting themselves killed keep Harry and Nibber on their toes, but a slick and very imaginative lawyer, the town busybody and the deputy with a hair-trigger pistol may have the answers.

Smith claims this isn’t a sequel, but it would be helpful to read the first book to fully understand why Nibber keeps a couple hundred thousand dollars hidden in the toilet. Now, that’s funny.

Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.


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