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Among the Flock of Books, One Soars the Highest

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January 12, 2012 by Kelly Gass

I started reading In the Province of Birds by Joseph C. Neal book about a week ago at my step-daughter’s home in Royal Arkansas – basically on the edge of the Ouachita National Forest. The next morning, on a gravel lane outside her home, I chanced upon two pileated woodpeckers working on separate trees. That was the first time I’d seen that type of scenario, so I was really excited and primed to read and review this month’s book selection.

The book’s author, Joseph Neal, is also a regular contributor to this newspaper. Perhaps you have read his interesting articles on birds in Western Arkansas. So when it was brought to my attention that this local author recently had his book published and released on Amazon.com, I thought it would be a great time to review it. This is a prime time of year for bird watching and for reading books related to the subject.

From time to time, I pull my Stokes Field Guide To Birds from the shelf and use it to identify or refresh my memory on a bird that shows up at one of the bird feeders in our yard. The main theme that permeates throughout the book, is the author’s experiences as an avid observer of birds over the course of many years. But interwoven within this theme are the fabrics of his life’s experiences and philosophy involving people, places and time. It is no coincidence that many of his greatest personal influences are people such as himself.

They are folks who appreciate the creation around them and spent much of their lives observing and often times protecting the habitats of their feathered friends. People like Joe are incredibly rich and well off and I don’t mean from a materialistic point of view. No, rather they realize they are among a relatively small and esoteric group of people, who witness things on a day-to-day basis that few humans take the opportunity to observe. Most of us don’t know what we are missing. It ​​might be the sight of a Prairie Falcon perched on a fence post halfway across a huge field. Or perhaps, a ​sighting of a yellow-billed Loon — on a local lake.

Though raised a Baptist, Joe professes no particularly strong religious beliefs in the conventional church-going sense of the word. But he sees God’s handiwork in the creation around him, God’s “second bible” as he puts it. Joe received his requisite training at the University of Arkansas and attained his academic credentials – degrees in history and zoology. He has done extensive bird research and published scientific papers on bird life in Western Arkansas. Theory is fine, but this book is rich in actual field experiences of Joe and his bird loving friends.

I recommend this book to any and all nature lovers whether you are a bird watcher – a logger – a tree hugger – a hunter of water fowl or wild turkeys.

Joe’s book is currently available in paperback from Amazon.com.

Reviewed by Kelly Gass kgass@copper.net

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