cover of book

Golden Wings & Hairy Toes: Encounters with New England’s Most Imperiled Wildlife
by Todd McLeish
University Press of New England, 2009
Cloth: 978-1-58465-626-5 | eISBN: 978-1-61168-994-5 | Paper: 978-1-58465-764-4
Library of Congress Classification QL84.22.N47M35 2007
Dewey Decimal Classification 578.680974

This book profiles fourteen of New England’s most rare and endangered flora and fauna—mammals, birds, insects, plants, and fish—by following the biologists who are researching, monitoring, and protecting them. Each chapter includes a first-person account of the author’s experience with these experts, as well as details about the species’ life history, threats, and conservation strategies. McLeish traps bats in Vermont and lynx in Maine, gets attacked by marauding birds in Massachusetts, and observes the metamorphosis of dragonflies in Rhode Island. He visits historical cemeteries to see New England’s rarest plant, tracks sturgeon in the Connecticut River, and observes a parade of what may be the rarest mammal on earth, the North Atlantic right whale, in Cape Cod Bay. The book’s title comes from the name of one of the birds in the book, the golden-winged warbler, and the unusual characteristic used to distinguish the rare Indiana bat from its common cousins, its hairy toes. McLeish, a longtime wildlife advocate and essayist, has a gift for communicating scientific information in an interesting and accessible way. His goal in this book—to make an emotional connection to a variety of fascinating animals and plants—is successfully conveyed to the reader, who comes away amazed by the complexity of individual species and the ecosystems necessary for their survival. Sometimes there are surprises: how lynx benefit from the clear cutting of forests or how utility companies —often blamed for environmental degradation—have accidentally succeeded in creating excellent habitat for golden-winged warblers along their power line corridors. Such examples support McLeish’s assertion that we can meet the immense challenges to species preservation, such as global warming, acid rain, and mercury poisoning, as well as the difficulty of adding new species to the 1973 Endangered Species Act. As McLeish’s book shows, each rare species has an important story to tell about the causes of its population decline, the obstacles each face in rebuilding a sustainable population, and the people who go to extraordinary lengths to give these species a chance to thrive.

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