Thursday, December 14, 2006

Gift Ideas for Illinois Nature Lovers

Listen to the commentary
Real Audio : MP3 download

Are there nature lovers on your holiday shopping list? If so, I’ve got some suggestions for how you can help them connect with the natural wonders Illinois. As a bonus, you can obtain these gifts without a trip to the mall.

Start with field guides from the Illinois Natural History Survey, which you can purchase at Survey headquarters at 1816 South Oak Street in Champaign. (Free parking, no crowds.) [You can also order INHS field guides via phone at (217) 333-6880 or by downloading an order form and sending in a check or money order. See the manuals page at the INHS website.] The field guides published by the Natural History Survey are similar to the national guides you may be more familiar with, but they’re written and photographed by scientists from Illinois, and they contain more detailed information about ranges and habitats in our state. The most recent addition to the Survey’s field guide series is The Skipper Butterflies of Illinois. It includes full accounts of the 59 species of skipper butterflies found in the state, along with more than 400 color photographs. This book complements two of the other field guides available from the Survey, The Butterflies of Illinois and The Silk Moths of Illinois.

If you’re shopping for someone who’s interested in more down-to-earth critters, you can’t go wrong with the Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Illinois. Like other guides, this book helps to answer that most important question in the field, “what is it?” But it’s also an eye-opener. When people just browse the photographs of some of the fascinating snakes, frogs, toads, lizards, and salamanders that can be found right here in Illinois, they might also be inclined to go looking for them.

Are there people on your list who enjoy kayaking or canoeing? Help them learn the difference between a rabbitsfoot and a pistolgrip with the Field Guide to Freshwater Mussels of the Midwest.

If you’d prefer to give a gift to be enjoyed inside (and one that can be ordered by phone), consider a year’s subscription to The Illinois Steward magazine, which is published by the U of I Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, along with other affiliates. The Steward introduces readers to wildlife, natural areas, and important issues in conservation with captivating photographs and top-notch writing. It’s a quarterly reminder of the many natural treasures that are ours to enjoy and protect. The publishers of the Illinois Steward also produce a set of note cards featuring scenes from around the state that makes an excellent gift.

Another subscription possibility is, Outdoor Illinois, a monthly magazine published by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. As a DNR publication, Outdoor Illinois may hold special appeal for the hunters and anglers on you list.

If you’re buying for birders, stop by the Audubon gift shop [for info see right sidebar on Champaign County Audubon Society homepage] at the Urbana Park District’s Anita Purves Nature Center. (Again, free parking, no crowds.) There you can pick up Birds of Illinois (De Vore, Bailey and Kennedy 2004) a field guide with state-specific range maps and more detailed accounts of life history and conservation topics than you’ll find in bird guides with a wider focus. If you want a gift for someone who would like to bird more, but doesn’t know where to go, give them the book Birding Illinois (De Vore 2000), which describes how to get around and what you can expect to see at more than 110 locations throughout the state.

With a little luck, you’ll be finished shopping early, and have some time to get out for yourself.