The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – book review


 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Natural History of the Maltese Islands

Alfred E. Baldacchino

Bonett, G. (2011) The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens. 384 pp. Malta, BDL Ltd.

 

 

 

When we were young we used to pursue everything that moved, whether it was a reptile, a butterfly, a bird, a frog or tadpole, a beetle, sometimes even a flower or wild plant. This was perhaps the result of the educational system of our times, when we, as young children, were encouraged to collect such species during our weekend holidays and to bring them to the nature-table in class. I can remember tadpoles in glass jars, looking at their adult stages in adjacent glass jars, a stage they never reached. I can also remember pinned butterflies uselessly giving their last desperate wing beats, before giving up the ghost. Times have changed and such a change has also brought with it a change of mentality.

I remember Guido Bonett in his younger days, following with caution such wildlife with photographic equipment and binoculars. Guido was quick to keep pace with the latest technological changes which provide sophisticated equipment to better enable him to follow such wildlife. Change has enabled Guido to capture, not the living specimen, but photos, even of delicate and split-second moments in the life of species, moments which can only be captured, recorded, and filed through photographic equipment. Guido shot, and shot to his heart’s delight, with professionalism, ethics, and with satisfaction that, in his pursue, not a single specimen was endangered, injured, maimed or disturbed. The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – as seen through a photographer’s lens is an introduction to nature photography in the Maltese Islands. Guido reveals the wonder of nature in the Maltese Islands: whether it is a spider capturing a fly, a bird bringing food to its nestlings, a chameleon hunting insects, two fighting snakes, a hovering dragonfly, mating insects, intricate petals of flowers, close up of a number of flora and fauna showing details which are not easily observed and appreciated with the naked eye, or just a living species in a moment of its daily life. Guido’s book about the wonders and richness of the biodiversity of the Maltese Islands encompasses 59 explanatory photos in the introductory parts, and then a collection of photos which includes flora (92) dragonflies (19) grasshoppers (17) mantids (8) true bugs (17) lacewings (5) butterflies and moths (68) flies (17) bees, wasps and ants (21) beetles (23) spiders and scorpions (22), amphibians and reptiles (44), birds (72) and other wildlife (19) photos.

One of the many photos from Guido's book: The expression of love by two Lesser emperor Dragonflies

This publication has a preface by Dr L.F. Cassar, and Dr E. Conrad, from the Institute of Earth Systems of the University of Malta, a foreword by Louis Agius, the President of the Malta Photographic Society, and an Appreciation by Nick Camilleri, Managing Director of Avantech Ltd one of the main sponsors, followed by Guido’s appreciation note. All the species mentioned in the book are listed in an alphabetical English and Scientific index, and a list of further reading is also included.

As the author emphasises in the introductory part of the book: “The man in the street and even other photographers will be overlooking, stepping on and trampling without a second thought” on this rich natural heritage, while “The nature photographer sees beauty in subjects which others might find revolting, and this is one of the factors that make macrophotogrphy so fascinating.” But even in his pursuits of photographic natural living subjects, the author emphises the ethics to “take photos not lives, and leave nothing behind but footprints.”

Many may know Guido as a naturalist and a conservationist at heart. Guido has built on this reputation: he is today one of the leading professional nature photographers, for which, in 2005, he has been awarded an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain (ARPS), and in 2008 an Associateship of the Malta Photographic Society (AMPS). His knowledge and experience in the field, where, as a youngster he studied and met a number of species face to face, has enabled him to utilise this vast experience to produce professional natural history photographs, not just from a photographic point of view, but most important from a scientific aspect. His latest work, full of passion, besides the high photographic level, without any doubt contributes to the scientific, educational, and appreciation of the rich biodiversity of the Maltese Islands.

In the preamble of the book, Guido briefly explains the habitats of the Maltese Islands, where many of his subjects can be found. He gives advice on how to take better nature photographs, explains the photographic equipment necessary for such work, such as camera body, lenses, macro lenses, telephoto lenses, flash units, tripods, and monopods, tripod heads, cables releases and camera bags. Explanations are also included on how and when, or when not, to use a macro and/or a telephoto. Besides in the main part of the book, which is a collection of his nature photographs, he also gives the English and Scientific names of the subject, the status and some information on the species, indicating also whether it is an invasive species or indigenous one. Included under each photo, is a tip re its taking, a code number, information on shutter speed, aperture value, ISO value, focal length, and shooting mode used, such as aperture priority mode, shutter speed priority mode or manual mode used.

The great effort, dedication and sacrifice which went into the production of this book, both by Guido, the publisher, the sponsors, and the printer have all contributed to such a professional publication on the natural history of theMalteseIslands. This publication can definitely help to create a better positive appreciation of our unique natural heritage. It can help to further create and strengthen the national pride of our borrowed natural treasures. It can contribute to the better relationship between man and the ecosystem on which we are so much dependent. This book can also be useful to those who know all the species referred to in Guido’s book, because it shows the minute details which cannot be seen by the naked eye. Naturally, it is also a must for all those who are aware of the beauty and importance of biodiversity, because they can also get familiar with a number of species which can be appreciated with the naked eye and which most of the time, many go past without even realising it. One has to know what to expect to see before being able to look for it.

This book is a treasure in the hands of every citizen who loves theMalteseIslands. It shows the delicate, fragile, daily natural miracles of which we all form part, all of which have been lent to us by future generations. If only the educational entities of these islands understand the potential of this book, and direct that it is made use of, even by being used during the various prize giving ceremonies in schools, it will be a great service in the education of the young generation with regards to the better understanding and appreciation of our natural heritage.

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4 Responses to The Natural History of the Maltese Islands – book review

  1. Astrid Vella says:

    This is a brilliant book which deserves to find a place in every Maltese household.

  2. James A. Tyrrell says:

    Macro photography is extremely interesting because as the author says most people will step over or indeed trample on this sort of thing. No matter how close we get from observing a bug on the wall to looking at water through a powerful microscope there is always something struggling to survive.

  3. Aron Tanti says:

    A must have publication for nature lovers and also for the general public, both local and visitor. A+

  4. gaucivincent says:

    Excellent stuff!
    Digital photography has encouraged the archaic mentality of catching wildlife. Pity tadpole catching continues unabated at Chadwick Lakes, and elsewhere, not to mention the catching of crabs and other wildlife along our shores.

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