Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest To Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl

Farrar. Jun. 2020. 368p. ISBN 9780374228484. $27. NAT HIST
Slaght recounts his five-year study of Blakiston’s fish owls: raptors notable for their large size, rarity, and habitat (shared with Amur tigers) in southeastern Russia. The author, now the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, is a young PhD candidate looking for a research topic when the book begins. He’s essentially starting from scratch, since so little was known about the birds. As fine a writer as he is scientist, Slaght gives the narrative an enticing structure; it’s well into the book before he gets a good look at the cryptic species. Information about fish owl behavior and biology is gradually revealed as his knowledge expands. Readers learn much about the vagaries of scientific fieldwork, including the worries caused by severe weather, equipment failure, and project funding issues. While the birds are marvelous, there’s a compelling human side to the story as well as Slaght describes his interactions with local scientists and research assistants.
VERDICT S Slaght’s extensive field research is rendered into clear, readable prose, making it a solid choice for bird lovers, but also for armchair travelers looking for eco-adventure on the fringes of civilization.
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