Owls of the Eastern Ice (Hardcover)
A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374228484, 368pp.
Publication Date: June 2, 2020
A field scientist and conservationist tracks the elusive Blakiston's Fish Owl in the forbidding reaches of eastern Russia
The Blakiston’s Fish Owl, the largest species of owl on earth, found only in the far northern regions of Russia, Japan, and Korea, is also perhaps the most mysterious. Only a handful of scientists have attempted to study them, but a chance sighting changed the course of Jonathan C. Slaght’s life—sending him on a five-year journey to study these enigmatic creatures.
In Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl, American researcher and conservationist Slaght takes us to the Primoriye region of Eastern Russia, where we join a small team for late-night monitoring missions, on mad dashes across thawing rivers, drink vodka with mystics, hermits, and scientists, and listen to fireside tales of Amur tigers. Most captivating of all are the fish owls themselves: cunning hunters, devoted parents, singers of eerie duets, and survivors in a harsh and shrinking habitat.
A rare glimpse into the everyday life of a scientist and the subjects of his deep fascination, Owls of the Eastern Ice is a testament to the determination, creativity, and resolve required by field research and a powerful reminder of the beauty, strength, and vulnerability of the natural world.
About the Author
Jonathan C. Slaght is the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society, where he manages research projects on endangered species and coordinates avian conservation activities along the East Asia-Australasian Flyway from the Arctic to the Tropics.
His annotated translation of Across the Ussuri Kay by Vladimir Arsenyev was published in 2016, and his writings, research, and photographs have been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, the BBC World Service, NPR, Smithsonian Magazine, and Audubon Magazine, among others.
Praise For Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl…
"From the very first pages, Slaght . . . grips readers with vivid language and tight storytelling . . . Part of the book's success lies in the author's ability to present the stakes and draw out the tension therein, making what could be a dry tale of bird-watching a compelling story of the necessity of conservation . . . Slaght lives up to his rugged-conservationist persona as he writes of helter-skelter snowmobile trips circumnavigating rushing rivers of ice, vodka-soaked encounters with village locals, and solitary, achingly beautiful nights observing the majestic owls firsthand. He is an engaging writer who imbues each scene with an intimate sense of place . . . Top-notch nature writing in service of a magnificent, vulnerable creature."
—Kirkus, starred review
“It’s said that there are two kinds of great stories—a stranger comes to town, and a person goes on a journey. Slaght’s brilliant book is the latter, a gripping tale of his quest to find—and save—one of the world’s most magnificent creatures. Along the way, we get a rare inside view of a land, a people, an elusive owl, and ultimately, the human spirit. Anyone who loves birds, science, travel, or just a riveting read will love this book.”
—Jennifer Ackerman, author of Birds by the Shore
“In this vigorous, you-are-there natural history, Jonathan C. Slaght takes us on a heroic quest through one of the planet’s most fascinating and least explored ecoregions. Somewhere in this wintry world inhabited by tigers and bears, poachers and mystics, lurks an enormous owl all but unknown to the outside world. Slaght’s account of his intrepid search for this elusive creature is matched only by his portraits of the humans who share that same forest.”
—John Vaillant, author of The Jaguar’s Children
“I loved Jonathan C. Slaght’s Owls of the Eastern Ice. It is a riveting adventure with one of the rarest and most fascinating birds in one of the remotest regions of the globe, with most interesting people.”
—Bernd Heinrich, author of White Feathers
“In Owls of the Eastern Ice, biologist Jonathan C. Slaght shares a world few outside the Russian Far East have ever even heard of—a harsh land of frozen rivers and snowy forests, hungry tigers, radioactive hot springs, weird hermits, and, lording over it all, the largest and most mysterious of all owls. Part scientific exploration, part adventure story, it is at its heart a rumination on learning the heart of a wilderness to save it.”
—Scott Weidensaul, author of Living on the Wind
“Until Jonathan C. Slaght, the world’s largest owls were mythic, seldom-seen forest phantoms. With this book, Slaght takes us with him to the wild and remote forests of the Russian Far East on a quest to track and study Blakiston’s fish owls. It is an absorbing account, richly detailed and gracefully written with humor and empathy. Owls of the Eastern Ice is a superb narrative devoted to the natural history and conservation of a rare and beautiful species.”
—George B. Schaller, Wildlife Conservation Society
“A fascinating account of one man’s quest to conserve the magnificent fish owl of Eastern Asia, this is a book that feels both urgent and relevant.”
—Christopher Skaife, author of The Ravenmaster
“Owls of the Eastern Ice is thrilling, high-spirited adventure that beautifully evokes Russia’s Far East and the strange, hardy beings, both human and wild, who inhabit it. Jonathan C. Slaght survives swift rivers, rapacious poachers, and ungodly quantities of cheap vodka in his heroic quest to protect the Blakiston’s fish owl, a creature that’s as wondrous and fierce as the landscape it haunts. Slaght’s story won’t just make you fall in love with a bird you’ve never seen, it will give you a new appreciation for the tenacity and resourcefulness of wildlife biologists on both sides of the Pacific.”
—Ben Goldfarb, author of Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter
“A fish owl duet might fold into other sounds in the Russian forest, but this book has one of the clearest voices I have encountered. Slaght’s story reveals the patience and determination of a true conservationist. And the ears and eyes of a poet. Above all, he makes the people, wildlife and landscape of the Russian Far East come alive for armchair travelers. I haven’t enjoyed a book on remote Russia as much as this since Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia.”
—Sophy Roberts, The Lost Pianos of Siberia