I loved this book! We all need to escape sometimes. What better way than to follow a scientist into “the field”, when the field is in Eastern Siberia. And who can resist the idea of research on owls?
This is the story of Jonathan Slaght’s doctoral dissertation. His goal was to learn about Blakeston’s fish owl (Bubo blakestoni) and to use his data to generate a conservation plan to preserve this endangered but little understood species. Who knew there is such a thing as an aquatic owl, one capable of catching a fish twice its own weight? Other Asian species like tigers and bears generate considerably more popular interest.
Getting into “the field” is a big project in itself when you have to travel to a distant continent and then to a remote location with sketchy transportation and hostile weather, and then conduct your daily business in a foreign language (Russian).
In a Facebook Live interview a few days ago, Slaght discussed the issue of language. His research was done with Russians and mostly IN Russian, but he also kept a personal journal in English. What a challenge! Before writing Owls of the Eastern Ice, Slaght translated the travel and adventure classic Across the Ussuri Kray by V Arsenyev (1921), which documents the cultural and natural history of northeast Asia. (Available from Amazon, formerly unavailable in English.)
This book brings an important message to aspiring scientists. Science is not all white lab coats and precision! Slaght didn’t know much about the fish owls when he began his work. He had almost no idea of how to find them, and less information about how to CATCH one! Later, he had to fit them with transmitters and track their movements. I’m amazed at how much he accomplished. Interpreting the data was crucial, and he successfully generated a conservation plan for his target species.
Alongside the science, Slaght presented cultural and personal information about the people he worked among.
I read this book using the Kindle app on my phone. Not optimal when you want to look at a map frequently. I hope my public library acquires a copy soon.
I recommend this book to anyone who loves to travel or spends time enjoying nature. It would make a great gift for anyone in high school or college who likes science but wonders what real scientists do!