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Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World's Largest Owl

4.30  ·  Rating details ·  323 ratings  ·  82 reviews
A field scientist and conservationist tracks the elusive Blakiston's Fish Owl in the forbidding reaches of eastern Russia.

I saw my first Blakiston’s fish owl in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia . . . No scientist had seen a Blakiston’s fish owl so far south in a hundred years . . .

When he was just a f
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published August 4th 2020 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Diane S ☔
Oct 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Eastern Russia and the search for the world's largest owl. Fish owls can be anywhere from two to two in a half feet tall, weighing up to right pounds, talons the size of a human hand. Of course I had to look them up. A book that blends, conservatism, science and fieldwork, though I would say field work took up the largest part. These owls are elusive, found in only certain places, under certain conditions, so the hunt was lengthly with rare glimpses in the beginning.

The search itself, the fieldw
In brief - If remote places and rare wildlife interest you then it's worth a look at this well written book. 4.5/5

In full
This fascinating book starts with an introduction to the author’s interest in the area and the owls. It includes his memories of his first sighting of a Blakiston’s fish owl even though at the time he did not know what he had seen. This is about both the owl - the largest and one of the rarest in the world - and the Primorye area of eastern Russia. Until I read this I confess
L.G. Cullens
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan C. Slaght

Having previously read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant, with this book I've returned in my reading to Primorye, Russia. The fish owl is a symbol of Primorye’s wilderness almost as much as the Amur tiger, and as with the tiger the needs of fish owls and humans are inextricably linked in Primorye, indicative as it is of the connectedness of all life on our little blue canoe.

The accounting in this book is but one small
Oct 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
Owls are considered one of the most elusive and magical members of the bird family. These feathered (large) fairies are extremely intelligent, beautifully outfitted with plumage and are remarkable hunters. Yet, due to their nocturnal meanderings; we don’t often come into contact. One of the rarest (and most endangered) of all owls is Blakiston’s Fish Owl: a large owl living in the remote, icy enclaves of Russia (and parts of Japan). Jonathan C. Slaght, the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator f ...more
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science

Amazing book combines adventure, habitat preservation, nature, and a look at academic life. When I saw the cover, I knew I wanted to read this book. Although I am extremely frightened by birds, I am drawn to learn about them. The Fish Owl is huge in terms of bird size, with powerful claws that allow it to grab cold, slippery fish out of the water, and it is armed with a fierce beak to tear fish apart for dinner. Even more enticing is that the Fish Owl lives, among other places in a remote corner
Feb 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have always thought owls are beautiful and mysterious creatures. I own two intricate wood carvings and a set of three who nest on my mantelpiece. Slaght’s work, however, taught me to look beyond their majestic beauty and see their fight for survival.

Owls of the Eastern Ice charts Slaght’s time as a P.h.D student searching for the Blakiston’s fish owl and ways to protect the species in the Primorye region of Russia. Slaght captivated me from beginning to end.

Through reading I became enrapture
Oct 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A truly fantastic account of a young conservation scientist's quest to understand and protect the world's largest owl in the wilds of eastern Russia. The journey follows Dr. Jonathan Slaght over his 5 years of surveying the Blackiston's Fish Owl in Primorye, the region of Russia that sits next to China, North Korea and across the sea from Japan. It is not only an inside look at the joys and pains of grueling fieldwork but also a love letter to the natural landscape, a memoir of a scientist, and ...more
Oct 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Oh man, this book worked *so* well for me! The nature - the owls, the wilderness, the Siberian winter - is so relaxing and just.. pleasant to listen to. But what makes the book really click for me are the encounters between this crazy American and all the crazy Russians he meets in the Siberian far east. Most of the episodes had me cackling. I also teared up a little at the very end haha - and I say this as a person who has no real interest in animals. Wonderful book, recommended to anyone who w ...more
Ben Goldfarb
Dec 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read a galley; here's my blurb: "Owls of the Eastern Ice is a thrilling, high-spirited adventure that beautifully evokes Russia's far east and the strange, hardy beings, both human and wild, who inhabit it. Jonathan 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 nev ...more
Ms. Meghan
Jul 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
For those who didn't get a chance to meet me back in the Children's Room in the whole three months I was there before the world turned upside down, I was an animal keeper for almost twenty years before coming to Galesburg Public Library. I was watching a webinar on upcoming autumn books when the presenter started talking about a researcher from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) who had worked with fish owls in Russia. Now, back in 2013 I attended a conservation conference (remember confere ...more
Laura Hoffman Brauman
Sep 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars I had no idea how captivating the story of a field biologist's work could be until I read this account of Slaght's work in Eastern Russia to understand more about the Fish Owl, the largest species of owl in the world. Slaght is an exceptional writer and he has good material to work with here. After Slaght happened to come across one as a casual bird watcher, he became fascinated by them. He proposed a PhD project studying the owls and developing a conservation project that brought him ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is so amazing. I love the way the story weaves together personal narrative with natural history stories against a backdrop of the rugged Russian forests. This book not only provides fantastic information about a rare and endangered species but does it in a way that lets you know the blood, sweat, and frustrations underlying every individual datum. I liked this book so much that I bought two additional copies to give to my friends,
Sep 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting and adventurous tale of a little known species of owl. The Blakiston Fish Owl, or more commonly known as the Fish Owl, is the largest owl species on the planet and only resides in a corner of Siberia, China, and in northern Japan. If you are a fan of outdoor adventure, you may enjoy the dedicated trials of these individuals who endured harsh winter conditions to help track, capture, and conserve these beautiful creatures. Not to mention, the voluminous amounts of vodka (or the rou ...more
Sep 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. This book felt like if an even nerdier Bill Bryson loved fish owls. I enjoyed every minute of it. I heard a presentation by the author and was fascinated to read all the minutiae of the trapping, transmitters, and data. As someone who has spent impatient hours (not days) waiting for a particular bird to hit a dho-gazza, I can imagine the fortitude this research required. The author hardly gives himself enough credit. And the motley yet devoted cast of characters was a delightful addit ...more
Aug 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with this book! It’s a true story. I’m a nature lover by heart and, yet I have never read any true account like this. This book is about a man who accidentally stumbles upon an almost extinct Blakiston Fish Owl and then pursues a career in wildlife conservation to learn more about and to protect this endangered species. I learned about many more animal and birds in Russia’s Far East , along with the culture. I also had to chuckle about the various personalities and one I’m certain ...more
Aug 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Everyone should read this book. It’s probably the best nature, travel, conservation, memoir whatever-genre-label-you-want-to-pin-on-it that I’ve ever read. (And I’ve slogged through many, often abandoning them, especially cliche-filled ones about Russia.) Having myself traveled extensively in Russia’s wild and wooly corners with wild and wooly Russian researchers and backcountry people, there are so many places in this book which deftly draw familiar experiences, people, glimpses of wondrous nat ...more
Josh Mlot
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved “Owls of the Eastern Ice” by Jonathan C. Slaght.

Part nature story, part conservation research, part travelogue, I came for the owls and left enthralled by the journey.

The reason this book is so readable and enjoyable is that Slaght, despite being a PhD, does not assume that readers care as much as he does about conservation or the titular Blakiston’s fish owl. This doesn’t read like a scientific journal and he doesn’t lay the facts an information on thick—yet you still learn so much. A
Robin Kirk
Nov 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
When I read the NYT review (glowing), I immediately requested the book from the library. In another life, I would have been a wildlife researcher a la Jane Goodall or George Schaller (went for saving people instead). But I love these books, especially for their attention to the detail of what it takes to really learn an animal. In retrospect, I probably would have been a TERRIBLE wildlife researcher, because I lack the patience and the willingness to do the kind of repetitive, often infuriatingl ...more
Nov 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Slaght recounts his years of conservation work with fish owls and their Russian habitat, and it is utterly riveting. Well-written and engaging, one is filled with a sense of the enormity and urgency of conservation work. Often funny and sometimes heartbreaking it is always focused on the vital work and sacrifices we must make to allow conservation of fish owls and other wild animals and their habitats. To do anything less is a tragedy.
Patrick Macke
Oct 14, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Perhaps to a field scientist what unfolds on these pages would be defined as "terrifically exciting", but to an average reader interested in learning more about an owl, there is simply no way this book is either terrific or exciting ... rather it is countless, page-filling walks through the Russian wilderness with very few encounters with owls (by either the scientist or reader) ... what does a fish owl do, what does he look like (not a single picture), how fast does he fly; how much does he eat ...more
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
I didn’t think I liked this book at first but after a few days I found myself reciting fish owl facts to everyone I know, so clearly it stuck with me more than I thought.
Beth Balser
I think I don’t want to be in Eastern Russia in the winter—owls or not! Brrr. Good descriptions of the terrain and the field work. Also made me understand why i am not an academian. But, love the owls! So impressive and unique. Broadened my meager knowledge for sure.
Dallin Kohler
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Great book. The author blends his stories of capturing and studying the world's largest owls with tales of many unique human inhabitants of eastern Russia. It's a captivating read of his experiences of difficult biological fieldwork on a previously unstudied species, along with the copious amounts of ice and vodka that abound in the Russian winter.
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book so much. I want to see a Fish Owl now!
Adam Henne
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed how the fieldwork and Slaght's colorful co-researchers came alive, of course. But I also very much appreciated how he tied together fieldwork fundamentals —> scientific questions —> conservation goals. In between the fascinating eccentric humans it’s a really solid story of science in action. I wish every conservation project I’m interested in had such an articulate primer on its context and priorities. ...more
Julie Stielstra
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: birds, animals, nature
Have you ever wondered what it's like - really like - to be a field biologist? Searching for the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, maybe, or tracking rare leopards or tigers, or peering at birds of paradise performing their dazzling displays? Jonathan Slaght, a Russophile from Minnesota gets to follow his passion: roaming the remote forests of easternmost Russia. By sheer happenstance, he spots an owl that had not been photographed in that region in a hundred years - a Blakiston's fish owl, a "defiant, f ...more
Meadow Kouffeld
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Well written non-fiction story that is accessible to readers of all levels of interest and experience. Slaght’s writing lacks the pedantic jargon and personal bias that plagues and distracts the readers from valuable lessons in other wildlife conservation-oriented literature. Instead, he brings you along on his journey to document information on a little-known population of Blakiston’s fish owls in the Primorye region of eastern Russia near the Sea of Japan. All the while allowing the reader to ...more
Alison Starnes
Sep 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nature, conservation
Jonathan C. Slaght is an American wildlife researcher, who based his Ph.D. studies on the little known Blakiston's fish owl. This elusive bird is only found in specific areas such as the remote Primorye forests of Russia near the border with China and North Korea. Over a period of years, Jonathan Slaght studied and collected data from a number of nesting pairs in this region.

Tracking and recording the data that has proved so essential to safeguarding the owls' survival meant spending months at a
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
'As if someone had glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree.'
Blakiston's fish owl is the largest owl in the world and I for one had never heard of it, so there we are, there's your pub quiz answer if we ever get back to the pubs.
Jonathan Slaght has a chance encounter with one of these now very rare and mysterious birds whilst being a young fresh out of the nest bird watcher. This ofcourse then escalates like all healthly obsessions do, to become a
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Jonathan C. Slaght, PhD, is the Russia and Northeast Asia Coordinator for the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). He leads research projects on Blakiston's fish owls and Amur tigers, and seeks to unify the conservation objectives of the WCS Russia, Arctic Beringia, and China Programs.

His memoir, "Owls of the Eastern Ice," was longlisted for a 2020 National Book Award for Nonfiction.

His writings

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