Owls of the Eastern Ice

Russian Life|July/August 2020

Owls of the Eastern Ice
A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl
JONATHAN C. SLAGHT

Native only to eastern Russia, a remote region of China, and the Japanese island Hokkaido, the Blakiston’s Fish Owl is elusive, rarely seen even by ornithologists. When Jonathan Slaght sighted one, by chance, on an expedition to study tigers in 2000, it changed the course of his life. He felt he had no choice but to study this endangered and enigmatic species. In this excerpt from his book documenting the quest, he recounts a story told by one of his expedition partners.

When I finally returned to the cabin, it was close to dusk. I was drenched and thankful that Vova was already there; the cabin radiated warmth, the door ajar to allow some of the excess heat from the woodstove to escape. A blackened kettle of boiled water sat on a flat rock next to the stove, ready for tea. Vova didn’t have much to report, other than seeing a wild boar. Sergey had yet to return, but the table was set for dinner; there were three forks, the remaining jar of fish pelmeni, and a bottle of mayonnaise. I hung my clothes on nails next to Vova’s to dry and we waited. The rain was a wall of thick persistence outside. Vova lit the candle on the table just as Sergey entered, dripping. He reported with concern that water levels were definitely rising in the Sherbatovka: our supply of meat, cheese, and beer in the pot in the stream had been washed away. We scraped the jar clean of the last fish pelmeni. Eating taimen reminded me of the odd response I received from Vova’s father, Valery, about going out to sea. I asked Vova about it.

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July/August 2020