Louise de Kiriline Lawrence (1894-1992) was born into the Swedish aristocracy, joined the Red Cross in WWI, married a White Russian soldier in 1918, then, a widow, moved to rural Canada in 1927 where she was, first, a nurse (heading the team that cared for the Dionne quintuplets), then a science writer and naturalist. Making it her mission and her passion to “understand…how birds are,” and to present as closely as possible a sense of the world from their point of view rather than that of the human observer, she spent nearly 60 years compiling meticulous, daily reports on the avian life around her woodland Ontario home. These records—detailing appearance, behavior, and each species’ interactions with all facets of their environment—fed a steady stream of journal articles, both scholarly and popular, and award-winning books ranging from illustrated children’s stories to memoir, biography, and groundbreaking studies of individual bird species. Simonds, herself a versatile writer and devoted birder, has adopted her subject’s thorough and enthusiastic approach. Her beautifully written book is steeped in all of Lawrence’s writings—published and unpublished—as well as a deep familiarity with her beloved Loghouse woods.
The look exchanged between man and bird in the cover photo speaks of mutual trust, strength, and respect—and it says everything about Stott’s deeply insightful, compelling, and moving book. Part memoir (dual tracking the 1990s and 2004 to 2021) and part primer on raptors, it charts the evolution of a DC drug dealer into a Master Falconer. Stotts always enjoyed being outdoors, but nature took a backseat to his urban hustling, until he needed a legit job in order to rent an apartment. He signed on with the Earth Conservation Corps to help clean up the Anacostia, and as he saw the difference his activities could make, and as he bonded with the people and animals he worked with, his life turned around. He began taking an active role in nurturing wildlife, then used rehabilitated creatures to reach out to young people, showing them that “once we understand the wild things, we understand ourselves,” and founding several organizations devoted to conservation and youth mentoring.
With its wild yellow eyes and outsize ear tufts, the Blakiston’s fish owl resembles a mad professor, and once Slaght caught sight of one as a teenager in Russia in the 1980s, he never forgot it. So when he needed a dissertation topic in 2006 he designed a five-year project to study the owls’ habits and develop a plan to rebuild its dwindling populations. His riveting account of these winter field studies in Russia’s far southeastern Primorye Province is written with both passion and scientific exactitude—and well leavened with humor and striking prose. Attentive to the owls’ entire ecosystem, Slaght interweaves detailed descriptions of the birds’ hunting prowess and haunting courtship duets with vivid portraits of the fish, insects, plants, and mammals they share the forests with. This last includes not only tigers and deer, but loggers, poachers, and all manner of colorful backwoods characters, both sober and not. Throughout, Slaght treats all his subjects with empathy and insight—reserving harsh judgment only for his own perceived failures to protect the owls from the disruption of capture and tagging his study imposes—evidence enough that, despite moments of stress, these birds are in good hands.