BRATTLEBORO — Literary-minded folks are invited to pour a favorite drink and join a search for the elusive, enigmatic Blakiston’s fish owl.
On March 12 at 5 p.m., the Brattleboro Literary Festival holds a literary cocktail hour with Jonathan Slaght, author of “Owls of the Eastern Ice: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl.”
When he was just a fledgling birdwatcher, Slaght had a chance encounter with the Blakiston’s fish owl, one of the most mysterious birds in the world. Bigger than any owl he knew, it looked like a small bear with decorative feathers. He snapped a quick photo and shared it with experts. Soon, he was on a five-year journey, searching for this enormous, enigmatic creature in the lush, remote forests of eastern Russia. That first sighting set his calling as a scientist. Despite a wingspan of 6 feet and a height of over 2 feet, the fish owl is highly elusive, and an endangered species.
It is easiest to find in winter, when its tracks mark the snowy banks of the rivers where it feeds. Slaght and his team’s quest to conserve the owls sends them on all-night monitoring missions in freezing tents, on mad dashes across thawing rivers and free-climbs up rotting trees to check nests for eggs — all while keeping watch for bears or an Amur tigers.
At the heart of Slaght’s story are the fish owls themselves: cunning hunters, devoted parents, singers of eerie duets and survivors in a harsh and shrinking habitat. Through this rare glimpse into the everyday life of a field scientist and conservationist, “Owls of the Eastern Ice” testifies to the determination and creativity essential to scientific advancement and serves as a powerful reminder of the beauty, strength and vulnerability of the natural world.
Slaght will be in conversation with Charlie Rattigan, an award-winning documentary producer and the executive director of the Vermont Institute of Natural Science, known for bird rehabilitation.
The literary cocktail hour is free and open to the public. Registration is online at bit.ly/LitCocktail6.
Registered participants will be able to interact with the author in a question and answer session. Viewers can also watch the event livestreamed on the Brattleboro Literary Festival’s YouTube page without registering.