When I was a kid growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, a common destination for weekend camping was the nearby Aransas Wildlife Refuge, winter home of the majestic whooping cranes. When I went to the World Scout Jamboree in Alberta, Canada, our troop flag featured a whooping crane, depicting the whooper's migratory path from south Texas to western Canada. One of the rarest birds in North America, the whooping cranes were nearly extinct, and still are endangered. They owe what existence they have, in large part, to the efforts of ornithologist Robert Porter Allen.
Even if you are not a bird lover or nature lover, and even if you think the environmentalist movement is a bit wacko, you will enjoy Kathleen Kaska's telling of Bob Allen's story. As an Audobon Society naturalist, who had studied roseate spoonbills and flamingos, tracking their migration and identifying their nesting grounds, he was the perfect candidate to save the whooping crane.
The whooping cranes' winter home on the Texas Gulf Coast was well-known. The federal government established the Aransas Wildlife Refuge in 1937 to protect the cranes' habitat and diet from hunting, fishing, and development. But their northern nesting sites remained a mystery for many years. Allen and his colleagues spent many summers scouring remote areas of the Canadian wilderness before they finally discovered where the whooping cranes summered.
Bird watching, stereotypically a rather dull pursuit, may not seem like material ripe for an engaging story. Allen himself acknowledged that "a casual but undeviating perseverance and ability to drink gallons of strong coffee can be reckoned among the filed ornithologist's most valuable assets." Kaska takes her readers far beyond Allen's long days of sitting motionless observing his birds, giving a sense of adventure and suspense to his long struggle to save the whooping cranes, and instilling in the reader a sense of his love and admiration for these rare birds.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy.