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On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon Hardcover – 3 Feb 2005

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Product Description


"'Packs a powerful punch...Wistful...lyrical'" (Guardian)

"'Resembles a buddy movie crossed with a nature documentary'" (Financial Times)

"'An ornithologist's On the Road...A curiously affecting book'" (Glasgow Herald) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

An epic story about birds of prey, the American landscape, and man's dreams of flight. The New York Times Bestseller. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x980a3270) out of 5 stars 29 reviews
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x980aae58) out of 5 stars Following a Falcon Will Take Your Breath Away 25 Sept. 2004
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I remember as a child in the sixties poring through the Time-Life book on the animal kingdom. It had this one memorable illustration of all the major species in a big race to show how fast each of them ran, swam and flew against each other. Far ahead of anything else in nature was the peregrine falcon. From that distinct memory, I picked up this book to see why anyone would be foolish enough to try to track one. Author and naturalist Alan Tennant has taken on the challenge and come up with one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read all year. The peregrine falcon would seem elusive. After all, when diving for prey, it can reach speeds upward of 200 mph, and they can migrate 10,000 miles in a single year, traversing from Canada to as far as Argentina. But Tennant decided to radio-tag one, whom he appropriately dubs Amelia on her migration from Texas to Canada. What ensues, as documented in this journal, is unexpected, unique and extraordinary.

This is no simple Audubon Society-style study. Blend Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and Ché Guevera's "The Motorcycle Diaries", cross-breed them with "Winged Migration", and you get some sense of the spell this book casts. Of course, Tennant has a cantankerous sidekick, George Vose, a septuagenarian World War II flight instructor who trusts his instincts more than his flight instruments. Clearly he provides the yang to Tennant's yin. They have life-endangering adventures, astounding views of North America from far above and naturally, the strong pull of male bonding to make it through their journey. Tennant has obviously picked up a lot of information on falconry, which he shares generously, but he also has a true gift of describing the soaring epiphanies that he and Vose experienced flying in their aged Cessna. Just like being in the cockpit with Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, the reader gets transported to a contained world where exhilaration mixes unexpectedly with dread. The result is a breathtaking book, a needed panacea for anyone who is tiring of the political, election-timed tomes filling the shelves of your bookstore.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x980aaeac) out of 5 stars One of the All-Time Most Amazing Adventures 24 Sept. 2004
By Jesse Boggs - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This would be an incredible work of fiction. The fact that these guys really did this stuff is just unbelievable. Best of all, Alan Tennant is a writer who knows how to weave his story into the natural world, and vice versa. It doesn't matter whether you're into birds, or airplanes, or whatever- this is just a great read. It's funny, it's poignant, it's ridiculous, it's deeply informative. Truly one of the best and most entertaining books I've read in a long, long time.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x99095d20) out of 5 stars A Romantic, Scientific Quest 21 Oct. 2004
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
_Falco Peregrinus_ is the Latin name for the peregrine falcon. The name means "wandering falcon," and the name fits. It has breeding grounds in Alaska, and swoops down as far even as Argentina to follow the sunlight, which powers the plants which after other links turn into the birds on which the falcon feeds. You wouldn't expect Alan Tennant to be to particularly interested in the travels of falcons; after all, he's a snake man, have published several field guides to snakes in different regions of America. But as is shown in his book, _On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon_ (Knopf), Tennant has an unstoppable and unrestrained curiosity. He has had his share of funny occurrences, dangerous moments, and inexplicable joys in the quest for following his falcons, a quest that was of minor research significance, relentless discomfort, and intermittent life-threatening peril. His lovely account of having to do a senseless task because he simply had to will convince the reader of the emotional sense of such an effort; his book gives as well a picture of falcon life and larger ecological concerns, and it never misses a chance to describe the many eccentric humans Tennant gets to meet.

The book opens in the mid-1980s when Tennant was watching falcons on the barrier islands of Texas. He wanted to go with them. He hooked up with George Vose, a World War II flight instructor who has experience in tracking birds but no particular love of it. Vose plays Tennant's Sancho Panza, an irritable septuagenarian pilot with a rickety Cessna who loves flying. Tennant hated flying (and given the scrapes and scares that Vose's plane gave him, with good reason). The two adventurers don't get much of a chance actually to see their falcons. They are following just radio blips; losing the blips is a disaster fraught with worry, and regaining them, sometimes after days or weeks of silence, is a joy. There is plenty of wildlife in Tennant's book, but it is a pleasure to read about how these two became friends. In contrast, Tennant writes just as clearly and movingly about how his obsession ruins his relationship with his smart and sensible girlfriend Jennifer.

The adventures of Tennant and Vose chasing radio beacons take them back and forth across America into Canada for the summer trek and into Mexico and Belize for the winter. Every bit of bad weather the intrepid birds go through has to be endured by the pilots as well. There is plenty to learn about how evolution has shaped birds in different ways for success. In contrast to the falcons, for instance, hawks cannot feed on birds on the wing since they hunt mice, frogs, and insects. This means that they have to economize on their migrations, and stick to flying over land, where they can catch free rides on thermals, a tactic falcons do not use. Tennant and Vose have to negotiate with Canadian customs to cross into Canadian airspace, but because they would lose their falcon while they waited for clearance, Tennant lies to Vose and says their request was granted. They track the falcon successfully, but their illegal entry gets them into trouble with the Mounties later. Almost everywhere they go, they are assumed to be running drugs; it is a far more credible explanation than can be provided when Tennant insists he is engaged in the foolery of hunting falcon radio beacons. They are more than once intimidated by men with guns who are convinced they are drug-runners or spies with electronic surveillance gear. The inimical forces of nature are just as problematic, from mosquitoes to bears. Along the way, the genial guide Tennant gets to write about such things as mammoths and the memorial at the crash site of Will Rogers and Wiley Post. Tennant reflects, a little sadly, that as eccentric as their quest might have been, it would now be even more unnecessary; falcons are tracked by satellite. None of those researchers with their eyes on their satellite monitors, however, is ever going to be able to produce as romantic and entertaining a volume as this one.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x980ad150) out of 5 stars Part science book, part real life adventure 16 Dec. 2004
By Wesley Mullins - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Progress threatens to remove the romance from tracking endangered animals. On the cusp of the military developing computer technology that will make it possible to follow the illusive peregrine falcons online as they migrate from the arctic to the Caribbean, two men choose to do it the old fashion way, in an airplane. If they don't do it now - they decide - such a future endeavor will be pointless. And so, for the first time (and what may prove to be the only time), humans take to the air to radio-track these birds of prey on their transcontinental migration.

"On the Wing" details this unforgettable experience, as a grizzled WWII veteran and an eager scientist team up in the unlikeliest of pairings. The men board a frighteningly "experienced" Cessna and track the falcons they tag. A string of adventures follows that will no doubt make readers wonder if the author dipped into fiction from time to time.

Along with the excitement, author Tennant takes time to teach lessons in Biology, Botany and Zoology. At times, the text appears to be a science textbook masquerading as a story. Lessons are not just given on the falcons. In each location they visit, the life cycle of all the plants and animals important to the story are given. Readers will hear about such intriguing facts from nature as the complexity of food chain, the unexplainable drive some animals have to return home and the toll mankind is playing in tainting the magic of the natural world.

It is this last issue that may be the book's legacy. Tennant attempts to awaken his readers to the horrors of pollution, pesticides and humans meddling in the workings of nature. But the book offers so much more. Rare is the literary experience that gives readers adventure, knowledge and a new perspective on an important issue. "On the Wing" soars in its accomplishment of all three.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x980ad390) out of 5 stars Be prepared to be amazed 16 Oct. 2005
By Patricia Kramer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book! I have been following the Operation Migration program re-building the Whooping Crane population for years. This book adds a whole new dimension to the use of man made wings and bird migration. Alan Tennant writes in a way that the reader feels they also can see and hear the thousands of birds as he and George Vose fly through and with them.

I learned lots about peregrine falcons, but I kept my bird book handy and learned a lot about other birds too - including those amazing hummingbirds.

The sections describing the intense fear of the falcons in the bird population attested to their hunting prowess and keen vision and speed.

I am in awe of the birds and of the author's dedication and sense of adventure in trying to learn where they go and what they do on the way. As he says, satellites can tell where they go but not how or transmit the incredibleness of it all.
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