The meandering and willow-lined Maksimovka River in Primorye, Russia. Photograph © Jonathan C. Slaght

In autumn 2012, a heavy rainstorm caused the Amgu River in northern Primorye to burst its banks and wash out a small section of road leading into the village of Amgu. This settlement, barely offset from the Sea of Japan by a narrow, sandy beach, was poised to be cleaved in two by the massing waters. Luckily, the escalating pressure caused a second river mouth to burst through the beach and into the bay. The water levels receded and the village was saved.

The residents of Amgu, shaken by this near-catastrophe, raised a tall, earthen dyke between the river and the adjacent road in response. This would prevent such a disaster from threatening again, they reasoned.

Two years came and went. Water levels rose and receded. Villagers, lulled into a sense of safety behind this castle wall of mud and rock, remained unaware that the Amgu River was not yet done with them. In fact, like a dragon resting on the valley’s chain, the river was waiting patiently for the right moment to arch its back, spread its wings, and breathe some serious fire.

The floods returned in September 2014.


Jonathan Slaght (L) and Sergei Avdeyuk (R) band a Blakiston’s fish owl. Photograph © Andrei Katkov

I’ve been working with Blakiston’s fish owls in Russia for ten years.

A decade of blizzards, floods, cramped quarters, and discovery; all to better understand this charismatic endangered species. The unwavering passion shown by my Russian colleagues Sergei Surmach and Sergei Avdeyuk has been nothing short of inspirational. These men have thrown everything at the owl–a true labor of love–working when there was time but not necessarily when there was money.

Together, the past decade that yielded a vast expansion of our scientific understanding of this salmon-eater and what we need to do to protect it.

Earlier this week, a peer-reviewed paper written by me and Sergei Surmach was released in Bird Conservation International, which is BirdLife International’s scientific journal. In many ways this paper is a culmination of our decade of work: a roadmap for Blakiston’s fish owl conservation in Russia.